Figuring Out if a Product is Gluten Free

So, you have a product in your hand and you really, really want to eat it but the label is mysterious. It contains ingredients such as “modified food starch” which could contain gluten or not. What’s a girl to do? So, put on your glasses and sharpen your pencils because it’s time to do some research!

The easiest way to figure out if the product contains gluten is to locate the toll free customer service number on the back of the product and call. The information that you need to have handy is 1. The product name 2. The flavor of the product (if there are multiple, because it might differ) 3. The product identification number (or UPC number). The customer service person could ask for any of this info depending on the how well the employee has been prepped on the product info. When I call up I will say, “Hi, I was wondering if your product X contains gluten.” It’s just that easy!

Now, if you are like me and normally shop in the evenings (especially in PST) the customer service line might be closed. (Side rant: Why do they seem to all run on EST? *Shakes fist in air* Why?!?) Anyhoo, then you don’t this option. If you are already at the store, you can go to the information counter and ask if they have a list of all the gluten-free products in their store. Certain grocery stores such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have lists of all of their own product lines that contain gluten or other allergies.

If none of that helps, your best bet is to look online when you get home (or use your Blackberry, iPhone, or call someone who has access to the internets). I find it’s best to pull up Google and type in:

This will bring up a list of websites. First, I will look at the addresses for what looks like the company’s official website. Some companies will have a list of gluten-free products on their website, which is awesome and makes life easy. Most companies won’t list their gluten-free products in written form because they are worried that if they change the product ingredients that people will have already printed out the list and not check for updates (aka they eat it, get sick, and sue the company… isn’t the legal system grand?!?). That’s why on any gluten-free product list there is always a line about making sure to check the label before eating any product.

If I can’t find the anything on the official website, then I will look and see if of the links are for the Gluten-Free Forum in the search results. The Gluten-Free Forum sole purpose is to be a forum for people with gluten-related issues to post. It’s the best place to find answers, because there are so many educated veterans of gluten-intolerance/celiacs. Most people have already contacted the company and posted the info they found. If you still can’t get any info, I would post your inquiry there to see if people have run into the same issue.

If you can’t contact anyone on the customer service line, you can always email the company. Lots of companies that won’t post their gluten-free lists online will only tell you information over the phone (so worried about written info and lawyers).

Normally, if I get a hold of a person at a company that says that they can’t verify if a product contains gluten or not, then I say, “If that’s the case, I will no longer be able to purchase any of your company’s products because you obviously don’t check for food allergies in your products and I can’t take that chance.” I will always make sure to thank the customer service person (because they can only tell me the information that they are given) and hang up. Sometimes, I’ve had people call or email me back later with more info because I had said that I won’t purchase their products anymore (you’ll be amazed at what lengths companies will go to if you say that one little line).

If none of the above situations work, you can always switch product brands (especially to organic and smaller food companies) to see if their products contain gluten or, at the very least, have better customer service. ;)

Happy sleuthing!

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