Tag Archives: calling the manufacturer directly

How often do you “contact the manufacturer directly,” REALLY?

“For the most complete and accurate information, contact the manufacturer directly.” Some version of this advice appears in every introduction to gluten- or allergy-free living worth reading—and for good reason. Getting the answer straight from the source allows you to dodge cross-contamination bullets and sample new products with confidence. It’s great!

So why does it feel so much like homework? Much like SAT vocab drills, it’s a chore that can only help me, yet still seems unbearable. I use every excuse to avoid it:

  • I’m busy.
  • I’ll just buy some other product I know is fine.
  • Customer service isn’t available because it’s a weekend/evening/holiday/they prolly just won’t pick up, man.
  • If I take it home, call, and find out I can’t eat it, I won’t want to return it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t return it. That’s wasteful!
  • All that information is online anyway.
  • Is this really my life?!

I’m curious: Am I the only one who feels this way?

Personally, if a label isn’t telling me what I need to know, I always turn to Google first. (It’s like the Seamless ad says: “The best part about having a smartphone is never having to call anyone.”) For most products, you can find bloggers who have written about their experience contacting the manufacturer, or lists on About.com, or debates on forums. Sometimes the manufacturer’s website even pops up with a handy FAQ (though said website is invariably mobile-unfriendly to the extreme). A lot of times, that’s probably enough. But not always.

You might think no one would find it in his/her company’s best interests to stop producing a line of gluten-free products or start processing a previously allergen-free food on contaminated lines, but you’d be wrong. Manufacturers change stuff all the time, for reasons both clear and abstruse (though almost all, I’d wager, connected to money). Case in point: our go-to gluten-free dried beans provider, Shiloh Farms, recently discontinued its entire line of GF legumes due to supplier costs.* (They still sell a few other certified items.)

It goes the other way, too, of course. Brands cited as no-gos in ancient Celiac.com threads have cleaned up their act, and both small and mainstream companies introduce new goods every day. Even the mighty About.com Guide Jane Anderson can’t keep pace with every recipe reformulation and label change. (She does, of course, advise us to “always, if in doubt about the gluten-free status of a product, contact the manufacturer’s customer service personnel directly.”)

We may be only 11 years away from falling in love with our computers’ operating systems (according to Spike Jonze) and 4 to 10 years away from a cure for celiac disease (according to Stefano Guandalini), but even so, the best source for accurate, up-to-date information isn’t necessarily the Internet.

girl on iPhone black and white

Unlike bittersweet photography subjects, we don’t have to confine all our interactions to typing and swiping. Hey, food issues are isolating enough as it is!
Photo © Shinichi Higashi | Flickr

You don’t always need to contact the manufacturer. You can look for reassuring label claims, trustworthy companies, and reliable certification organizations (though we all have slightly different ideas of what those are). We’re also getting ever closer to the time when manufacturers officially can’t put “gluten-free” on a label without it being, you know, true.

Of course, even if you trust a brand, you should check labels for anything new and troubling. You don’t, however, have to call every time (unless you’re in dire need of a hobby).

On the other hand, when:

  • something—like popcornshould be gluten-free, but doesn’t say it is
  • a label includes that sneaky GF-in-a-circle near-copy of the “certified” logo
  • you’re holding two cans of honey-roasted mixed nuts made by the same company and only one says it “may contain wheat”
  • you want to know why, in the name of god, Shiloh Farms would be so cruel as to take away your one source of dried chickpeas, out of which falafel absolutely must be made
  • you’ve read EVERYWHERE that egg- and bunny-shaped chocolates are usually wheat-contaminated, but you’ve found the one bag in the store that doesn’t say it is, and you need to be sure

. . . well. That’s when you call the manufacturer. Or email, if it’s available and you don’t mind waiting a day for a response. I prefer email, because I hate waiting on hold, like getting a response in writing, and am antisocial; but I do force myself to call sometimes, too.

And, you know what? In the end, it is a chore, but it’s a satisfying chore. Sometimes, sadly, you learn you can’t eat that thing (in which case—woohoo!—you didn’t waste your money on poison!). But other times, you learn you can. 

You learn, for example, that Soyboy’s online FAQ is out of date, and their products marked “GF” are not processed on lines with wheat. You learn you can open that tempeh, turn it into a Cajun stir-fry way too spicy for your sister to enjoy (sorry), and chow down. And that’s when it all—hold music included—becomes worth it.

gf-unsure-call-manufacturer-v2

When do you pick up the phone to call a manufacturer? Or do you prefer email? (Don’t be afraid to show me up, if you’re actually a responsible adult who makes phone calls and stuff.) Have you ever had a really negative, or especially positive experience with this?

