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Dear Hershey’s Chocolate Company, Please Update Your Packaging.

November 7, 2013

Robbie Thomas Lego picI am a mom.  I am a chocolate lover.  I am a huge fan of the Hershey Company.  Not just for their products, but also for their values, their history, and their social responsibility as a major corporation.  I had the privilege of doing my student teaching at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA.  I know that their social endeavors stem from a rich heritage of using corporate dollars to help those in need.

However, I see an issue that, as a mom, as a mom who is lucky enough to have allergy-free kids, makes me feel like the Hershey Company is not doing enough.

While my own children are blessed to be free from any allergies, their friends are not.  My oldest son’s best friend has a life-threatening nut allergy.  I have heard that term, “life-threatening nut allergy” many times over the past five years that they have been friends.  I know that this friend’s parents have been very pro-active in teaching their son, their son’s teachers, friends, and friends’ parents about his allergy.  But I didn’t really realize how absolutely terrifying it is to live with the threat that something as simple as a misread label can take a life.  Not until last night.

Last night, I got a call from my son’s friend’s little sister, asking to come to our house so her dad could ride in an ambulance to the hospital with her brother who was having an allergic reaction.  The culprit?  A mini Hershey bar…with almonds.

Hershey vs Hershey with almonds

You see, while his parents have taught him how to read labels, and while they as a family go through his Halloween candy to pick out anything containing nuts, something slipped through.  Instead of tucking into a delicious dessert in the form of a milk chocolate candy bar, he bit into one with almonds, which triggered the events that had him rushed to the hospital.

Because his parents are so diligent, and his mom is a nurse, he is okay.  His dad administered the epi-pen, called the ambulance and got him to the care he needed in time.  But, before being whisked away, he cried out, “Dad, hurry!  I don’t want to die tonight!”

A nine-year-old kid had the terrifying fear that his life might end because of a misread label.

Two days ago, I reached into my kids’ Halloween candy and grabbed what I thought was a plain Hershey bar.  By mistake, I grabbed one with almonds.  I didn’t realize it until I bit into it.  After all, you can see how similar the packaging is.  My reaction was one of surprise because I was tasting something for which I wasn’t prepared.  I like almonds just fine.  I just wasn’t expecting them.  So I ate the rest and went on my merry way.

But this boy had the exact same experience I did, yet it put him in the hospital, fearing for his life.

I know the Hershey Company is a very responsible, ethical, caring corporation.  I know how highly they value the well-being of children.  So I ask for this.

Please, Hershey Chocolate Company.  Please update your packaging to more clearly delineate your plain chocolate from your products that contain nuts.  Especially your iconic Hershey bar…with almonds.

A simple change in print color, background color, something could mean the difference between life and death.  While this was a fortunate outcome with a healthy boy, the very fact that he feared even for a single second for his life is not okay.

I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be to worry about your child’s life in this way on a daily basis.  All I know is that a company as responsible as Hershey’s can take a simple step to relieving one more source of that terror for thousands of parents and children everywhere.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2013 5:50 PM

    You know these crazy food allergies are a subject that hits home with me. I agree with you that it is easy to confuse a plain Hershey bar with one with almonds, but if you read the label on even the plain one, it clearly states that it is processed on equipment shared with almonds. I know this because while Josh is allergic to peanuts, he is not allergic to almonds and Hershey bars are one of the few chocolate bars that he can eat without worrying about peanut contamination. Fresh from the allergist last week regarding Josh’s peanut allergy, I learned that a study was done regarding products that say things like may contain, or processed on equipment with,(and all the other ways they say if you eat this, you’re on your own), there was enough peanut to cause an allergic reaction in 7% of the products. Essentially, if I were to let Josh eat products labeled this way, I’d be playing Russian roulette.

    This is not to say that this family is at fault here – clearly a clearer label would help, but I would guess that there’s a chance for almonds to get even into plain Hershey’s and it would probably be best for him avoid Hershey bars altogether from here on out.

