It appears Wellshire Farms quietly launched its new round of updated gluten-free nuggets in February. This comes three months after an investigation by the Chicago Tribune reported high levels of gluten found in several products, including the Chicken Bites which were marked gluten-free. The stories and subsequent outrage forced Wellshire to stop production of the Chicken Bites and make some changes.
This week, a fellow mom from our Raising our Celiac Kids Group recently found the gluten-free Garrett County Chicken Bites (made by Wellshire) on a store shelf and wondered if they were new or not. So I went to find out. It turns out, according to Sondramarie Bellace of Wellshire Family of Products, Wellshire got its first new shipment ready to go in the first half of February.
Wellshire Farms Makes Changes
Bellace says the company made big changes, but not in the way the product tastes. “We have not changed the ingredients, but we have changed batter suppliers and vendor partners.” This was one area that was called out in the Tribune investigation; at the time, Wellshire Farms said its batter supplier couldn’t guarantee the batter was gluten-free.
Now the company says it has a good system of quality control. “We have the batter tested before it leaves the facility, again arriving at the plant, during production and the final product. If any tests exceed 20 PPM [in the total weight of the product], the entire lot is discarded.” 20 PPM is the limit that has been decided by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in Europe and it is currently being considered by the Food and Drug Administration.
So is it okay for celiacs to return to Wellshire Farms or Garrett County Chicken Bites? The company would give you a resounding yes. But it is clearly up to you and what you’re comfortable with. If you do see the nuggets in your favorite store, Bellace says they should be the new ones. “We were completely out of stock of this item for several months and the stores would not have been able to order any until the week of February 9th when they returned to our inventory.” So from the company’s end, it is not sending out any more of the old nuggets.
But could the store you shop at have just put what was left over back on the shelves first-before putting the new nuggets out? I don’t know. I am not sure if they would pull the items off the shelves and save it or if they would just throw the rest away. I recommend checking with your store manager to find out when that group of nuggets came in if you are interested in purchasing them.
While it does appear the company has made significant positive changes to their product and the process it goes through, it may take people a while to buy the product again. Hopefully this post will help answer at least some of the questions consumers may have.
*One added note: Wellshire Farms brand Chicken Bites at Whole Foods is not yet available. No date was given as to when they would be ready for purchase.