Herr’s “Chocolate”-Covered Sourdough Pretzels

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A while back—when it was still cold out, of course—I decided it’d be a good idea to hop on an early-morning Chinatown bus to Philadelphia. I had no plan, nor anything to dabble in, so I ended up spending the whole day wandering. In the midst of those wanders, the wind got to me: my fingers and toes went numb, and so I decided to pop into some random supermarket to warm up (and gawk at food). It was there that I found these pretzels.

As a reflex, I pick up every bag (or tub, in this case) of chocolate-covered pretzels I see—and with the exception of Vermont Nut-Free’s, I’ve never come across one without a “may contain” warning for tree nuts. But as you’ve probably predicted, this tub of pretzels was unlike those others. It had no such warning, so I had no choice but to take it home.

In general, I’m one to go by labels. Unless I’ve found some specific cause for concern—the product in question is particularly high-risk, or it’s coming from a teeny-tiny company that makes a bunch of nut-containing products, too—I’ll dig right in to any packaged good whose label has no mention of tree nuts. I do that knowing full well that companies aren’t required to label for shared facilities, shared lines, etc., because…well, I’m just not a company-caller. (Many are—and if you got all your impressions from food allergy–themed online communities, you’d think that most were. But I really doubt the practice is all that widespread, especially among those who haven’t self-selected into allergy-related Facebook groups.)

The way I see it, if I adopted a set of food-safety standards so high that they required me to always confirm that a product comes from a nut-free facility before allowing myself to eat it—and if I were to really abide by that rule, and carry it out to its logical conclusion, which is some sort of obligation to make sure everything I put in my mouth is, as far as I can tell, free from all possible cross-contamination—I’d soon find that my standards were not only impossible to meet, but that they’d necessarily lead to something like a near-infinite regress of uncertainty, too. [Here, I will—for the first (and hopefully last) time—share a meme on this blog.]

Think about it. There’s just no way to confirm that a product is safe. What if the employee I spoke with was wrong? What if Nabisco has told me that my graham crackers come from a nut-free facility, but they don’t mention (or even know) that the flour that’s gone into those same graham crackers was itself processed on shared lines? What if a factory worker ate some almonds with his lunch? And what if I want to eat out? Am I going to ask a restaurant to provide me with a list of every single product that’s gone into my dish, and then proceed to call each and every one of those manufacturers before deciding whether to order? And what about that manufacturer’s suppliers?

Fuck no. All food comes with risk. I’ll survive. (Plus, my allergist’s on my side. So take that.) [Edit: For more on all this, read the comments on this post.]

Ingredient information on the back of a Herr's chocolate-covered pretzels tub

That all said—and yes, this whole post is just an excuse for the above demi-treatise—I did contact Herr’s about these pretzels—not as a precaution before eating, but as a precaution before sitting down to write this blog post. (Seems weird to throw a product post together without having spoken to the manufacturer. No matter how comfortable I feel at a restaurant, I wouldn’t publish a post on it without having gotten some summarizable allergen information out of one or two of its employees…or its website, I guess.) And eventually, I was able to find out that these chocolate-covered pretzels are, in fact, nut-free.

Originally, I was told (via email) that these particular chocolate-covered pretzels are made in a nut- and peanut-free facility, but that obviously wasn’t true, given that the label has a “may contain” statement for peanuts. I replied and said as much—and then, a day or two later, I got an unexpected phone call from a very apologetic (and very, very informed) Herr’s employee who’d evidently been tasked with setting the record straight. So: These pretzels—the ones that come in the red tub pictured at the top of this post—are made in a tree nut–free facility that does indeed handle peanuts, and they should be 100% safe for those with tree nut allergies.

By now, it’s beside the point, but the pretzels themselves are fine. They’re just about what you’d expect, really: thin, sour-ish pretzels, covered in a fair amount of sub-par “chocolate.” (It isn’t actually chocolate, but rather a chocolate-flavored coating.) They’re nothing to go out of your way for, but they’re nonetheless palatable. And even though they’re a little on the expensive side, they’re certainly less bank-breaking than Vermont Nut-Free’s. I don’t love them, and I’m not sure I’d buy them again, but…they’re chocolate-covered pretzels, and they’ve temporarily relieved me of my craving. I don’t ask for much more.

Anyway. I’m not actually sure where you can find these pretzels. (Remember: excuse, demi-treatise.) They aren’t listed on the Herr’s website, nor can I find much of anything about them online. With regard to potential allergens, the pretzels that come in the above-pictured red bucket aren’t necessarily the same as any of the other chocolate-covered pretzels sold by Herr’s. Rest assured, though, that these do exist, and that they (in particular) are safe.

They’re out there. I swear.

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10 thoughts on “Herr’s “Chocolate”-Covered Sourdough Pretzels

  1. Anonymous says:

    Maybe you would do differently if it was something you were feeding your own child.

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    • Maybe. Maybe not. I’m feeding my own self here, and (believe it or not) that’s pretty high-stakes to me, too. Who I’m feeding, though, is sort of beside the point. I stand by what I wrote.

      In any case, my allergist has given countless parents the same advice he’s given me. It’s a school of thought—and I happen to believe it’s the reasonable one.

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  2. Gila Engelman says:

    I agree with Juliet wholeheartedly about this, and I am feeding my own daughter. We happen to share the same allergist, who works at Mt. Sinai’s Jaffe Institute, leaders of food allergy research.

    And Juliet, thanks for this exciting possibility! Please let us know if you actually find these pretzels either online or in the NYC area.

