New Girl Scout Cookie ‘May Contain’ Warnings Upset Allergy Families

in Features, Food Allergy, Parenting & School
Published: December 10, 2019
Girl scout cookies.
Photo: Getty

One of two bakeries that supply Girl Scout cookies has added “may contain” warnings to its products.

Jeni Cameron, a Girl Scouts troop leader in Wilmington, Mass., recently went to the kick-off meeting for the cookie sales season, which starts in most areas in January. Her daughter Ciara, 14, has looked forward to selling Thin Mints, Lemonades and Thanks-A-Lots since she was a Girl Scout “Daisy” in kindergarten. 

But when Cameron looked at the order form that listed ingredient and allergen info, she was stunned. Nearly all Girl Scout cookies from ABC Bakers – one of two bakeries that manufacture Girl Scout cookies nationwide – now have a “may contain” allergen warning for peanuts and milk. The new labels have made all the cookies available to Cameron off-limits for Ciara, who is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

Jeni Cameron and Ciara
at Disney World. 

“I was so angry I had to leave,” Cameron said. “Girls Scouts is supposed to be inclusive of all girls. To have this be so exclusionary of so many kids with food allergies is wrong.”

The new advisory labels on cookies made by ABC Bakers are causing confusion and upset among food allergy families nationwide. In advance of the upcoming Girl Scouts cookie season, ABC Bakers has added a “may contain” advisory label to cookies that were previously considered safe for those with peanut and dairy allergies.

“My daughter cried when she found out,” said Stacey Gugliuzza, a troop leader from Tewksbury, Mass., whose 8-year-old Chloe is allergic to dairy, peanuts and several other foods. “She wrote a letter to the baker saying she didn’t think it was fair that she is being asked to sell cookies she can’t even touch. The baker makes a lot of money off their hard work. These girls sell these cookies in the dead of winter in Massachusetts.”

In a statement to Allergic Living, the Girl Scouts of the USA said: “The new ‘may contain’ language is broader and more inclusive in scope, ensuring the consuming public is fully aware of the potential allergens .… It is always the goal to be as transparent, open and honest with customers as possible so they can make informed decisions about what they buy. To that end, the new labeling contains ‘may contain’ in order to be sensitive to the various needs of consumers as it pertains to potential allergens.”

Little Brownie Bakers, the other Girl Scout cookie supplier, has not changed its labels this season, and still appears to have some dairy- and nut-friendly options. Local Girl Scout councils choose which bakery to buy their cookies from, so Girl Scout cookies typically come from one bakery or the other.   

ABC Bakers referred questions about the label changes to the Girl Scouts. According to a statement to troop leaders from the Girl Scouts, the labels were updated to be more “in line” with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling guidance.

However, while the FDA now requires the new Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods, the FDA confirms there have been no recent changes to guidelines related to allergen labeling. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, food manufacturers must declare eight top allergens on packaged food labels: peanuts, milk, tree nuts, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.

Food makers may add advisory labels to alert customers that traces of an allergenic food may be present due to cross-contact during processing. Some common phrases include: “May contain peanuts,” “made on equipment that also processes milk,” or “manufactured in a facility that also processes tree nuts.” However, since these advisory warnings are not required, the lack of a warning label on a product isn’t a guarantee there hasn’t been cross-contact.

Goodbye to Thin Mints and Thanks-A-Lots

In past years, cookies from ABC Bakers included an advisory label if the cookie was made on the same line as products containing the allergen. If the cookie was made on a separate line, the cookie did not carry the warning label. The Girl Scouts say the company hasn’t changed processes, but “the bakery does manufacture other products that contain allergens, so they are now featuring a ‘may contain’ statement.”

Based on the new advisory labeling, Ciara has decided that Girl Scout cookies are off her menu. “I enjoyed having cookies I could eat, and I’m frustrated I won’t be able to eat them again,” she said.

Gugliuzza’s daughter Chloe will avoid eating Girl Scout cookies as well this year. However, Gugliuzza has just spoken with leaders of her local council. She is feeling confident that the outcry about the new labels is sparking important conversations within the Girl Scouts about improving food allergy awareness moving forward.  

Although cookie sales only last a couple of months, selling cookies is an important part of the experience, Cameron said, and the organization promotes the selling season throughout the year.  

“There is so much focus on cookie sales. I told the troop that I want nothing to do with selling cookies this year,” Cameron said. “That label means [the baker] doesn’t have to take responsibility. That’s what’s infuriating to me. It means they don’t have to be that careful.”

Need To Know: Girl Scout Cookie Labels

Every winter, legions of Girl Scouts head to grocery stores, post offices and schools, selling 2 million boxes of cookies annually. However, as of 2019-20, eight of nine varieties of Girl Scout cookies from ABC Bakers of Richmond, Virginia, now carry a “may contain” advisory label warning of potential cross-contact.

In addition to the standard nutrition and allergen ingredients label required by the FDA, here are the current ABC Bakers’ “may contain” advisories:

  • Thanks-A-Lot, S’mores and Thin Mint cookies have a “May contain milk, peanuts, coconut” advisory label.
  • Lemonades: “May contain egg, milk, peanuts and coconut.”
  • Shortbread: “May contain peanuts, coconut.”
  • Peanut Butter Patties: “May contain milk, coconut.”
  • Caramel deLites: “May contain peanuts.”
  • Peanut Butter Sandwiches: “May contain coconut.”
  • The only variety that does not have a cross-contact warning is the gluten-free Caramel Chocolate Chips. These may not be available in all areas.    

Little Brownie Bakers of Louisville, Kentucky, makes eight varieties of Girl Scout cookies. There were no changes to labeling by Little Brownie Bakers, which still appears to have some dairy- and nut-friendly options. According to the company website, “If the allergen of concern is not listed below the ingredient statement, we are confident that the product is safe for consumption.”

For the full allergen ingredient information, visit Meet the Cookies on the Girl Scouts’ website.

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