*How do I know the legumes were canceled due to supplier costs? Because I contacted the manufacturer directly! Duh! And I’m glad I did. Although I was disappointed not to learn it was all some big mistake, I was pleased to hear they’re seeking new suppliers of gluten-free garbanzos. Falafel and I are not, I hope, through for good.

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So…was the popcorn gluten-free?

For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting word on the Arrowhead Mills popcorn question, I have an update. I finally got around to calling their customer service line yesterday (there was no great rush since I had, after all, already eaten it all).

Photo © Joakim Wahlander | Flickr

Photo © Joakim Wahlander | Flickr

The woman I spoke to—following some appropriately corny hold music—confirmed my suspicion: the popcorn is not made on dedicated gluten-free lines or in a dedicated facility. However, she assured me that they follow “good manufacturing practices” of sterilizing lines between runs, etc. She said that any of their products that have already been found to contain less than 20 ppm gluten would have the gluten-free symbol on the bag, and that they’re working on testing their way through all of their products. They have not yet tested the popcorn.

I asked, “So, conceivably in six months’ time, the popcorn might have a gluten-free symbol?,” but she said she didn’t know and couldn’t speculate on the timeline. Fair enough, because I’m sure the last thing any company wants is some blogger hopping online and posting false promises that, say, all of their products will be gluten-free by 2020. Plus, unless I stumbled across a Time-Turner, it’s not as though knowing their product will be confirmed gluten-free in six months would do me any good.

I wondered why they would test some of their products but not others, and why it takes so long to test everything. Is testing for gluten that expensive and/or time-consuming? Does anyone have any insight into this?

A couple of you commented that most popcorn should be safe. Personally, I’ve noticed some issues after eating popcorn, but there’s a good chance my weary GI tract just isn’t happy about handling large bowls of air- and fiber-filled corn right now. That’s not going to stop me from eating it, but I am going to check around for another popcorn brand. Though the Arrowhead Mills stuff might be safe, I’d feel better knowing the popcorn was either tested for gluten or processed far, far away from gluten. I will still buy other Arrowhead Mills products that say “gluten-free” on the bag, because it sounds like they have their act together.

Since the Arrowhead answer was a resounding “I don’t know,” I don’t really know whether or not to doubt my old air-popping cauldron. It’s been starting to die anyway, so I may just take the road of “When in doubt, throw it out” and get a new one.

On to another kind of testing: this morning I got NINE vials of blood taken out of my arm, to find out if my gut is still gutting itself. (The phlebotomist assured me I still had plenty of blood left in me; I’m not so sure.) As I left the lab, I found myself thinking, “Celiac’s blood…that’s got to be an ingredient in some kind of potion.”

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A label-reading lesson from Hogwarts

3I’m here again to remind you that more than magic runs in the blood of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding folks. We talked about Moaning Myrtle last time, but let’s not forget our other prime celiac/allergy role model in Harrypotterland: Mad-Eye Moody.

This is a man who:

  • drinks from a personal flask rather than risking the dining hall pumpkin juice
  • drags around a magical trunk with seven locked compartments, one of which must be stuffed with Udi’s
  • has one magical eye that I’d wager can detect gluten down to 0 ppm
  • isn’t a stranger to skin issues
    . . . or mental issues
  • and, most importantly, knows the value of CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

All signs point to celiac.

Paranoia, double and triple checking, and intense suspicion of even the most innocuous-seeming thing may all be symptoms of paranoid personality disorder, but they’re also critical aspects of living free of gluten or food allergies. This past week, I learned anew the value of CONSTANT VIGILANCE after two separate sloppy errors:

  1. A few days ago, I bought a bag of salt & pepper pistachios from CVS. After eating a handful, I grabbed the bag in a panic to double check the ingredients, as I am wont to do, but this time, rather than resting easy that my first look was enough, I realized that though the optional “may contain” line didn’t list wheat, there were natural ingredients that I hadn’t queried. When I called Gold Emblem (the CVS grocery brand), a representative confirmed the pistachios were gluten-free. Still, I should know better than to eat it before I read it.
  2. Last night, I finished off a bag of popcorn kernels from Arrowhead Mills. Because I’ve been researching pure gluten-free dried beans recently without a ton of luck, it occurred to me to recheck this bag. Sure enough, no “gluten-free” symbol, which Arrowhead states it includes on products made on dedicated lines. I’ve eaten the popcorn over the course of months, simply assuming I must have done my research properly before I bought it. Apparently not. I have to wait till 9 to call their customer service line, but I’m kicking myself already.

If Mad-Eye were here, I know he’d be grumbling, “Elementary food safety, nobody bothers about it anymore.” I know, I know, Professor. Put me in detention, take points from Ravenclaw, but please, don’t let my popcorn have had gluten in it.

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