Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kroger Does Not Take Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance Seriously

I am increasingly concerned by the continued lack of respect the Kroger Corporation, or at least the one located in Opelika, AL has for those with Celiac Disease and/or those who are gluten intolerant.

Most of us lead very busy lives and would like to feel the time and money we spend purchasing food for our families are appreciated. Those who have a family member with one of these conditions, or any food allergy for that matter, know the inordinate amount of time spent grocery shopping.

I would appreciate Kroger employees placing shelf talkers, those little “signs” placed on the shelf below the product, on the correct items. Instead, I feel that they:

(1) Do not care if someone gets sick because they trusted the store to know its products. I know the argument. The primary responsibility for reading all—and I do mean all—labels to make sure the product is safe for your loved one to consume.

(2) Deliberately mislead vulnerable people who may be new to the gluten free buying experience.

(3) Non-responsive when a complaint is made.

(4) The employees are not trained in the seriousness of food related allergies or illnesses.

I also know why stores, not just Kroger, use shelf talkers. The store wants to draw the shoppers’ attention to that particular item. The item may be on special; the item may be overstocked, and the store definitely hopes you will put that item in your buggy. Some stores use these to help the shopper easily recognize items that meet special needs, such as gluten free products.

I am okay with these marketing ploys, often enjoying the “heads-up” on deep discounts when buying clothes or shoes or jewelry. I also understand from first hand experience as a former shop owner that folks I call “tag-nappers” either take tags and signs with them or move them. Nevertheless, the store has a responsibility to check periodically to make sure special signs remain correctly placed.

I would give Kroger the benefit of the doubt if I did not see this same deceptive behavior over and over. I have three of many examples for you. The shelf talkers would imply the product is certified gluten free. Why? The sign displays the recognized gluten free symbol.

Let’s take these pictures one at a time. The first one (above) is of dried mango produced by American Importing Company. The product would be naturally gluten free if it were not made on shared equipment with wheat products, thus causing it to become cross contaminated. We learned our lesson on this one the hard way. This one has another story--(Click for Complete Column).

The second picture (above) is of Bob’s Red Mill Soy flour. While it is true that soy in naturally gluten free, if soybeans are grown alongside and harvested with the same equipment used to harvest wheat, guess what? Yep, it is cross contaminated. Because Bob’s Red Mill is such a careful company, I called just to double check. Although technically gluten free, their soy flour is processed in their “other” facility that processes all of their wheat products. Again, the threat of cross contamination is just too great to risk.

And, that brings us to the most recent picture—Hodgson’s Mill Rye Flour. This one is probably the most offensive of the three. Why? Rye contains gluten, pure and simple. End of story. Again, trying to give Kroger the benefit of the doubt, I thought the sign might have been intended for its neighbor the soy flour. Even if this were the case, the company which has measures in place to mitigate cross contamination, they do not feel confident putting a gluten free label on their product and are up front about their soy flour being produced in a plant that also processes wheat products. Hodgson’s Mill equals another conscientious company.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not give you a few pointers to help you miss some of the landmines when shopping gluten free.
(1) I use the KISS approach—keep it super simple. I stick to fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry and seeds. We are fortunate because tree nuts are not off limits, making things like peanut butter or almonds a quick pick-me-up during that mid-afternoon slump.
(2) Realistically, you need other processed products to round out dishes you may be preparing for family. I carefully read every word on every label and do my own research. I normally carry Rick’s iPad with me giving me access to several gluten free apps and e-version of The Essential Gluten Free Grocery Guide by Triumph Dining Gluten Free Publishing. I can also go to the websites of the manufacturers. When all else fails, I can call the company.
(3) If I do not get some degree of triangulation, i.e., common conclusions and/or information from two or more sources, I call the company. Because I do call many companies, I try to shop during the normal business day when someone will available to answer the phone.
(4) If something doesn’t make sense or add up, pass on the product. If the processed in statement, which is voluntary, mentions facility that also processes wheat or on shared equipment, place that product back on the shelf.

When shopping gluten free, vigilance is a must, not a luxury. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Keep in mind you or your loved one pays the hefty price for these mistakes.

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