Secret Shopper: How can I ensure I am buying a safe gluten-free granola?Secret Shopper: How can I ensure I am buying a safe gluten-free granola?
Each month, Natural Foods Merchandiser's secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.
April 30, 2014
Store: This special gluten-free section in the cereal aisle includes a wide selection from which to choose.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: But some aren’t marked gluten free, some are, some have different seals. It’s difficult to know which to trust.
Store: We have purchasing guidelines when buying products and marking them with our own shelf tags, so these products should meet your needs.
How did this retailer do?
Our expert educator: Gina Clowes, coach, speaker, author, advocate and founder of Allergy Moms
There is room for improvement in this employee’s response. We don’t know the “purchasing guidelines,” however we do know there has been improvement and standardization of gluten-free labeling.
The FDA allows use of the term “gluten free” only on foods that contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. For someone new to a gluten-free diet, the safest bet is to start with products indicating they are gluten free on the label.
Some products, for example, a fruit cup, carry a very low risk of containing trace gluten. However, naturally gluten-free grains like oats can easily become cross-contaminated with gluten during harvesting and processing. Therefore, even if a product contains only naturally occurring gluten-free grains such as rice, corn and tapioca, it could still include trace gluten.
The safest bet is to purchase foods manufactured in a gluten-free facility that regularly tests for the presence of gluten and that carries a gluten-free label.
Certification programs such as the The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) require even more stringent guidelines for the amount of gluten contamination allowed in products (5-10 ppm) and may provide an additional layer of assurance.
Additionally, making store standards easily accessible could advance store transparency and build customer trust.
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