Saturday, October 14, 2006

How to Contact a Company

One of the hardest things about corn allergy is that nothing is safe. Because corn derivatives are often used as ingredients of ingredients, or as a part of the packaging process or even as a conveyer dressing, the consumer can not rely upon the package ingredients alone.

Before using a new product it is always a good idea to call the manufacturer and verify that it is corn free. However, simply asking if such and such contains corn is not enough. Most customer service reps are looking at the same ingredient list as you, and will in total innocence tell you that there is absolutely no corn when the list clearly states maltodextrin, citric acid, or even modified food starch. Even Doctors can look at a bottle of medicine and guarantee that there is no corn…until you point out the clearly labeled “Corn Starch” in the inactive ingredient list. (Warning, they hate it when you do that.)

You can contact most companies by either phone or e-mail. You can get contact information from packages, or do a web search from home. Many companies have their own websites.

Personally, I prefer to contact a food product manufacturer first by mail or e-mail. They seem to “get it” better if the full question is in writing.

Before contacting a manufacturer, find the list of ingredients for the product in question. Highlight the questionable ingredients. Then form your letter. My basic form letter reads something like this:

Dear (products)
I am so excited to discover your (product name)! I have a severe corn allergy, and need to know if it contains any corn derivatives. I’m particularly concerned that there may be corn derived ascorbic acid in the fruit concentrate, or an anticaking agent such as maltodextrin in the spices. I also need to verify that you don’t use corn starch or other corn derivatives in the packaging process or as a conveyer dressing, and that the plastic package has not been precoated with corn starch.

Thank you so much for your help! I’m sure you understand how difficult it is to live with this allergy, I’m looking forward to hearing to back from you!

Of course, you would replace the above with your own pertinent information. If a company responds that they have a strict allergen program in place and that the top 8 are clearly labeled, be aware that corn is NOT on the top 8. Most of those letters are form letters, and if a company uses them (without discussing corn in particular) then you need to either respond again, thanking them for their time and asking if specifically CORN is labeled, since it isn’t considered a top allergen by the FAAN or the FDA; or call them and ask for them to please contact their suppliers for verification that the food is truly corn free. Even if they seem to check it out, there is a chance that something will slip through. That’s just the way of life with a corn allergy. But if they seem to be blowing you off and put you on the defensive for trying to protect yourself or your family, please do not even bother trying the product. As limited as our diet is, if the company is not interested in giving you facts or protecting you, their customer, they aren’t worthy of your support. And their product is definitely NOT worth risking a reaction over.

My doctor claims that many drug companies have lists of the source of their ingredients, and I’ve had good luck calling drug companies. It helps if you can state your doctor’s recommendation, and that your doctor told you to call first. Occasionally a pharmaceutical representative will state that they will only give that information out to a physician. I counter with “Well, my doctor doesn’t have time to research this for me.” So far I find that pharmaceutical representatives do have better access to ingredient sourcing than large food companies, but not all the customer service representatives you reach will know how to access that information. So you may need to request a manager, or ask them to put you in touch with a person who *can* answer your questions.

Living with a corn allergy sometimes feels like you’re living with a ticking bomb. There is no way to protect yourself completely from exposure to corn. All you can really do is limit your risk of exposure, and hope that by making your environment as corn free as possible, you will be better able to handle an unintentional exposure.

1 comment:

purple_kangaroo said...

Good article; thanks!