While I absolutely applaud the labelling regulations that make manufacturers state if a product does/may contain wheat, e.g. "this product was processed in a facility that also processes wheat..." it's making it more difficult to find non-contaminated sources of products. Let me explain.
A couple of weeks ago I ran out of walnuts. You would think that this would be easy to remedy, not so. In the local health food store the big bins of nuts etc are a contamination certainty as people indiscriminately move the scoops between bins, ensuring good cross-contamination, and hence "no-go" areas for those people with food allergies or intolerance.
The same health food shop does sell pre-packed nuts, dried fruit etc, but these are not guaranteed wheat or gluten free because they are packed in a packaging facility which also packages wheat flour etc for all the stores in their franchise.
Both supermarkets in town also had the "this product may contain wheat..." message on their walnuts packaging. So walnut-less I returned home to make a Waldorf salad with almonds, it's just not the same.
My issue is not with the allergy awareness message, I think it's wonderful that we can buy products more safely now. My issue is with the fact that nuts shouldn't be packaged on the same machinery that's packaging wheat, oats, pretzels etc. Or if we look at it from a person with a nut allergy point of view, their oats shouldn't have the risk of cross-contamination with nuts.
There should be a safe degree of separation for foods being packaged, especially when the most common food allergens are being processed.
How do I normally solve this dilemma? Once a year I buy enough (well usually enough) dried fruit and nuts direct from a company who imports directly from the producers. Almost everything they import is wheat or gluten free, therefore when they package there is minimal risk of cross-contamination, and they do state that they take every precaution possible to avoid contamination between changing product lines. It's the closest thing to an acceptable risk, that hasn't failed yet.
I guess what I'm really saying, is that bigger is not better. We all want cheap food, and this cheap food comes at the expense of bigger and bigger facilities mass producing or packaging multiple food lines, with minimal product separation or cleaning between foods.
Did you know that wheat flour can stay airborne for up to 3 days? Read about the current XL Foods E. coli fiasco that has seen the largest meat recall in Canadian history, as well numerous cases of illness from eating the contaminated meat? XL Foods may be the biggest and slaughter a million cattle a year, but at what cost to safety and hygiene.
More and more people are now turning to small manufacturers or producers for better quality, safer products. The Slow Food movement has taken off quite successfully, perhaps it's time for a Small Food movement too.