As I was writing about Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s new line of nutrition/protein bars, I began to think about allergen warning statements and what they really mean. Do they mean the same thing to everyone? I am sure you know the statements that I am talking about. They seem to vary depending on company.
There are a few statements that stick out in my mind: “processed in a facility that uses wheat & egg” or “made on equipment shared with wheat, milk & egg” or “may contain wheat & egg” or “no gluten ingredients”. When I see those four statements I interpret them in a couple of different ways. The statements “processed in a facility that uses wheat…” and “made on equipment shared with wheat…” mean that wheat (gluten) is present in the facility and that cross-contamination could occur. Will it? Many factors are at play, so there are no absolutes here. That being said, Jon and I do eat foods that are labeled in that way. The same goes for “no gluten ingredients”. What I interpret that statement to mean is that the manufacturer doesn’t add any ingredients that contain gluten, but the food is not produced in a gluten-free facility. They are not going as far as the previous statements to say that wheat (gluten) is present in the same facility, but they are not saying it isn’t either. Now, hand me a food that says “may contain wheat….” and I won’t touch it! To me, that statement says that it is likely that the product contains wheat, and that is not something I am willing to chance – given my reaction to gluten. There is an exception to this last “rule” for me. If I call the company and get a good explanation of their practices, it is possible that there is no higher of a risk eating this “may contain wheat…” food item than a food that is made in a facility that produces other products that contain wheat. The key is communicating with the manufacturer.
I know some people who follow the gluten-free diet will only eat certified gluten-free foods. It all depends on your beliefs, level of sensitivity, and your level of confidence in the manufacturer. There is nothing wrong with following the gluten-free diet this way. Eating only whole foods and those that are certified gluten-free should ensure that there is no hidden gluten in your diet. This approach is useful in Celiacs who don’t show improvement on the gluten-free diet after a period of time or in those who start to feel bad again. The more “processed” foods that are consumed that are not certified gluten-free, the higher the risk of cross-contamination or accidental ingestion.
What do allergen statements mean to you? Do you eat food that is only certified gluten-free?