Okay, I’m frustrated.
A few weeks ago I went to the Fancy Foods Festival in NYC. There were literally thousands of booths there. Companies came from all over the world. I was well aware that this was not a gluten free event but that there would be many gluten free companies present. Always excited to learn about new products, I practically sprinted across the expo, quickly nixing booths that displayed bread on their tables and other red flags. I sought out booths that had a gluten free label/certification displayed or had foods that should be naturally gluten free. At every booth I approached I asked if their foods were gluten free and (very specifically) if they were made in a dedicated gluten free facility.
I took home dozens of business cards from companies that were interested in being featured on my blog. I emailed about twenty of these companies to confirm their gluten free status/dedicated facility, and you know what? I threw half of those cards away. The conversation would go something like this:
Me: I was told that your products are gluten free and made in a dedicated facility. Could you confirm this?
Company A: YES WE ARE GLUTEN FREE!!!
Me: Great, do you have a dedicated facility? GF certification? How many ppm do you test to?
Company A: We don’t test, no certification, gluten-containing products are made on the same equipment. BUT WE ARE GLUTEN FREE!!!
Company B: YES! All of our products except one are gluten free. That one is made in a separate facility to prevent cross contamination.
Me: Great! So that means that your gluten free products are made in a dedicated gluten free facility?
Company B: Actually, none of our products are gluten free….
Company C: We are gluten free! Our facility and co-packer can’t make any cross contamination guarantees, but they clean, so all is good.
Company D: Shared equipment, shared facility, no certification, but we test our final product for gluten once a year!
(This company got annoyed with me when I said I didn’t want to review their products – “But we meet the FDA standard!!”)
And some of these companies actually advertise their products as gluten free on their label! That is the problem with the FDA ruling. Companies are not required to test their products for gluten or have dedicated facilities/production lines. But if their products happen to be tested, they must test under 20ppm.
And those disclaimers that say if a product is made in a facility/on equipment that also processes nuts, milk, soy, wheat, ect? – That is a voluntary label. Companies are not required to list any of that information. In fact, I’ve come across a company that shares their gluten free line with wheat-based pretzels – they exclude wheat in that voluntary statement yet list the other allergens that are present. What???
There needs to be better standards for gluten free products. Today, gluten free does not always mean Celiac safe, though it should. (And don’t even get me started on restaurants – “Our fries are gluten free but made in the same fryer as breaded items”…great….) There are so many holes in the FDA legislation. We deserve better. But until that happens, we need to know how to protect ourselves.
So my advice to you – when you see a gluten free label without an official certification stamp, do not take it for face value. Call or email the company. Ask if they have dedicated facilities/equipment, if they test for gluten, what they do to prevent cross contamination. Use your judgment. If it doesn’t meet your standards or something feels fishy, move on to a brand that you can trust.
Stay safe, my friends.