Sunday, November 23, 2008

More on Wellshire Farms

A Look at the Findings

Following up on Friday's post, let's focus on some of the Chicago Tribune's test findings.

The Tribune wrote the following in a kind of sidebar:
The FDA doesn't define "gluten free," but generally "free" means a product contains none of the substance in question. The FDA has proposed adopting a 20 parts per million standard. In July, an international health commission recommended a similar standard.

The USDA, which has jurisdiction over meat products (including those below), has no policy specifically addressing "gluten-free" claims. The agency OKs labels before products go to market....

The Tribune bought three popular Wellshire Farms products advertised as "gluten free" and sent multiple samples to a lab for testing.

Chicken Bites: Tested at 204 parts per million and 260 ppm

Chicken Corn Dogs: Tested at 116 ppm and 2,200 ppm

Beef Corn Dogs: Tested at 191 ppm and 1,200 ppm

Wellshire Farms provided the Tribune with its own testing results, conducted in the spring. Their results showed: chicken nuggets tested at 200 ppm, chicken corn dogs 150 ppm, and beef corn dogs 120 ppm.
Prior to the adoption of the 20 ppm standard, the standard for many was 200 ppm, which might explain why Wellshire Farms claims the 200/150/120 levels (though I think that 200 ppm for the chicken nuggets was really pushing it).

Setting those numbers aside, the Chicago Tribune story, which seems credible, strongly suggests that, in practice, test levels are actually very variable with the possibility of highly problematic levels of contamination.

This makes me lean more toward labeling standards that include a ppm rating that indicates the probable level of gluten plus the possible high level, based on up-to-date testing (using the most appropriate testing equipment, which varies according to product). I'm not sure if a score of <20/120 or (in the case of the beef corn dogs, perhaps 120/1200) would be the best solution, but something in that direction should be seriously considered. And, as Ben Cappel has suggested, label dates would be good to heighten understanding of how up-to-date (or out-of-date) a food rating might be.

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