Bulking up is hard to do.

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For years, my husband and I went down the ethnic food aisle to get cheaper spices. For $2 a package you can get spices like cumin and oregano. Compared to the actual prices in the spice aisle, it is the logical choice. Well, we recently ran out of cumin, and instead of making the trip down to our discount spice and gluten free flour shop we went to get some at down the ethnic food aisle. My husband picked up those familiar red, green, and clear packages hanging there and was about to put them in the cart. We hadn’t made the trip to this spice section since my celiac diagnosis, so we hadn’t ever needed to check the purity of these spices. A quick peek at the back of the package, and everything was put back on the shelf and we were walking over to the spice section to seek gluten free cumin.

It seems like there shouldn’t be a reason for cumin to have gluten in it. Its cilantro seeds that have been toasted and ground. In a pure there should be no reason for wheat to be involved. Then again there’s no reason for a package of cashews or trail mix to have gluten, but sometimes they do. All of these labels have some of my least favorite words in the English language, “packaged in a facility that also processes wheat.” It’s part of the labeling standards that we discussed back here, and for the gluten sensitives, it’s not a deal breaker. For us Celiac’s is cross contamination hell. It means that nuts, grains, rice, or anything else that can be sold in bulk is just not 100% safe. You always have to check.

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This also means that the bulk bins at your local supermarket are off limits. Even though we can find psyllium husk powder or xanthan gum in bulk, we still need to march ourselves over to the Bob’s Red Mill display to buy them. Why, because bulk bins are cross contamination hell. There’s the obvious part of it, everyone using the same scoops no matter what they’re getting. There’s nothing stopping someone from putting that scoop in to the wheat flour and then dipping the same scoop into the brown rice flour. There’s no reason to wash the scoop between each use. But there’s more to it than that.

Supermarkets aren’t required to clean bulk bins between uses. So bulk bins often don’t get cleaned between uses. This mean if they rearrange the bulk bin order, there’s never any need to actually clean the bin. So your rice flour could have been wheat flour at one point in time. There is no requirement for supermarkets to be careful with their bulk bins either. They can keep the rice flour or trail mix bins open while their filling up the wheat flour. Really it’s just not prudent. Don’t do it.

So, how does a Celitariat save money and stay safe from the glutens? You have to find pre-packaged bulk items. Near me, there is a wholesale market for bulk items. There’s no bins there, but they buy spices and flours to re-package into re-sealable plastic bags. The market also sells spices to other markets, so going there cuts out the middle man of the grocery store. This particular market is really safe, and I’ve never gotten sick from their flours before (even though they sell wheat flour and bulger in the same store.) We get super cheap gluten free flours, rice, beans, and even dried fruit, all things that are verboten in a normal supermarket. There’s no scoops, so there’s no cross contamination. Plus they have a really nice gluten free section with a variety of flours, pastas, crackers, and bars.

I know it’s going to sound sketchy and scary to walk into one of those wholesale markets, especially when it’s not a buyers club like Costco, but check it out. Sometimes places show up on Find Me Gluten Free as being gluten free markets. Read what other people say about them. You can also speak with the owners about their processes. It never hurts to ask questions. Because gluten free food requires extra care for preparation and processing it is always going to be more expensive, unless everyone goes on a gluten free diet, this is just a fact of life.

There are also some websites where you can buy bulk gluten free flours. I haven’t used any of these services, mostly because we have our market. I suspect that I might if we were further away. If you have any experience these websites or services, comment with which ones you like best.

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Not all “bulger” is created equal.

I’ve mentioned the app Gluten Free Food Finder before. It is super useful when you’re grocery shopping its really useful, but we have one really weird experience with it, namely yogurt. Yup, yogurt, one of those things that should be normally be naturally gluten free (ya’ know as long as they don’t drop pretzels or malted milk balls into the mix) so when it came back with a “contains gluten” warning, it make us really re-think if the app was working.

It is a crowd sourced app, so it’s only as good as the people who use it, so there is always going to be some yahoo who decides to troll the rest. It’s kind of the nature of crowdsourcing or being a part of the digital world. I might be a little obsessed with the Pokemon Go phenomenon, but it’s a new emerging community (and it gets me out to take some Pokewalks so I’m not going to really complain.) If you look at the news stories about the community there are a lot of people doing good things. There’s people who are dropping lures at children’s hospitals so that the kids there can play the game. There’s even one Children’s hospital in Michigan who is using it as a way to get children social while their inpatient. There’s also stories about thieves setting lures to get people’s smartphones or the guy who shot up a couple of player who were driving through a neighborhood catching ‘em all. Honestly, the DDOS crash that the hacker group that happened on Saturday with Pokemon go is the biggest example of this. For all of the people who are doing good and having innocent fun interacting with each other and enjoying the game, there are a few people out there ruining it for everyone. Of course those are the stories that the news actually reports, but that’s because they’re way more interesting. Still, there’s very few cell phone games that can boast that they’re helping the law enforcement community, and I’m kind of proud to be a part of it.

Anyway, that’s a digression in regards to the discussion of this post. So, we were using this crowd sourced app to scan Chiboni greek yogurt and got back “this contains gluten.” According to Chiboni their normal, not flip, yogurt is gluten free. The thing that I like most about this app is it let you know WHAT contains gluten in the item. In this instance is showed L bulgaricus, or Lactobacillus bulgaricus. If anyone of you knows anything about probiotics, this is a bacteria that has nothing to do with bulgur wheat. Absolutely nothing. But because the word had “bulgar” (sic) in it, the app shoed it as a false positive. I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t malicious, but misinformed.