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    • Thanks, Gila, for chiming in. It is, as I know you know, a risk/reward thing. But I get lots of responses like the one above—”it’d be different if you were feeding your child”—and it’s pretty difficult, from where I’m standing, to argue for my case. I’m hyper-aware of being as young as I am, I think, and hyper-aware, too, of the fact that I really don’t know whether anything would be different if I were feeding my own child. I’m pretty confident that I’d feel the same about this as I do now, but you never know, I guess. And that uncertainty makes it feel silly to argue my case. (All this to say that the above isn’t just a perfunctory “thank you for commenting”; I really do appreciate your adding your perspective!)

      Edit: Oops. Got caught up and forgot to respond to the second half of your comment. I’ll definitely let you know if I ever find any chocolate-covered pretzels around here!

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  3. Gila Engelman says:

    You’re welcome!

    Like

  4. Erin Zebelman says:

    It’s nice that you both are in agreement!
    I’m okay being the one out😜. We too see Dr. Sicherer at Jaffe. We eat out a lot and get the whole ingredient thing chain and how far do you go etc. I avoid some tree nuts for myself very casually but I call on every product for my son. I guess once I became responsible for another life with now life threatening food allergies, my baby boy, I can’t ever give him something that I haven’t verified is safe…and there isn’t anything wrong with being extra careful. Everyone is different and you do what is right for you and your child, but please don’t “oh hear we go again with those comments” ( when referring to mine), I am truly curious if you would do differently if you had a child, as many on the Facebook No Nuts groups do.
    Peace ✌️

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    • [Hi, Erin. I want to preface this long comment by saying that the following isn’t necessarily a direct response to you, but rather just something I’ve written as a general spelling-out of how I feel with regard to the issues you’ve brought up. Feel free to ignore the following paragraphs—I’m mostly just posting this for those who are following along and who, for whatever reason, get a kick out of reading my opinions. In any case, I hope this doesn’t come off as an attack!]

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being extra careful—you do what you need to do to feel comfortable, right?—but I do think there’s something wrong with insisting that others adopt the same standards that you’ve chosen to adopt. (Not that I’m saying you, Erin, are doing this. But I do get a lot of feedback, on Facebook and on here, from people who think it’s straight-up negligence to refrain from calling companies, and I often see those sorts of folks guilt-tripping those who are more laid-back.)

      I guess one of my problems is with the idea that these different approaches to handling food allergies are a matter of who you’re feeding (whether your child or yourself). Part of why I don’t like that idea is that I think it carries with it a whole lot of troubling implications that I won’t get into here, but that I’ll undoubtedly find some occasion to drone on about in the future… Really, though, plenty feed themselves in a way they’d describe as “more careful” than the way I feed myself, and plenty feed their children in a way some might consider less careful than the way I’d go about it. It has much more to do with the individual, I think, than it has to do with anything structural.

      My original gripe, though, was that I see a logical problem in a life wherein you (again, not you, Erin, but the generic “you”) insist on calling on all the products you eat at home but allow yourself to eat at the restaurants you’re comfortable with, and I see a quality-of-life problem in a life wherein you insist on calling on all the products you eat at home and then take that insistence to its logical conclusion and refrain from ever eating out.

      That said, I do understand the way anxiety can sometimes override logic—so while I maintain that it’s logically contradictory to allow yourself to eat only those ingredients that you’ve established as coming from a nut-free facility while not applying that same standards to the ingredients you encounter when eating out, I totally get why someone might want to live with that contradiction. If there are only two options—feel comfortable enough to eat, or, uh, don’t eat—you bet I’m going to jump through whatever hoops I have to jump through to get myself comfortable enough to eat. And sometimes, those hoops involve adhering to illogical standards. I know I have way more than my fair share. But part of what I’m doing here—in the long term, I mean, both with this blog and with just about everything else in my daily life—is trying to get my emotions and my anxiety to agree with what I know (logically) to be true.

      Like

  5. […] can’t say I have a hard time finding nut allergy–friendly popcorn. As I’ve recently explained, I’m decidedly not of the call-every-company-about-every-product school, and most […]

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  6. Laura Lallos says:

    Thank you! I appreciate the perspective of food-allergic adults. Back in the day, I called and emailed manufacturers on everything. I don’t regret it — my babies’ safety was at stake and I was doing everything I could to control the situation and protect them. But as my children got older and socializing became more of a challenge, I feared that setting the bar that high would ultimately backfire if it made compliance less likely in the teenage years. When I thought about it, I realized that I had set standards that I never would have set for myself were the allergies mine.

    Another perspective is that of those dealing with multiple food allergies (as opposed to just peanut/tree nut). A friend whose son is allergic to nuts, milk, egg etc, and so forth, told me that they don’t worry about cross contamination much because it would simply be too difficult for them to buy food. It was quite a revelation to realize that we had the “luxury” of avoiding “may contains”!

    Like

    • Thanks, Laura, for sharing your perspective, too. I can definitely see how it’d be easier (and less logically problematic) to formally vet each and every company when it’s a baby or a very young child you’re feeding. The situation of little kid that’s only really eating a handful of foods is totally different from that of a teenager or adult who’s eating hundreds upon hundreds, I’d think.

      To your second point: Yes! That sort of thinking is something I see a lot in the various allergy-related Facebook groups I haunt. (I’ve even seen it lead to fights—good fun.) From what I’ve seen, multiple-allergy folks are often more laid-back about minute chances of cross-contamination in both restaurants and manufacturing plants. Which makes sense, for sure. You can’t really rely on calling companies to ask whether their facilities are, say, nut-, egg-, dairy-, and wheat-free. You’d almost never get a “yes”—and there’s even more room for error there, too.

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