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Interpreting Faq's And Company Responses
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Thanks to GFreeMO for mentioning the Mission FAQ. I wouldn't have gone back to reread them otherwise, and this post never would have happened. :)

I know a lot of us who end up in this forum are already past reading labels and have moved on to checking out company FAQ's, calling, and emailing company reps for information (or avoiding companies entirely).

But for anyone who is just starting out, wondering if they might be more sensitive than the average celiac, and trying to figure out how to tell if their food is safe, I wanted to give an example of a real-life allergen FAQ and some questions to ask if you speak to a company's rep. Because there are a lot of ways that a company can answer our gluten free questions without actually giving us the information we need to know.

So, without further ado, the Mission (tortilla) company's relevant FAQ's on gluten, wheat, and their products. They have some questions and answers that are fairly straightforward, but I'm going to be mentioning those that need a closer look.

( http://www.missionfoods.com/FAQs.aspx )

Are Mission Foods products gluten free?

Mission Foods Corn products are produced with 100% corn flour; wheat ingredients are not added to the formulation. These products include Corn Tortillas, Corn Tortilla Chips, Taco Shells, Tostadas, Corn Gorditas, and Sopes. These products are produced in plants that also process wheat tortillas.

This type of response typically puts my hackles up, because if you note, they never actually answer the question. Not a yes, not a no, just information on their product that doesn't actually answer the question, either. It just gives ingredients and tells you about one risk factor. So at this point, we don't know if they are gluten free or not, we just know that there is no gluten added on purpose.

Is there any wheat, rye, barley, or oats in corn tortillas?

No. Mission corn tortillas do not contain wheat, rye, barley, or oat ingredients.

If you are reading through this quickly, it seems good. A straight answer: no wheat, rye, barley, or oats are in their corn tortillas. Awesome. Except if you look closely, even though the question is about ANY gluten or oats in the corn tortillas, the answer is only talking about ingredients in the corn tortillas. Once again, they sort of shuffle to the side and avoid answering the cross-contamination question.

Are wheat flour tortillas produced in the same lines as corn products?

No, our corn production lines are dedicated to corn products only. Wheat Flour tortillas are produced in dedicated lines.

This one, at least, is a simple, straightforward answer. And you know what? I'm a cynical enough person that this raises my hackles even more. Because if they can post the question about machine lines for corn and wheat products and answer with the same phrasing, that shows me that they are smart enough to have done the same thing before this.

The question before this could have read: Are there any wheat, rye, barley, or oat ingredients in corn tortillas? And then the answer would have matched the question exactly, just like this question and answer. But the company chose not to do that. A lot of companies seem to choose not to do that, or to accidentally use language that will imply the product is safe for us, if we are incautious in our reading. <_<

Also, for those who are just starting out reading FAQ's for gluten information, the last three questions are also a good example of why we need to read the subject carefully. You'll notice that the first question is about corn products, the second is ONLY about corn tortillas (not their corn chips, tostadas, etc...) and then on the third question they're back to corn products again. It would be easy to miss the change if we were in a hurry.

Is wheat used in any way to make the corn products?

There are no wheat ingredients or incidental wheat present in the products or on the lines that produce corn products.

Is there a potential for cross-contamination of corn products with wheat ingredients?

All Mission Foods plants have strict food safety programs in place, including a very comprehensive Allergen Control Program.

The first question may sound like it's referring to cross contamination, but it's actually referring to wheat that could be used on the corn tortillas, but not added as an ingredient. Flour used to prevent sticking on the tortilla molds would be an example of this. So we know that they don't use flour on their corn products during the processing.

The second question is another one where they don't actually answer it. They tell you they have safety programs in place (which the majority of companies do) and an allergen control program (which, again, a lot of companies do). Essentially, they are saying they try to prevent cross-contamination through cleaning and practices to try and prevent cross contamination.

Two important points here:

1) This is only discussing wheat, not gluten.

2) Many companies, when mentioning allergen controls, or practices to prevent contamination by allergens, are discussing the 8 major allergens rather than any other protein (like rye, barley, or oats). This may mean that they have practices that will help prevent contamination between batches of all products with all other products. Or it could mean there is more care taken with products that contain one of the 8 major allergens, and there might not be as much care taken to prevent cross-contamination of other proteins (again, like rye, barley, or oats).

