It began as a gradual swell in the blogosphere. Now the reaction is moving beyond that into the larger celiac community after an alarming report in the Chicago Tribune, which focused on Wellshire Farms’ gluten-free chicken nuggets, and beef and chicken corn dogs. Testing for the investigative report showed the products that claim to be gluten-free, actually contained varying levels of gluten.

In my last post, I expressed doubt and confusion about which companies to trust, as I try to feed as many as three celiacs in my family! Well at least one company is coming out to reassure the public of its safety.

Reassuring the Celiac Community

In a statement released this week, EnjoyLife Foods’ Founder, President and CEO Scott Mendell said “…it’s also important for consumers to know that there are companies, such as Enjoy Life Foods, that follow extremely high standards for producing safe and accurately labeled allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods.” This is a very smart public relations move for this company. It not only gets EnjoyLife’s name out there, but in a positive, smart way. Plus it makes me as a buyer of gluten-free foods feel a bit more at ease about the market in general. I personally think more companies, who are confident about their gluten-free practices, should also come forward and explain how they do it – to again – reassure people of the safety of their product.

Wellshire Farms Defends its Gluten-Free Practices

Wellshire Farms issued a statement on November 21st (the day the Chicago Tribune’s report came out) about the story and what the company’s stance is on the issue of the “gluten-freeness” of its products. “Our understanding after speaking with the author is that this article relates solely to reactions from children with anaphylaxis, that is, with severe reactions to any level of allergens,” said company president, Louis B. Colameco, III. The statement did not comment on people with celiac disease.

“Our Wellshire products are tested at a level of 200 ppm or less, which is equivalent to 99.98% gluten free,” Colameco said. The Chicago Tribune had the products tested. Two-thirds of the tests came out with varying results over the 200 ppm, including one more than 10 times higher. Colameco continued to say,“The FDA is now considering [reducing] the amount of gluten to be 20 ppm or to 99.998% gluten free. This will be difficult to achieve as wheat and other grains can become cross contaminated from growth in the fields, or milling in the combines. It becomes very, very difficult if not impossible to control.”

I am not standing here saying that policing cross contamination is easy especially if you are contracting with outside suppliers. I am sure it is not. But apparently other companies have made it happen. EnjoyLife explained, it “…requires all ingredient suppliers to complete extensive cross-contamination statements, assigns a risk rating to all incoming ingredients based on suppliers’ statements, and further tests specific ingredients to ensure strict allergen control standards are met.” EnjoyLife says it tests its products to 10 ppm.

In the meantime, Wellshire Farms says of its Dino Bites chicken nuggets, “We have not discontinued making this product, but we are in the process of improving its formulation.” This new product, the company says, will include a lower ppm closer to the 20 ppm proposed by the FDA.

Does any of this news from EnjoyLIfe Foods or Wellshire Farms make you feel better or worse about the products you are buying? Am I the only one who is looking at many gluten-free products with a questioning glance these days? Tell me what you think. I have begun asking health food stores about whether they will continue to carry current Wellshire Farms products for now; I have not had any firm answers yet. I will let you know if and when I get some.

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