Seriously, Whole Foods? Or Should I Be Mad at HuffPo?

Today’s Huffington Post featured a story about an error at Whole Foods. Basically, a bunch of stores carried a curried chicken salad and a vegan version of the same salad that had mixed up labels. In addition to this being annoying for die-hard vegans or chicken lovers, the article also notes that the vegan version contained soy, and the chicken contained egg, and due the mislabeling the allergy information was also incorrect.

And then the article says, “The company, based in Austin, TX, says no illnesses have been reported.”

Um, right. Because most people don’t call up Whole Foods mid-anaphylaxis and say “Hey, any chance your chicken salad was mislabeled? If so, I’d like to report an illness” Most people take epi and then spend their days wondering what got them sick and how.

I once called Trader Joe’s to get answers to why I had a reaction to their food. This was actually the incident that spurred my new allergy testing. I got cheese and crackers from Trader Joe’s for lunch, and a few bites in, starting losing my eye sight. I went to get water, and was shaking as I walked back from the water cooler. Then, BOOM, something happened to my breathing that felt, seriously, like a BOOM, like someone punched me in the lungs and in a Nate Dogg circa Next Episode voice was all “Hold Up!” and I threw my benedaryl at my friend/intern T and he scrambled to open the benadryl and my boss at the time asked if I needed to go to the hospital and I said no and then a minute later was all “I think I should go to a hospital” and my coworker got me a mug of water and looked up directions to St. John’s and T opened the benadryl with his keys and I went to the hospital and they gave me more medicine and asked what I’d eaten and I’d told them that I didn’t know why cheese and crackers did this to me and I decided it was probably the rennet because I didn’t know what rennet was. (If you’re wondering why that was a the world’s longest run-on sentence, it’s because that’s what the moment felt like). Anyway, a little while later, I had T unhook the oxygen from me and tell the nurse I was going back to work. We bought a box of donuts, I went back to work and felt like shit for a while. And then my best friend told me I needed to go to see an allergist because my constant reactions were getting ridiculous, and finally I agreed.

Anyway, after that, I emailed Trader Joe’s because I was super curious. I have done this like a handful of times in my life, and I’ve had way more than a handful of allergy attacks in my life.

This is the conversation we had:

Me:

“Last week, I ate the mozarella balls, and had a severe allergic
reaction. I had to be rushed to the hospital. I have many food
allergies, so I always check ingredient lists prior to eating food. I
double checked the cheese, but none of the ingredients listed match my
allergies. Please let me know if there are any ingredients not listed
in the cheese, or perhaps what “herbs and spices” are used so that I can
make sure I am not at risk in the future. It’s very dangerous to leave
ingredient information off of products, as not all food allergies are as
mainstream as treenuts, milk, soy, etc.”

TJ:

Thank you for providing this valuable feedback. We would like to extend
our apologies for the disappointing experience you had. We believe that
quality is essential to good value, and that’s what we are all about!

I have notified the appropriate department regarding your experience,
and we will continue to monitor this product for future trends. Please
be assured that we do take quality control issues seriously and all
ingredients are fully disclosed within the ingredient list. Trader
Joe’s does not hide ingredients in any product.

I also wanted to make sure you are aware of our “Product Guarantee.” If
you are dissatisfied with any product purchased in our stores, you can
take it back for an exchange or full refund. We stand behind our motto,
“We tried it! We liked it! If you don’t, bring it back for a full
refund, no questions asked.”

Me:

Can you let me know what specific herbs and spices are included in the product, given that it only lists “Herbs and spices?” If I’ve developed a new allergy, I need to know, as this is potentially life threatening.

No response, as their email address doesn’t actually accept incoming messages. Just an auto reply that I should talk to someone in the store. But come on, we all the know the cashiers in the store didn’t make the cheese.

Anyway, after a conversation like that, why would I bother talking to another company? I’m sure the people who ate this soy chicken and got sick probably didn’t call Whole Foods. Or if they did, it wasn’t when Whole Foods was aware of the issue and they probably got a stock response. That doesn’t mean no illnesses occurred. And it sort of bothers me that the article suggests that. It makes allergies — and especially allergy labeling — seem like no big deal. But really, it’s just not the sort of thing you call people about. That’s a big difference.

Ah, nothing like dissecting journalism.

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2 responses

  1. Unbelievable, disgusting story of what happened with you in TJ and the current situation at Whole Foods. Honestly knew these things happen in life but didn’t realize they are so blatantly care-free about it, I thought they were paranoid about lawsuits. Crazy…

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