The questions that this company has not answered that many of us sensitive celiacs need to know:



  • Are any corn products made on a gluten-free line? We know it's not a gluten-free facility, and that the line is wheat free, but is it gluten free?
  • Are any of their corn products tested for gluten? If so, how frequently?
  • If their products are tested, what is the ppm sensitivity level of the test? Does their product have to be below a certain ppm level before they will sell it?

Now, while Mission did not make any claims of being gluten free, even if they did, as a sensitive celiac, it's a good idea to make sure they have confirmed this. The mantra is: DO THEY TEST FOR GLUTEN?

Because if they don't? ANY claims that their product is gluten free haven't been confirmed. And in the USA, there aren't any legal troubles for making that claim without testing to back it up.

Some celiacs are perfectly fine with this (heck, my father and brother eat Mission chips all the time). But many of us here avoid companies that don't test, or avoid companies that don't keep their gluten concentration levels even lower than 20ppm.

For Mission, I did go on to ask them some questions about whether they tested or not, if they had gluten free lines. I was told that the corn tortillas are made on dedicated lines. So that's good to know. I was also told that their "corn products do not contain any gluten and there is no cross contamination with any other products."

This is a very common response to a question about gluten testing. A company or rep will not answer the question but simply respond that their product is gluten free/ has no cc from gluten.

Unfortunately, for a sensitive celiac, this may not be good enough. And even if a rep tells me that they do test? If they don't know the ppm detection level of the test, I push for it. Because in my experience of contacting companies, it's not unusual to have a company rep assume that their product 'must' be tested for gluten because they call their product gluten free. Of course they test. They have to. Right?

Yeah, not so much. I've been told that a company tests, and then when the rep had to check on the ppm sensitivity of the test, they found out that the product was not tested for gluten at all. So this last ppm question really acts as more of a confirmation that the rep you spoke to actually knew what they were talking about.

Anyway, hope that this oddball FAQ psuedo-tutorial might help some of you out who are new to super sensitivity. Good luck in navigating the gluten free product maze! :D

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I am as sensitive as they come. I have never reacted to Mission Corn Chips or Mission Corn Tortillas. Mission Corn Chips and Lays Stax are the ONLY chips that do not make me sick as a dog. I just edited this because I just read their allergen statement again. The statement has changed from the last time I read it. It now says they they are in fact made on dedicated lines but are produced in a factory that makes wheat tortillas. This is new info. I think I will pass on these from now on.

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Shelley Case wrote 'Gluten Free Diet,' and brings up some EXTREMELY valid points. For example, rye is really only used for making rye bread. We shouldn't expect to find rye in a corn/wheat facility. The taste of rye is just too distinctive to be used for other purposes. As for barley, the book points out that it is actually a pricey ingredient, and companies like to show off how nice their product is by lableing the nice ingredients. "Oh, look, black truffle oil! Only $38 for 1/8 of an ounce!" (I have never come across truffle oil, I'm too cheap! Just using it for an example.) So barley/malt will be listed because it is a high class ingredient, and rye just isn't likely to be found unless you're at a bread company. The primary concern is wheat.

I was fortunate enough to hear Ms. Case speak to our local group when I was about 4 months in, and she really eased my mind. Her book is an incredible resource as well, and I can't say enough about it. She includes nutritional information about the various grains, and encourages a more whole foods vs. replacement foods approach. Some degree of logic should be used as well when researching. Would it be nice to see everything certified? Yep! But do I even bother to look at frozen or canned vegetables to see if I need to worry about cross contamination? No. Any sauces added to frozen vegetables should be done in a seperate manner from those frozen as just veggies alone, the machinery needed for each would be different. So I don't worry (At least about the veggies!)

Shauna, you are extremely sensitive, and must be very careful! I'm not saying that you are wrong in the precautions you take for yourself and your family. But we always have to trust people just a little bit too. Mission saying that their "corn products do not contain any gluten and there is no cross contamination with any other products." is a great statement. It says they do not test. Ok. Have they made (what sound like) good precautions to take care of CC? I would say so. At some point, I have to trust them, or not.

Sorry to go on there!

-Daisy

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Shauna, you are extremely sensitive, and must be very careful! I'm not saying that you are wrong in the precautions you take for yourself and your family. But we always have to trust people just a little bit too.

I am also very sensitive. Trusting people has caused me to get glutened over and over. When you are very sensitive you can't trust people. They just don't understand the tiny amounts of gluten that get us and how they can get into our food. This is the section for people like us, isn't it?

