Is Your Packaging Gluten Free?

I invited Chris Bekermeier to write a guest post today, discussing packaging. Chris is based in the US, and so is discussing packaging in the US, but the issues are the same wherever you are. I’m certainly going to be investigating wheat-based packaging here in the UK after reading his article… please feel free to add your views in the comments.

Over to you, Chris!


food packagingWhen you’re going gluten-free, ingredients matter. However, another big question you should be asking both yourself and the stores where you buy your food is, “Is the packaging gluten-free?” Whether you’re an old hand at living without gluten or just beginning to go gluten-free, you likely know how to check the ingredients of what you’re buying. The problem is whether or not the packaging itself is free of gluten, and many people aren’t aware that it may not be.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and is used as a thickening agent and for flavor in many pre-packaged foods. While the majority of these foods list their ingredients on the packaging, new innovations in “going green” encourage companies to make the packaging itself out of wheat. In 2004, researchers at California’s Agricultural Research Service Western Regional Research Center teamed up with EarthShell to look into the manufacture of wheat-based packaging. They found that wheat-based packaging is fairly simple to make and much better for the environment, but didn’t address the question about whether or not this packing would be gluten-free.

In 2011, Bio-Mass Packaging, in partnership with Bridge-Gate, offered a line of biodegradable wheat-based packaging containers specifically for takeout restaurants and caterers. Unfortunately, these can be especially harmful to customers with gluten and wheat allergies because they have no idea that the takeout food they are bringing home is held in a container made from wheat paste.

Being aware of gluten in packaging also extends to being aware that the packaging and the food may be cross-contaminated by the machinery used during manufacturing. Current labeling laws do not require a manufacturer to declare what is used to produce the packaging material so this does not appear on the label, leading consumers to believe that they’re safe when they may not be. Fortunately, some companies, such as Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, make an extra effort to avoid cross-contamination. On its website, the company states, “To assure the integrity of all of our Gluten Free products, we adhere to a standard of no more than 19 parts per million of gluten. We’ve even built a separate Gluten Free packaging division complete with specialized machinery to make sure that our products maintain their purity–just as nature intended.”

Knowledge about gluten-free foods and packaging is also required when you go on vacation, especially to another country. Although the brand may be familiar, the packaging and the machinery that constructed it were likely different from what you purchase at home and could be contaminated. If you experience especially bad reactions to gluten, it may be prudent to bring special foods with you and cook your own meals, rather than trust that the foods you buy elsewhere – and their packaging – are safe and gluten-free.

Being alert and informed is, as always, the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe when consuming any type of food that may contain gluten. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or research wheat-based packaging and its possible negative effects to those on a gluten-free diet. When it comes to being gluten-free, it’s more than just ingredients that matter.

Thanks Chris!

Chris Bekermeier is Vice President, Sales & Marketing of PacMoore in Hammond, IN. PacMoore is a contract manufacturer focused on processing dry ingredients for the food & pharmaceutical industries. Capabilities include blending, spray drying, re-packaging, sifting, & consumer packaging.

On Spontaneity and Pizza

This weekend, we did something that we’ve never been able to do before.

We ordered pizza. For the whole family. To be delivered.

This might sound trivial but it is a very big deal for us. First of all, we live right on the edge of any delivery area… another 100 yards, literally, and we’d be out of reach of all pizza delivery routes.

But much, much, more importantly, we could order a gluten free pizza as part of the main order. No messing about with trying to time a home-baked pizza to coincide with take-away pizza…

This was, of course, Domino’s pizza. Domino’s are perhaps the best known pizza delivery company, and I expect you’ve heard that they are now offering gluten free pizza.

You hadn’t?

This is how it works… Choose your pizza (one size only at the moment for gluten free), and then customise it, adding sweetcorn, removing mushrooms, etc – to choice – and requesting a gluten free base. Adding side-orders and desserts is easy online, too, and items that contain gluten are clearly identified. If you order online, you can track the progress of the pizza too, which is a nice touch.

Simple, isn’t it? Just another customisation option.

Behind the scenes, Domino’s will have allocated the creation of the gluten free pizza to one person, who will supervise it through the process. Only that one person will deal with that pizza, even down to cutting it up at the end. I spoke to our local branch, who assured me that they’ve had training in how to handle it to avoid contamination.

Our pizza order came, and the delivery person explained very clearly which was the gluten free pizza.

And our coeliac loved it. Yay!

Here’s what I think is great about this initiative:

  • ordering gluten free is just another customisation; no fuss. The coeliac in our house is put off by having to make a fuss about things
  • staff training and procedures. I found the explanation from our local branch convincing—I spoke to them 3 times—and the initiative has the support of Coeliac UK.
  • more publicity for the gluten free diet. The more people that know about the need for gluten free—caterers and other customers—the easier it will be for all of us in the future.
  • making life more ‘normal’ for the coeliac, perhaps especially the coeliac teenager who doesn’t really want to be too different.
  • and most importantly, it adds the option of spontaneity. When the teenager is out at a friend’s house, they can decide to order pizza whenever they like, without worrying about her.

It’s also good for Domino’s, of course. Not only do they get the gluten free custom, but they get the custom of the coeliac’s family too. We haven’t, in the past, ordered in pizza, because it excludes one member of our family… but not any more!