There’s a lot of misinformation in the gluten free community, but that partly because large portions of it live online, and there is a lot of misinformation online. Before this age of the internet, information was being shared through magazine and academic publications. This means that everything needed to be vetted and researched. This means that everything that was shared got rigorously fact checked. The internet as no fact checking, You pretty much have to be your own fact checker (see my GIGO post for more information on that) the same thing goes for all of the crowd sourced apps out there.

We can know that things like Lactobacillus bulgaricus or Monosodium Glutamate don’t really have gluten in them, but they have words where part of them that include the verboten. And people who don’t know or don’t do the research (or even a google search really) get over cautious and get us all into a panic. I was watching Master of Nothing yesterday (because Netflix) and there is a scene about halfway into the series where a Aziz Ansari’s character is given a gluten free cake because “gluten causes lupus.” If they hadn’t set up the character who made that statement to voice all of the crazy stuff that you hear in the internet, I would have been offended, instead that turned this trend that I’ve been discussing into a quick easy joke, and I laughed. We know that we can look online and disprove the “gluten causes lupus” thing. Just like we can quickly google L bulgaricus and msg and see that it doesn’t contain gluten. Can we, sure. Will we, well I would hope so after all of this. Otherwise I have been ranting at you all for a couple of months to no avail.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m waiting for a Snorlax to show up in my neighborhood. I want to name it after my husband.

 

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Liar, liar intestines on fire

Okay, today we’re going to take on the really boring topic of FDA regulations. It’s something that you all should know before we go much further, so I’m going to try and make it as not boring as possible. Yup.

If you do not know, as of August 5th, 2014 the FDA put in guidelines for what can and cannot bear the label gluten free.Here is a summary of the new rule from the FDA’s own webstie:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or we) is issuing a final rule to define the term “gluten-free” for voluntary use in the labeling of foods. The final rule defines the term “gluten-free” to mean that the food bearing the claim does not contain an ingredient that is a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food (i.e., 20 milligrams (mg) or more gluten per kilogram (kg) of food); or inherently does not contain gluten; and that any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food is below 20 ppm gluten (i.e., below 20 mg gluten per kg of food). A food that bears the claim “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten” in its labeling and fails to meet the requirements for a “gluten-free” claim will be deemed to be misbranded. In addition, a food whose labeling includes the term “wheat” in the ingredient list or in a separate “Contains wheat” statement as required by a section of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act) and also bears the claim “gluten-free” will be deemed to be misbranded unless its labeling also bears additional language clarifying that the wheat has been processed to allow the food to meet FDA requirements for a “gluten-free” claim. Establishing a definition of the term “gluten-free” and uniform conditions for its use in food labeling will help ensure that individuals with celiac disease are not misled and are provided with truthful and accurate information with respect to foods so labeled. We are issuing the final rule under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA).

Yeah, I know TRDR right? What’s the cliff notes version? Well the FDA says that anyone that puts gluten free (or any variation of that phrase) on their package must have 20ppm (meaning 20 mg per kg) or less of something with gluten in it. Also if a anything has gluten, wheat, or a wheat directive (i.e. wheat starch) need to have a label stating that is has wheat in it. This was all done for people with celiac disease. It feels pretty good to have a new law for you right? But what does it really mean?

Packages for processed foods are like like 99% safe, which is abouBatmant as good as we can get. Everyone and their mother knows about the Cheerios disaster. If you didn’t hear anything about it, well Cheerios went to great lengths to source gluten free oat flour to allow celiacs to eat Cheerios again. Great right, and then contaminated oats flour gets delivered to their dedicated gluten free facility. It was ALL over the news. Now, when General Mills found out what happened they went public, pulled boxes off the shelf, and shut down the facility to clean it. That is the absolute correct response, and Cheerios are safe again. But it’s a lesson that we need to learn. Just because the package says it’s safe doesn’t mean that it is 100% safe.

So, how does the FDA protect you? Well there’s facility inspections, labeling reviews, consumer complaints, and when needed testing. They, in fact, rely on the facilities to do their own testing. Yeah, you see what I’m seeing here aren’t you. But, for the most part, it’s safe. Like 99% of the time, safe. You can trust a label. And then there’s this…

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I got caught by something like this. I bought sweet potato chips. The package even said on it “Gluten Free, 100% Sweet Potatoes” but the 100% Sweet Potatoes in a circle around the Gluten Free. It basically read “100% Gluten Free Sweet Potatoes.” My husband and I were joking about how sweet potatoes could contain gluten. Of course, I didn’t really look at the package. And guess what? I was feeling it the next day, so I looked at the package it was processed in a facility…

So why is this so bad? Well wheat can be airborne, so there’s that, but this is a more interesting processed food fact. You know those mystery flavor Dum Dum lollipops? They’re the combination of one two flavors when they’re switching between the flavors. Yup, it’s not an actual flavor, it’s just multiple flavors mixing together. That’s a p
retty extreme example, but it’s not an unusual for multiple similar products the same equipment. It just takes one person not being careful when they’re cleaning the equipment and your white blood cells are re-enacting the Avengers in your intestines.avengers

Now that we discussed all of the dangers of not reading packages or and what the FDA is doing for you, it’s time to discuss what you can do for the FDA. Remember back a couple of paragraphs where I mentioned that the FDA only knows what to investigate through consumer reports…guess what you are? You are a consumer, and better yet, you’re a consumer that really needs to be gluten free. You are the exact consumers that they wrote these rules for. Remember, you are your own best advocate, and you can help others too. How did the FDA know to investigate Cheerios? Well because consumers reported that they were getting sick, and because of that they figured out what happened. The FDA makes it pretty easy to report. I mean it’s not an online form, but it’s close enough.

Contact FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System called “CAERS” by phone, 240-402-2405 or email, CAERS@cfsan.fda.gov

There’s everything almost everything that you need to understand the FDA guidelines for gluten free package labeling. If you would like more information you can check our the FDAs own website. There’s a lot of good information there.