I reposted this item today after another grocery store responded to the issue.

The Chicago Tribune’s investigation into allergens in food, specifically looking at Wellshire Farms, may have health food stores in a bit of a quandary. These stores specialize in food for those with special needs. So when something like gluten-free chicken nuggets and corn dogs allegedly have some levels of gluten in them, and they’re not recalled, what does a store do?

I believe they are faced with an ethical and moral dilemma. Do they….

  1. Pull the product from the shelves on your own to safeguard your customer?
  2. Leave the product on the shelves but post a notice about the recent news report to educate consumers?
  3. Leave product on shelves with no notification?

I polled some of my local markets in the Twin Cities area to see what they are doing. One of them didn’t carry the product, but it did prompt a discussion among employees which is always a good thing.

Valley Natural Foods was very proactive and open with me and their customers about the concerns of the products. Valley Natural does carry Wellshire Farms’ products. Store officials told me they decided to leave them on the shelves; but with a notification posted near the products about the article’s investigation. A letter from Wellshire Farms was also made available in the meat department for customers to read.

According to the Chicago Tribune article Whole Foods representatives were “…investigating the issue, but that it was the supplier’s responsibility, not Whole Foods’, to ensure the Wellshire products are safe and legal.”

Lakewinds just got back to me today about the Wellshire Farms products. Libby Trader, General Manager of Lakewinds said they do not carry Wellshire Farms products, but they do carry one product made in the same facility. “Our intent after reading the Chicago Tribune article is to go back to the manufacturer and find out what they have done – if anything to ensure the safety of their products,” Trader said. “If they are unable to provide the necessary reassurances, we would put a sign by the products indicating our findings. This would allow consumers who are currently buying it and not suffering a reaction to continue – and those who are quite sensitive to proceed with the proper warning.”

Fresh and Natural here in the Twin Cities had not responded to my request as of this post, nor does it have any mention of the issue on its website. If I get a response I will post it right away.

Without an official recall either from the government or the manufacturer, the grocery store itself could have trouble justifying a decision to pull the products off the shelves. “[Wellshire Farms’] stand is that there exists confusion between USDA and FDA regulations and they are committed to improving the quality of their products,” Charli Mills from Valley Natural Foods told me. If Wellshire Farms is technically not violating any government regulations, removing the product from the shelves may not even be considered by most or all grocery stores.

Yet leaving the consumer uninformed by keeping the product on the store shelves without any notification doesn’t seem right to me either. It think at the point this is at, with the rules that are in place, the fairest thing to do for everyone is to post a notification of the alleged concerns near the product. And as consumers, we need to continue to be vigilant about educating ourselves in cases like these. As always we need continue on with good gluten-free shopping practices like reading labels – thoroughly and often. While it may not work every time, it is our best defense to living healthy lifestyles as people with celiac disease.

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