Not On the Label

Ingredients and Processing

Oftentimes, a perfectly safe-looking product can turn out to be evil incarnate.  The FDA doesn’t require everything to be on the label, so you may need to investigate things for yourself.  Here are some red flags to look for:

Flavors/Natural Flavors
Why?  Citric acid is considered a “Natural Flavor” if it comprises less than a certain % of a food product.

Why?  Many meats, from raw organic chicken to packaged deli meat, are processed with citric acid.  This will never be on the label, so always check in to the processing of unfamiliar meats.

Tocopherols, Mixed Tocopherols, Vitamin E
Why? These are often derived from soybean or vegetable oil, but not always.  Some are made synthetically, and are safe for ninjas.

Once you’ve found a red flag, contact the manufacturer by phone or e-mail and ask them about sourcing.  Be prepared to hear what will soon become your least favorite words: “proprietary information.”  Companies are not required to disclose their unlisted ingredients and manufacturing processes to customers; some will give you the information when you explain your allergy, some will continually repeat the words “proprietary information” until you want to throw a lemon at them.

In these instances, you have two choices: (1) take your business elsewhere, (2) talk to your doctor.  Having a doctor who is aware of your citric acid allergy is like holding the key to the kingdom of ingredients.  If you ask your doctor (very nicely!) to write to the company on your behalf, explaining that it is medically necessary for you to know whether certain ingredients are present or not, the company will likely disclose the information.  Be warned though: the company will ask your doctor to sign a contract (“tell anyone else these ingredients and we will have your license and/or your head”), and it can take a month or more to get the information you need.


Sometimes the packaging of the product can be a hidden danger.  Some things to look out for:

That waxy paper in the bottom of raw meat trays
Why? It often has citric acid in it to prevent bacterial growth.

Saran Wrap
Why? It’s made from acetyltributyl citrate, which is derived from citric acid.
BUT! Glad Wrap is made from polyethylene, so it’s safe for ninjas. So don’t get mad, get Glad 😉

Biodegradable “plant” plastic
Why? This may or may not be an issue for other ninjas, but is an issue for me. The plant material in the bottles seems to leech into the water and cause me to have reactions.