For some reason, I was super late to hop on the Trader Joe’s bandwagon, so I’ll have to make up for that with an absurdly long post. But for real: the place is a game-changer. It’s cheap, convenient, relatively high-quality, and—most importantly!—allergy-conscious.
In case you’ve never been: Trader Joe’s private labels name-brand goods, usually taking out a bunch of the artificial flavorings and preservatives (and lowering the price by a dollar or two) in the process. They do sell some name-brand products, but for the most part, the food they sell is under their private label.
One of the things I love most about them is their approach to allergens and labeling. From their product information page:
As with all health and safety related issues, we take food allergy concerns very seriously. We strive to ensure that all of our Trader Joe’s brand products are labeled with reliable, accurate, and easy to read ingredient statements.
Trader Joe’s strictly adheres to all Federal labeling guidelines. You can be assured that if any of the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy) are present in our private label products, they will be clearly labeled in familiar terms in our ingredient statements [e.g. casein (milk)]. You can also be certain that if “natural flavors” or “spices” contain any components that are allergens or are derived from allergens, they will be listed separately within the ingredient statement.
According to the same page, all of their private label manufacturers follow Good Manufacturing Practices to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Most of those manufacturers also issue voluntary warnings for the allergens that may be present in their products (usually in the form of “may contain” or “shared facility” statements). So while it isn’t the case that each and every Trader Joe’s product is guaranteed to be labeled for potential allergens, it is the case that most are—and if you’re worried, their customer service department (629-599-3700) will be happy to give you specifics, provided you have the product in question on-hand.
But what I really want to talk about is the food itself. There are so many things I like at Trader Joe’s that I can’t possibly list them all, but I’ll mention a few of my allergy-friendly favorites—especially those which are otherwise hard to find without allergen warnings. (Keep in mind that these aren’t products I’ve ever called in to ask about. I—like both allergists I’ve seen—am decidedly in the label-trusting camp. Though advisory labeling isn’t ever mandatory, I’m comfortable going by labels, and I don’t contact companies unless I have some specific cause for concern.)
The freezer section is what first got me hooked on Trader Joe’s. It’s huge, and they have a lot of foods I wouldn’t otherwise be able to eat unless I somehow managed to learn to make them myself (yikes). The frozen meals are actually a little better than you’d expect of a frozen food—nothing shocking, usually, but definitely a step up. Some of my favorites: the Japanese style fried rice; the Mandarin orange chicken; the spicy beef & broccoli; the tarte d’Alsace; and the burrata, proscuitto, & arugula flatbread. (Sorry about the inconsistent links; I’ve linked to Trader Joe’s website when possible, but they don’t have a page for every product.)
They have a lot of dried fruit, too—most of it without any advisory labeling. I don’t actually know of anywhere else to buy safe dried fruit, since it’s almost always processed on equipment that also processes nuts, but a lot of the dried fruit at Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem to be. My favorites are the Turkish apricots and the mandarins, but be warned: the latter are ridiculously sweet.
I love the gluten-free Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, too. They don’t taste gluten-free—honestly, I really couldn’t tell. They’re crispy, buttery, and a little salty…kind of like what I imagine Tate’s to taste like. You know, if I could eat them. [Edit: A few weeks after I posted this, Trader Joe’s came out with a new cookie of the Crispy Crunchy variety: Ginger Chunk. They’re incredible—buttery and salty with perfectly-distributed chunks of dried ginger. My new favorite store-bought cookies, by a landslide.)
And while we’re on the topic of store-bought desserts, I should probably mention, too, that the Belgian Chocolate Pudding is great—it’s almost too rich, and it tastes like brownie batter—and the rice pudding is worthwhile, too.
Slightly less store-bought, but low-effort nonetheless: the Blondie Bar Baking Mix. I’m not a great baker, so mixes always tempt me, but the ones I’m not allergic to tend to taste way too artificial for me. This one’s different—the ingredients are simple, and the blondies it makes really do taste homemade. I keep one or two of these mixes on-hand at all times.
As for breads, there are two I’ll buy. First, the kettle-boiled bagels, which are better than I’d expected, but not quite as good as I’d hoped. I’m always on the lookout for allergy-friendly bagels, since good ones really do seem to be impossible to come by. But these, which are hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, and baked fresh daily in NYC, are actually all right. They’re worlds above other supermarket brands, at least.
And then there’s the organic French baguette. Unlike the conventional baguette, the organic version has no “may contain” warning—which is basically a miracle, as allergy-friendly baguettes are almost as hard to find as allergy-friendly bagels. The baguette itself is nothing special, but (like the bagels) it’s much, much better than the other store-bought breads I’ve tried.
I could go on and on (and on) about Trader Joe’s products, but I’ll leave it at this: Go. Check it out for yourself. They have so many interesting products (and their stock changes so often) that no description of mine can possibly suffice. And if you’re uncomfortable with trusting labels, do consider going with a phone in hand—their customer service department really will be happy to clear things up, jargon-free.
Trader Joe’s has a bunch of locations in and around NYC, but my favorite is the one in Brooklyn Heights (at 130 Court St).
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