I have a gift.
I’ve been blessed with the supernatural ability to detect the quality and consistency of “thorough cleaning and sanitation processes.” Food manufacturers rely on these procedures to produce both standard and gluten free foods in the same facility. You might think that my powers would prompt generalized hero worship and mayors giving me keys to cities and such. In reality, my unique ability is more like a burden. I now completely empathize with Spiderman, and we attend the same self-help group on Tuesday evenings.
By the way, do you like how my superhero carries a grocery bag? That makes my enemies tremble with fear for sure.
Still, burden or not, I figure I still ought to use my talent for the greater good, so I continue to run right into blazing fires by testing new products that claim to be gluten free.
Take Chex cereal for example. There has been a lot of hype on the celiac bulletin boards and Twitter recently about various Chex cereals now being gluten free. General Mills also makes a big deal about it, listing “GLUTEN FREE” in large letters on the box front and four separate times on the back of the box. Either they are really concerned about my health, or they want to make a lot of money from the celiac community. I’m not sure which, but I would bet on the “want to make a lot of money” option. Either way, this was awesome news! A “normal” product I can buy in any grocery store instead of relying on UPS to deliver my food!
Being a gifted superhero, I teleported to the nearest store and bought myself a large box of Rice Chex. I used to love those when I was a kid. The very next morning, I ate a bowl – and promptly became violently ill. Nice. I love marketing.
This is where the value of my superpower comes into play. Lying on my death bed after the gluten-free Chex ingestion, I had a vision. I saw a large room with lots of noisy machinery and Wheat Chex hovering around dropping little gluten packages with parachutes into the nooks and crannies of all the Chex making machines. When I regained consciousness, I managed to scrawl an email to Chex Customer Service. I asked them whether gluten-free Chex are made in a dedicated facility or at least on dedicated equipment.
The response reminded me of why I love lawyers so much. Rather than simply answering my question, they gave me a 290 word statement that basically told me to check the label. To top that off, the response ended with the following:
“If there are no gluten-containing ingredients listed in the product ingredient label, we still cannot assure that this product is gluten free. While we have not added gluten-containing ingredients, factors such as sourcing, conditions of manufacture, etc. do not allow us to provide the full level of assurance that a gluten free claim requires.”
Unfortunately for me, I was only gifted with cross contamination detection superpowers and not a razor sharp intellect. You see, in my simple view of the situation, I was pretty certain that General Mills had made gluten free claims, maybe by writing GLUTEN FREE all over the box. This legal stuff is pretty complex though, maybe I should probably stay out of it and just stick to watching Boston Legal.
But, as I have said in previous posts, I am a giver. SO I persisted in getting my question answered so I could share it with you, the Celiac Bites reader. On my second attempt, I got the following response:
“Our Gluten Free Chex cereals are not produced in a gluten free facility. We do, however, ensure against cross-contamination with gluten-containing ingredients and products through thorough cleaning and sanitation processes, including testing between gluten and gluten free product runs based on FDA proposed regulations.”
There you go. Cleaning and sanitation processes. As I wrote about in a previous post about dedicated fryers in restaurants, you have to believe in a lot of perfection before you trust your physical well being to “procedures.”
The moral of the story is that food manufacturers like to make money. And eating gluten free is becoming a trendy thing. So being savvy marketers, they are going to take every opportunity to sell more of their stuff by making it stand out from the competition. If a few celiac patients get killed in the process, well, that’s just the cost of doing business.
So be careful out there. Don’t blindly trust the marketing claims. Remember that there are a lot of great businesses that pride themselves on making real gluten free food – in gluten free facilities. Check The Gluten Free Mall for lot’s of those products. In fairness to General Mills, they claim to make the new Betty Crocker gluten free baking mixes in a gluten free facility. Hat’s off to them for that – and a big BOO for the scam on Chex cereal.
I’d love to here about any other cross contamination detecting superheroes out there. Let me know – maybe we can form a Cleaning and Sanitation Procedures Justice League!