As you can tell, we were delighted. And genuinely delighted: Domino’s covered the cost of our pizza meal, because they wanted to know what I thought about their new service, but if we hadn’t had a good experience, I’d have let you know.

I know some of you will be concerned about the risk of contamination; we had no ill-effects at all, but only you can know how much risk you are prepared to accept. I’d love to know whether you’ve tried it, and what you thought…

Gluten Free in Egypt

view of the nile at sunset We’re just back from a week in Luxor. That’s Luxor, Egypt… and the gluten free member of the family managed just fine. And if we can, you can. Go for it!

Here’s what we did:

  • we packed emergency supplies for the plane journeys, including snacks: but they weren’t needed. We flew EgyptAir, and they provided a gluten free meal in both directions. The bread roll on the way out was branded Lifestyle, so we knew it was OK; however, the one on the way back looked identical to the ‘normal’ ones… she didn’t eat it. Our taste-tester told us it tasted ‘normal’, not gluten free.

    Tip: check everything – don’t assume.

  • we packed Sainsbury’s baguettes and rolls. These varieties need cooking and/or refreshing; we were self-catering, and I knew that the apartment would include a microwave/combi oven.

    Tip: I split the bread-stuffs between the cases, in case one got lost en-route.

  • we packed snacks (rice cakes, gluten free biscuits, peanuts and raisins etc) in both our carry-on luggage and the suitcases.

    Tip: chocolate will melt. Freeze an ice-cube-bag of water because it is flexible when frozen, and put the frozen bag inside a ziplock bag so everything stays dry (for the way out – and for the way back, if you can refreeze it and still need it).

  • we also packed a sachet of Helen’s Bread Mix, so that if we ran out of Sainsbury’s bread, we could make a loaf – which we did, reasonably successfully, in the microwave/combi oven. It did need refreshing daily, because of the heat.

    Tip: pack a silicone loaf tin, as we did, because it is lightweight and squashy.

  • we packed a bag of gluten free pasta (in this case, Doves), in case we decided to eat in one night. In fact, we ate out most nights, and made a pasta salad one day.

    Tip: we used only one portion from a bagful, so I suggest weighing it out into portions, and only take what you’re likely to consume.

  • we took with us two versions of a coeliac card in Arabic, one downloaded from Celiac Travel and another from Gluten Free Jordan, and showed them repeatedly.

    Tip: We got caught out once, when she was offered a cake made with semolina: basboosa. As you know, semolina is not gluten free – I guess that travel cards typically talk about wheat, and not semolina. Remember to check!

We usually self-cater, because we find it easier to manage a gluten free diet that way, but if you’re staying at one of the big hotels, I’m sure they’d provide a gluten free diet too. When eating out, we ordered carefully, and discussed the ingredients (in English) whenever we were doubtful. Restaurant staff were typically very helpful, and eager to get things right for us. We also took our time in the local supermarket, and bought basic, unprocessed foodstuffs (meat, cheese, fruit, salad, yoghurts etc).

We stayed here (yes, the image above is of the Nile at sunset from the apartment complex), and had a wonderful time: tombs, temples, mummies, ballooning and boats, and above all warmth and sunshine.

If you’re thinking about visiting Egypt, do it soon: Luxor was very quiet indeed. We think that people must be nervous of visiting Egypt because of the Arab Spring, but the local population relies on tourism, particularly independent tourists, as coach tours typically have a set route for everything, including restaurants and shops. The felucca captain who took us upstream for a tour of a banana plantation and shared riddles and mint tea on his boat (cooked over an open flame – slightly unnerving) told us that he hadn’t had a tourist on board his felucca for 3 months…

It is possible to stay gluten free in Egypt. We’ve done it.

Allergy Alert: Home Farm Speciality Foods Sauces

These are not products I’m familiar with, but here’s the listing from the Food Standards Agency:

Home Farm Foods Beef Stock, 450g
Home Farm Foods Black Bean Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Chicken and Rib sauce, 395g
Home Farm Foods Chicken Casserole sauce, 470g
Home Farm Foods Chicken Stock, 450g
Home Farm Foods Diane Sauce, 395g
Home Farm Foods Hoi Sin & Chilli Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Hoi Sin Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Plum Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Red Wine Casserole Sauce, 470g
Home Farm Foods Rich Beef Casserole Sauce, 470g
Home Farm Foods Roast Beef Gravy, 450g
Home Farm Foods Roast Chicken Gravy, 450g
Home Farm Foods Sausage Casserole Sauce, 470g

‘Best before’ date (for all products): up to and including August 2013

The allergens on these products have not been correctly listed. These products may contain celery, sulphites and wheat. More information available at the Food Standards Agency.

Allergy Alert: Asda Free From 5 Caramel and Chocolate Wafers

We’re sad to hear about this one: these are our current favourites.

There’s an alert out on both these: the Caramel ones and the Chocolate ones.

For the Caramel ones: Best before dates of 24 December, 14 Jan 2013 and 21 Jan 2013 may contain gluten at levels higher than permitted.

For the Chocolate ones: Best before dates of 3 December and 21 January may contain gluten at levels higher than permitted.

If you have any of these, don’t eat them, but take them back to the shop. For more information, visit Food Standards Agency.