The Importance of Correct Allergen Labelling

Having been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease nearly 4 years ago, I don’t usually complain.

Yes, I’ve had my ups and downs (usually when eating out), but I tend to cook around 80% of my meals from scratch, and try to buy fresh ingredients and naturally gluten free food as much as possible. It’s cheaper, healthier and when it comes to cooking, fresh is always best. It really frustrates me when people claim that eating a gluten free diet is restricted, too expensive and ultimately boring. Expensive, yes it can be (if you eat bread and cakes everyday), but restricted definitely not! For example, a simple Indian curry consists of meat, sauce (usually naturally gluten free), veg and rice – you can even buy gluten free naan bread now!

However, recently I’ve found myself getting frustrated with brands who claim to be gluten free, and are either misleading customers with their allergen labelling, or confusing them so much they avoid the product all together.

The main culprit at the moment is ‘healthy’ ice cream brands. You know the ones that claim to be 300 calories per tub, even though the flavours are salted caramel, peanut butter and cookie dough…

To add a bit of context to my story, I recently won an Instagram competition of a months supply of ice cream. Sounds great, until it turns out a month supply is only 4 tubs!! Anyway, I sent my address to the company, who then posted me the vouchers so the ice cream wouldn’t melt on my doorstep. However, two of the vouchers were for their new cookie dough flavour, which defintely wasn’t gluten free.

I contacted the brand and explained that I has Coeliac Disease, and unfortunately couldn’t eat the cookie dough flavour – I had checked online, and it looked like the other flavours were all fine. The brand were really lovely, and they sent out two more of the normal vouchers so I could buy 4 tubs which I could actually eat.

So off to the shop I went, all excited to try this new healthy ice cream. I picked out the flavour I wanted, checked the ingredients out of habit, and there it was – ‘may also contain gluten’.

I’m sorry, what?!

Not only had I contacted the brand explaining I couldn’t eat the cookie dough flavour due to being Coeliac, I also checked online first to look at the ingredients. Still, there was the dreaded may contain warning. To add insult to injury, I had a look on the Coeliac UK app and the ice cream said suitable to eat (they’ve since updated the app and removed this ice cream from their approved list).

Around the same time, I found another healthy ice cream brand in the supermarket that proudly said Gluten Free on the front, but the labelling said ‘has been processed on equipment that also processes wheat’. Now, this may still be certified gluten free (as it could be under the 20ppm limit) but how confusing for Coeliacs who only want some blooming ice cream!

The moral of my rant is that it’s so important for brands to be 100% clear with their allergen labelling. I consider myself pretty clued up when it comes to reading labels, but when it says both gluten free and ‘may contain wheat’, what am I meant to think?

According to the Food Standards Agency, here are the correct ways to label gluten free allergens on products;

The European Commission compositional and labelling standards (Commission Regulation (EC) No. 41/2009) establish levels of gluten for foods that makes a claim to be either ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’. These levels are:

  • ‘gluten-free’ – 20 parts or less of gluten per million.
  • ‘very low gluten’ – 100 parts or less of gluten per million. However, only foods with cereal ingredients that have been specially processed to remove the gluten may make a ‘very low gluten’ claim.

Manufacturers can only use the phrase ‘gluten-free’ if they can demonstrate that, when tested, their product is 20 parts or less of gluten per million. They will also be required to demonstrate that any products claiming to be ‘very low gluten’ comply to the legislation.

Manufacturers producing foods with no deliberate gluten containing ingredients, but due to the high risk of gluten cross-contamination, will be unable to label foods as ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’.

I think I’ll stick to Carte Dor from now on…


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