When is something labelled gluten free not guaranteed gluten free?

Added on 07 May, 2006 . There are .

Well if you buy Amy's rice crust pizza, which is clearly labelled gluten free on the box, that's when.

For sale in the gluten free freezer section of my local healthfood store I was excited to see an organic rice crust pizza for sale. Inspecting the box it clearly said "gluten free", I quickly scanned the ingredients to make sure that they hadn't used wheat starch with the gluten removed, was satisfied that it was okay, so bought it.

It wasn't until I got home that I read the allergy information small print which says "This product is manufactured in a facility that processes foods containing wheat, milk, soy, tree nuts and seeds..."

Well that really sucks. You can't label a product gluten free then manufacture it in the same facility that wheat is processed and hope that the small print gets read.

Their website in the special diets section says "Amy's is sensitive to the dietary needs and concerns of our consumers..." And they say about their rice crust pizza "Amy's cheese and tomato pizza made with a tender organic rice crust will surprise and delight those who do not tolerate wheat..."

How can something be guaranteed gluten safe if the contamination risk is there?

Their FAQ sections deals with questions on allergies: "Q. I have several food allergies. Is there a possibility of cross contamination in your facility? A.Amy's Kitchen recognizes the needs of our customers who have allergies or sensitivities to nuts, gluten, certain spices, etc. Amy's always fully discloses all ingredients (except for specific spices used in the product)... At Amy's we take every precaution to ensure that cross contamination of ingredients does not occur in our production facility but we want you to know that this product was produced in a plant that processes foods containing wheat, milk, soy, tree nuts and seeds..."

"Q. What is the difference between wheat free and gluten free? Are they the same? A. If a product is gluten free it is automatically wheat free [wheat-free.org comment: nope not true, wheat starch with the gluten removed is used in some gluten free products], but the opposite is not true. Products that are labeled "wheat free" contain some form of gluten such as rye, barley or oats, or the product would be labeled gluten free. Amy's Kitchen labels products as gluten free if they contain no wheat, rye, barley or oats. People who want to avoid wheat can do so by purchasing our gluten free products. While we do have gluten-containing ingredients in several of our products, we take special precautions to assure that we do not have cross contamination between a gluten containing and a gluten free product."

Is Amy's jumping on the wheat/gluten free bandwagon without making any effort to guarantee the products real gluten free status, hence the disclaimer? Are they cynically producing foods for the "celebrity wheat allergy crowd", where it doesn't matter if a bit of wheat has contaminated the gluten free product?

You simply cannot label a product gluten free then on the same packaging state it is manufactured in the same facility that wheat is used. It's just not acceptable. How can I know that it is safe for me to eat? How can I know that the day they made my gluten free pizza wasn't the day that some contamination did occur? I'm not that desperate for pizza that I'm going to risk it, especially when I can make my own guaranteed wheat free pizza crust.

On the face of it Amy's looks to have a great range of gluten free products, it's a pity that their gluten free status is not guaranteed, to allow that nasty little disclaimer on the packaging to be removed. I will be contacting Amy's for their comments on this issue.