Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don't Believe Everything You Read on Shelf Labels

If you are Celiac or gluten intolerant and go through the grocery store picking up whatever you might see that looks interesting based on the shelf talker alone, you may be in for a rough few days ahead ahead. The dried mango (pictured above), produced and packaged by American Importing, Inc. just happens to be one or those products. 

To make a long story short, my husband innocently bought a package of this particular brand of dried mango for me to put into trail mix for us to take along on a trip. Before I could get all my ingredients assembled, Rick began nibbling on this dried mango. Within a few minutes he began to feel bloated, growing increasingly sick as the day wore on. I contacted my good friend Gigi Stewart of Gluten Free Gigi  who in turn contacted American Importing, Inc. The company spokesperson admitted the mango was processed on equipment that also process gluten related product (click here to see Gigi's entire post). Please notice the allergy information listed on the package.  Do you see anything there that should set off any bells? We didn't, to my husband's sorrow. Now, in response to my contacting American Imports, look at their Customer Support Team's reply. The complete text follows:

Dear Dr. Horne,

Thank you for your contact.  We are sorry to hear of your situation.  Obviously he is highly sensitive.  In Kroger’s defense, there is no legal requirement to make a statement.  All Kroger containers are packaged on shared equipment in shared air, so we recommend you pass on them in the future.  We are, however, studying (as are other companies) how we can better produce for “highly sensitive” situations, like your husband’s.  We hope we can make these adjustments soon.

We appreciate your patronage.

The Customer Support Team
American Importing Co., Inc.
550 Kasota Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Keep in mind that I asked them to " . . . to include “Processed in a facility that also processes wheat.” That was June of 2012. Fast forward to 2013. While shopping for fresh vegetables and fruits in the same Kroger store, I noticed the American Import display with a shelf talker indicating the product was certified gluten free. Curiosity got the better of me; I picked up a package of the dried mango to read the label. 

Would you like to guess what I found? The same old label that was on the offending mango from last year. My next question is " Who decided to put a shelf talker below this particular brand of mango indicating this product is gluten free?" The label nor the Customer Support Team at American Importing Co. Inc. certainly do support the notion that this product is free of gluten.

Walk with me across the store to the "gluten free" section of the store with a big ole' sign above saying so. Mind you, not all the products are gluten free. Did I mention that finding all certified gluten free products is sort of like an Easter Egg hunt, but that is another story unto itself?

Take a good, long gander at the picture below. What do you see? Bob's Red Mill Organic Whole Grain Soy Flour. Nowhere on the label do you the familiar gluten free symbol assuring you the product if free of gluten. Now,look on the shelf below the product. What do you see? A gluten free shelf talker. 

Hang on just a minute--Bob's Red Mill has two facilities--one that produces all their gluten free products that bear familiar gluten free symbol and one that produces everything else. Soy does not have gluten; but according to a company representative, for some unknown reason all of their soy products are produced in the same facility that also processes wheat. In good conscience, like most reputable companies, they cannot put the gluten free symbol on their soy products. And, I thank them for that.

Just in case Kroger thinks I am picking on them, I have more. I also visited Walmart against my better judgement. Right there in their tiny gluten free section is Bob's Red Mill Organic Whole Grain Soy Flour. No shelf talker this time--just a misleading label above the aisle that would make you think everything in that section is free of gluten because most things in that section are in fact safe for Celiacs and those who are gluten intolerant.

I can't believe I am putting this in writing, but in Walmart's defense on other gluten free items, many of  their own products carrying their own label state gluten free on the package. They also carry a number of known gluten free items, other than baking products, such as ChipIns.

Determined not to be out done, I went yet to another store--Earthfare--confident they would have at least one brand of gluten free soy flour. Once again, I am confronted with the same brand. This time, I have a real live human asking if he could help me. 

The answer was an astounding "Yes!" as I proceeded to explain what I wanted. He reached right smack in front of me and handed me a bag of the same brand of soy flour--Bob's Red Mill. I demanded that he show me the gluten free label. When pressed a little further, this young man proceeded to lecture me on the types of grains contain gluten, assuring me that soy is one with no gluten. 

Enter person number two who then decided to educate me to the issue of possible cross contamination being the reason this particular brand of soy flour was not carry the comforting gluten free symbol. I already knew that; I spoke with the company a couple of years back about how they segregated the wheat products from those labeled gluten free.

When I asked about other brands, such Arrowhead or Hodgson's, these two said that Bob's was the only brand they could get. To that I say, "Liar,,liar; pants on fire." 

The moral of this long wind up is to do your homework. Call companies and/visit their websites to find out if a product could be cross contaminated. The folks in these stores do no know or care. Most are look at home to convince you to buy a particular product, never mind that their misleading information could make you really sick.
There are also good apps available for iPhones and iPads that can help navigate the gluten infested waters of the super market.

Author: Dr. Jacquelyn P. Horne
Copyright: 2013

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