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The statement has changed from the last time I read it. It now says they they are in fact made on dedicated lines but are produced in a factory that makes wheat tortillas. This is new info.

Makes me glad I put it up. :)

I've been calling the few products my children can have, lately. In the last few weeks, two products that were previously safe made my daughter sick (more than once, because we didn't figure it out at first). I always read the labels and no ingredients had changed, but I found out that both companies had changes that affected potential gluten cc in the facility. It wouldn't bother most people - didn't affect my son at all - but it got my daughter good.

I've been realizing that after the first round of calling a company to check on their processing and testing, I never really went back to call them a second time. And never had plans for some kind of schedule to double check once in a while. I suppose some part of me assumed that processing wouldn't change so quickly, even if ingredients might. It's reminded me that as a sensitive celiac, calling companies is likely something that needs to be done at least once every 6-12 months.

Shelley Case wrote 'Gluten Free Diet,' and brings up some EXTREMELY valid points...We shouldn't expect to find rye in a corn/wheat facility... barley/malt will be listed because it is a high class ingredient, and rye just isn't likely to be found unless you're at a bread company. The primary concern is wheat.

I think this is very true when it comes to ingredients. It can even be said that when it comes to gluten cc, wheat is the most prominent contaminant. But for those of us who need to look further than ingredients, even people with far less sensitivity than I, cross contamination in the facility is not the only problem. There's cc in the field, during shipping, during milling, and so on. Add this to a minute amount of cc in the facility and it can become an issue.

And re: barley? There have been cases of barley being used in 'processing' where it wasn't mentioned at all on the label. And the food was called gluten free, as well. So expensive as it may be, it's not always listed.

Some degree of logic should be used as well when researching. Would it be nice to see everything certified? Yep! But do I even bother to look at frozen or canned vegetables to see if I need to worry about cross contamination? No...Shauna, you are extremely sensitive, and must be very careful! I'm not saying that you are wrong in the precautions you take for yourself and your family. But we always have to trust people just a little bit too.

Re: logic - yeah, it should be used during researching, absolutely, and I think the sensitivity level is part of that. We have mild dairy allergies, we read ingredients. We have severe dairy allergies, we call companies to check on equipment lines. We have anaphylactic shock from traces of dairy, we make sure there is no possible way a food could be contaminated by dairy and that the facility is dairy free, the soap used to clean equipment is dairy free and so on.

So for people who are more sensitive, even those not to my level of sensitivity, I actually think it's very logical to investigate points of potential gluten cc to make sure there is no misunderstanding, no confusion due to language. Otherwise, we get sick over and over again.

Now, on a personal level, I believe very much that we need to be able to trust people. Companies? I definitely don't have that same philosophy. I trust that the person I'm talking to within a company typically means well, but not that they always have all the correct information.

However, a company itself has to earn my trust before it's going to get my money. And since I'm in a country where there are no gluten free regulations, I feel that I have to be my own regulatory body, as it were. Just like an FDA inspector has to confirm that 'clean' means the same to a company as it does under the law, I have to make sure that a company's 'gluten free' means the same type of gluten free that I need to have. (well, that my kids need to have)

I know that many sensitive celiacs don't have to go to the lengths that I do in order to stay well, but they often do need stricter protocols in place than a company has. And while some companies do an exemplary job in balancing safety and cost concerns, some don't. I don't believe I have an obligation to give them the benefit of the doubt; I just have an obligation to keep my family and myself safe, you know?

Because IMO, the main thing is that a company isn't an acquaintance, a friend, or a co-worker. I don't know them. All I know is that a company's purpose is to make money. Some may also have altruistic philosophies and very safe gluten-cc-avoiding practices, but as these aren't legally required, they're going to have to give me a little more proof before I'm willing to risk my kids' health. I need to get to know them, their practices, and exactly what their words mean when they tell me 'gluten free.'

I suppose this post here is to help other people who may wish to do the same know what to look for and what type of questions they may need to ask. :)

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T.H. makes some good points. It isn't a matter of not trusting people. There is a general lack of understanding of the types of things which might bother a super sensitive celiac. It isn't a lack of trustworthiness, it is a lack of knowledge.

Even for a standard celiac there is a lack of knowledge. I was told recently by a company representative that an item couldn't possibly contain gluten because it was roasted at 400 for 15 minutes which would remove any gluten which might be present. Should I trust that guy?

That said, I can think of two examples in which barley was used as an ingredient and not placed on the label. It took further questioning of the company to find out about it.

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