Does it really matter if you have a 'may contain'?
It's a question that keeps coming up on social media. If you're coeliac, does it matter if you eat a product that 'may contain gluten'?
Don't you just love it when someone says that? I was told on holiday once that it was "just traces of gluten" in the paella they'd made. And no matter how emphatic I was that traces weren't okay, the chef just didn't get it.
Would someone really say "have a little bit" if it were cyanide in the food?
Much as I loathe covid and what it's done in people's lives, it does make it slightly easier for coeliacs to explain why traces of gluten are so important to avoid.
The fact is, a 'may contain' is only allowed to be printed on a product made without gluten that actually might contain gluten. So that might be an omelette that's prepared next to a floury batch of bread rolls. Or a creme brulee made in a factory alongside fondant fancies. Or anything where the risk of cross contamination is enough to make the product contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten.
And if you're wondering, companies aren't allowed to slap a 'may contain' on a product where there isn't a risk.
Like many newly-diagnosed coeliacs, there are still companies who are confused.
Let's take a look at the (now infamous on Twitter) labelling on the Coconut Collaborative's Melt in the Middle Puddings.
I got in touch with them in March to ask what they actually meant. No reply. But 6 months and a variety of others getting cross on Twitter later, they responded with a rather confusing message.
It starts well:
We can confirm that our Melt in the Middle Choc Puddings are in fact Gluten Free.
Our claim is validated through a thorough Risk Assessment of the manufacturing process, as well as through allergen testing of each batch we produce. We are following the Allergen Labelling Regulations on all our packs with all ingredients being declared and allergens highlighted in bold.
Our product is packed in a Grade A+ BRC certified facility, where allergen control is in place and so, although the factory handles gluten, there are strict, verified and validated procedures in place to ensure there is NO cross contamination.
So you'd think they'd realise their claim 'gluten-free' on the packet was perfectly valid and there was no need to put anything else. But here's the bit where they're confused:
The disclaimer on pack has been added to provide a clearer view that gluten is handled on site and may be present at less than 5ppm, (which is the lowest limit of detection any laboratory can test at this stage), to ensure compliance for products labelled Gluten Free. With this being said, and because it’s not physically possible to test for 0 gluten, we’ve decided to include the ‘Made in a Factory that handles Gluten’ statement on pack, so it gives people the option to make an informed decision.
However, since they're complying with regulations, they clearly do a lot of product testing and they know their product is coeliac-safe, the "informed decision" is lost on the customer and instead creates confusion (and, in my case, a refusal to buy the product).
However, they were very apologetic in their e-mail (firstly because they'd ignored my initial request back in March and secondly because they clearly realised their message wasn't clear).
But here's the good news!
We are currently in the process of redesigning our packaging to make allergen information clearer. What’s more, as part of our further commitment to food safety and clarity, we are already in conversations with The Coeliac Society to have our products Crossed Grain Certified for further verification. This process will allow anybody following a gluten-free diet to easily identify that it is a certified product.
Since Coeliac UK know exactly what they're talking about, you can rest-assured the new packaging you'll see on the Melt in the Middle Puddings will have a crossed grain symbol and no ambiguity (I hope).
But what should you do if you see a 'may contain' warning or a 'made in a factory that handles [wheat]'?
Firstly, don't assume they've got it wrong (like the Coconut Collaborative). Secondly, remember the may contain signs above. Which one makes you stop and think most? May contain glass, poison or covid?
So if in doubt, miss out, contact the manufacturer and get some clear answers.
Believe it or not, changes are being made that help coeliacs and life is getting much easier for people who need to avoid allergens. By doing a spot of work on social media, you can help things move along more quickly. (Go you!)