  2. Katie permalink
    November 8, 2013 12:54 AM

    I am the mom here. Interesting, the mini bars do say that (which I just figured out tonite after looking again), but the large bars which we have bought and given thomas for years for s’mores etc do not say shared equipment. I just checked one in tbe house. No nut allergen warning listed. Probably made in a separate factory than the mini bars. Regardless, this whole thing is a HUGE wake up call…

    • Dixie permalink
      May 9, 2014 8:32 PM

      Don’t know if this will help but my son has a peanut/tree nut allergy and I have seen that on the different size bars, Hershey’s, the thick ones and the mini ones all have the words of “may contain” or “processed on equipment”. I called Hershey’s and they said they take the allergy very serious and if there is any question whatsoever, they put it on the package. It’s terrifying, but have found that the regular size are alright and the Hershey kisses milk chocolate are good. Just trying to be as safe as we can. I have called Bluebird, and one other one because of the powdered donuts, unfortunately they are processed on the same machines/equipment as the coconut donuts. So we stay away from them too.

  3. November 8, 2013 7:57 AM

    I’m glad your son is OK and sorry that y’all had to experience that. It is a huge fear of mine that we will ever have to use the epi pen. It is frustrating how insanely attentive we have to be to all labels. As an example, name brand Nutrigrain bars are peanut safe, but some store brands of the same product are not, but not all store brands. It made me crazy at first! He’s not a super adventurous eater, so we pretty much have memorized what foods are safe for him, but as he gets older and has more freedom, I worry about what could happen.

  4. November 8, 2013 1:24 PM

    Update: The Hershey Company posted this comment to the article where I had posted it to their facebook page:

    “HERSHEY’S: We’re so sorry to learn of the situation that your son’s friend experienced, Stacy. We appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback as we certainly never want this type of experience for our consumers. As you expressed in your message, it’s the goal of The Hershey Company to produce not only tasty, but also safe quality products for our consumers to enjoy. With that in mind, we can assure you that we take food allergies very seriously and have shared your comments regarding the wrappers of our snack-size bars with the appropriate personnel, including our allergy experts. We’re so glad to know that your son’s friend is doing well, and once again want to thank you for sharing this situation with us.”

    Hopefully this unfortunate event can be a catalyst for a positive improvement!

  5. Julie permalink
    November 8, 2013 6:08 PM

    You are so amazing to have taken the time to write to Hershey’s when your child doesn’t even have a food allergy. I say that you are amazing because my child does have life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. You are right, it is scary when you know that misreading a label can have serious consequences. Thank you for taking the time to write this company.

  6. Jennifer permalink
    November 8, 2013 7:35 PM

    Thank you for writing this. I find that a lot of parents with children who do not have food allergies take the “doesn’t affect me so I don’t care” approach. My son has a life threatening peanut allergy and it is so refreshing to read a post of someone concerned for those like my child’s safety even if they do not have to deal with this on a day to day basis. I also agree that Hershey’s should atleast change their wrappers to a different color or something to really make it loud and clear that it does contain or may contain nuts or peanuts. As if grocery shopping alone isn’t stressful enough…having to read every label we have to be diligent to make sure we do not make a mistake or else it could in with a hospital trip or worse. Thank you so much for your letter.

  7. Beth permalink
    November 10, 2013 12:32 AM

    My 20 month old son has multiple life I threatening food allergies, including nuts. Your letter made me cry. Thank you. Thank you so much.

  8. November 10, 2013 7:08 PM

    Thank you, ladies.

    I have to say, though, I don’t think it’s due to apathy that most non-allergy moms fail to react or respond. Before the other night, I was aware of allergies and empathetic to parents who worry about their kids, but it wasn’t “real” and earth-shattering to me because I had never experienced it first-hand. While I wasn’t there with the boy during his reaction, I did take his sisters and saw their fear and worry for their brother. I snuggled with them and talked to them and tried to set their minds at ease. But my real wake-up moment didn’t come until I picked up their dad at the hospital (since he had gone in the ambulance with his son, he and his wife didn’t have a car there) and he told me how his son had cried, “I don’t want to die tonight.” Until hearing that, I viewed all of this from an adult’s perspective. But after hearing that, it hit me that this is not only a parent’s worry for their kids, but it is a very real and present FEAR that the kids have for their own lives, too.

    That is what spurred me to write this. I consider myself just a concerned friend and neighbor who loves this kid, not really an advocate for allergy sufferers. I can’t really take credit for being so altruistic when I had been as removed as most non-allergy moms out there before this happened.

    My hat is off to all of you who live with this on a daily basis. I don’t know how you keep your cool.


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