One of the country’s largest manufacturers of consumer products is not providing clear information on whether or not their products contain peanut oil, almond oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, and other allergens.
Procter & Gamble Co. brands include Swiffer, Febreze, Dawn, Ivory, Pampers, and Tide. [P&G lists all brands here.] The products themselves do not have nut or seed oils listed on the packaging. On the P&G website, no nut oils are listed under the products’ respective ingredients, but “fragrance” is listed. P&G breaks down what “fragrances” means on their corporate site, and lists peanut oil, almond oil (sweet), almond oil (bitter), sesame oil, and coconut oil in the 20-page document listing their full arsenal of ingredients — not spelling out exactly which ingredients make up the particular fragrance of any given product. Update February 8, 2016: This PDF and the ingredients have changed. Please click here to view the original PDF from September 2nd, 2014 when we originally published this article.]
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So which of their products actually contain peanut oil or tree nut oil?
It’s proving to be a question no one can answer. Scratch or Sniff has made several calls and emails to the respective brands – Ivory, Pampers, Dawn – but the results have been disconcerting.
– In a phone call with Ivory soap, Devon, a representative at Ivory, told Scratch or Sniff that she did not have fragrance ingredient information for Ivory soap. When asked where one could find it, she suggested checking online. After telling her that information is not available online, she stated there was no way for her to find out that information.
– In a phone call with Dawn, a representative stated that Dawn uses peanut oil in its dishwashing soap.
– In a series of emails with a senior account manager for an agency representing Febreze, Scratch or Sniff was given the same link to the 20 page PDF. Scratch or Sniff asked for more information, but has not received any yet. (Will update should we get an email from the agency or P&G.)
– A P&G representative told a consumer in a phone call (information posted to a parenting forum) that any P&G product that has “fragrance” listed contains peanut oil.
– In a phone call with Swiffer, a P&G representative told a consumer in a phone call (information posted to a parenting forum), that Swiffer Wet Wipes and Swiffer Wet Jet are two products containing peanut oil.
– In emails with Pampers, Lisa, a representative, told Scratch or Sniff that she did not have fragrance ingredient information for Pampers and could not confirm whether or not the fragrance ingredient list online represents the fragrance in Pampers wipes.
– In an email with P&G, Scratch or Sniff asked for a list of products that do not contain peanuts or tree nuts. The response was another vague answer.
Legally, P&G is not doing anything wrong. In fact, P&G is likely not the only company being ambiguous about product ingredients. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) declares that food ingredient labels must specify if the ingredients include one of the top eight major food allergens — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans — but this act does not apply to consumer products, like baby wipes and cleaning products.
But ethically, we see a huge problem. How are we to wrap our heads around the fact that we parents have to be so hyper-aware of everything that we have to somehow intuitively know that the list of ingredients on our household cleaners is not a full representation of what is in the actual product?
Perhaps these products contain peanut oil, sesame oil, almond oil, and coconut oil that has been highly refined, which – in theory – would not cause reactions. [Dr. Scott Sicherer discusses peanut oil here.] Perhaps P&G believes that the oils are so highly diluted that it does not affect food-allergic children. Perhaps P&G is content with being well within the guidelines of the FALCPA. Perhaps P&G believes that because these products are not ingested, its products do not present as a risk. We would love to know where P&G stands on this, and if P&G would like to send us straightforward information on this, we’d be delighted to update this post.
In a message posted on the peanutallergy.com message board in 2001 (thirteen years ago; it’s a wonder why this hasn’t been addressed properly since then), P&G said this about a Downy product:
This oil is present in the fragrance in minute amounts which is then further diluted during the wash so it should not represent any objective safety concern. However, we understand why you want to reduce all risks to your family.
On the same board, P&G also said:
We value the safety of the people who use our products above everything else and we want you to feel secure when using our brands. The only ingredient in our laundry products that could contain a material derived from nuts would be fragrance. We’d hate for anyone to attribute a rash or other reaction to a fragrance when the cause could be something else altogether. Your allergist is in the best position to help you determine the cause of an allergic reaction.
This information is from 2001, and P&G has not been forthcoming on its stance (that peanuts are diluted, but check with your allergist) since then. Could, however, using these products be harmful to the health of a food-allergic child? If a family uses Febreze on furniture, Swiffer wet wipes on floors, Dawn on dishes, Tide on clothing, and Pampers and Ivory on skin, could the aggregate amount contribute the overall decline of the health of a child?
Here’s what food-allergic parents know. Not every reaction is an anaphylactic one. Not every reaction requires the usage of an Epi-pen and a trip to the ER. Sometimes allergies present in other ways – a sudden unexplained flare-up of eczema; an increased amount of wheezing at night; coughing; circles around the eyes.
This – in our opinion – is probably the most frustrating part of parenting food-allergic children; it’s hard to pinpoint what’s making them ill. The effects can be so ambiguous, which is why we believe this is particularly dangerous and discouraging. When big brands don’t disclose the full ingredient list of its products on packaging, and when big brands are unable to disclose what the ingredient list printed, it hurts the entire allergy community.
Update, 9/4/2014, 8:30am EST: Several Scratch or Sniff readers have let us know that they have directly called P&G and some of its brands to inquire about peanut oil. They’ve said that the brands have confirmed the presence of peanut oil in Dawn, Swiffer, etc, but will not disclose what type of peanut oil, sesame oil, etc is being used (highly refined, cold pressed, aromatic). They’ve also said that P&G is offering refunds for those products. We cannot confirm this directly, and we’re unsure of how the refund process would happen, but we’re passing along what our readers are telling us. Your mileage may vary.
Update, 9/4/2014, 10:40am EST: Excerpts from a phone call with Dawn:
Scratch or Sniff: Can you tell me if there is peanut oil in Dawn?
Dawn rep: Yes, we use peanut oil in the formulation.
Scratch or Sniff: Can you tell me if it’s highly refined peanut oil?
Dawn rep: We do not know the consistency or texture of what is used.
Scratch or Sniff: So, to clarify, there are traces of peanuts and tree nuts in Dawn dishwashing liquid?
Dawn rep: Yes, that is correct.
Scratch or Sniff: Has this been tested by an allergist?
Dawn rep: All products have been tested and approved by the FDA.
Scratch or Sniff: Is this product considered hypoallergenic?
Dawn rep: Not all Dawn is hypoallergenic. Dawn Pure Essentials is the only hypoallergenic product.
Scratch or Sniff: But the Dawn Pure Essentials ingredient list links to the same fragrance list as all the other products. That fragrance list includes peanut oil, tree nut oil, and sesame oil.
Dawn rep: I’m going to file that information with the team and they will be sure to look into it.
Update, 9/4/2014, 10:45am EST: It looks like you can call the number on the back of each product and request a refund. You’ll need the bottle in order to give them information, and they may request that you ship the product back to them. Scratch or Sniff was offered refunds in the form of a debit card that will arrive in 6 – 8 weeks.
Update, 9/5/2014, 4:30pm EST: We’ve put together a tentative and small (but growing) list of purportedly nut-free cleaning supplies.
Update, 9/8/2014, 1:30pm EST: P&G recants!
We’ll be sharing more information as we get it. You can follow our Facebook page for updates.