Is someone in your family living gluten-free? If so, you probably know that in the gluten-free world, things are getting better. Today gluten-free foods are more plentiful, tastier, and easier to find than just a few years ago – a welcome trend for the approximately 3 million Americans with celiac disease and additional millions with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. May is Celiac Awareness Month: a good time for Wegmans Food Markets customers to take stock of where things stand on the gluten-free front.
“Last August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its final ruling and criteria that must be followed when making a ‘gluten-free,’ claim,” says Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RD. “Not only does a food need to be made from gluten-free ingredients, but the food must also have less than 20 parts per million of gluten from inadvertent cross contact. To visualize what 20 parts per million of gluten would look like, imagine a 1-oz slice of regular bread broken into 7,030 tiny crumbs. Just one of those tiny crumbs is the equivalent of 20 parts per million of gluten.”
Wegmans welcomes the FDA ruling. “We are very pleased. Up until now, companies were using different definitions when making a gluten-free claim. Now we have a common set of criteria that the whole food industry must follow, which hopefully will make it easier for customers to identify gluten-free options,” Kazacos says.
Will customers notice any difference when they shop for Wegmans brand items, as a result of the FDA ruling? Probably not, Kazacos says. “The criteria we established long ago for Wegmans brand foods that say ‘gluten-free’ on the label already meet or exceed the FDA’s requirements, so we didn’t need to change our products.”
The only change customers may notice is on the signs in prepared foods areas such as food bars or the chef’s case. To avoid any confusion, they will be changed from saying “No Gluten Ingredients” to “Made with No Gluten-Containing Ingredients.” Wegmans people have been trained to understand and talk with customers about the distinction between claiming a food is “gluten-free” and “Made with No Gluten-Containing Ingredients.”
“Lots of foods are naturally gluten-free,” Kazacos says. “Examples include fruits and vegetables, milk and cheese, or meat, fish and poultry. Customers have told us it would help if we pointed out which prepared foods were made without any gluten-containing ingredients – like coleslaw or harvest vegetables. So we’ll have signs in prepared food that say ‘Made with No Gluten-Containing Ingredients,’ wherever it applies. We’re careful not to say the dish is gluten-free, because in stores like ours where many kinds of prepared foods are made fresh each day, there’s risk of cross-contact with gluten. Some customers are comfortable with that risk, others are not. Our job is to offer clear information to customers, so they can make the choice that’s right for them personally.”
Easier shopping and cooking for those avoiding gluten
Since the 1990s, Wegmans has worked on many fronts to make shopping and cooking easier for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Here are some key steps the company has taken to help:
- Better labeling: An early step was the gluten-free “Wellness Key” on packages to help customers quickly spot Wegmans brand items that meet their dietary needs.
- Grouping gluten-free products together: Customers seeking gluten-free items such as pasta, cereals, or baking mixes will find them in “gluten free” sections in the Nature’s Marketplace department of stores. Employees working there have received extra training to help answer questions about how to find foods suitable for those who must avoid gluten.
- Developing better products: From Wegmans gluten-free cake and brownie mixes to gluten-free pasta, creating products the whole family can really enjoy makes shopping and cooking simpler for families with someone who’s living gluten-free.
- Recipes, information and more on wegmans.com: From the home page, enter the term gluten-free in the search box, and the results will show you where to find more than 500 recipes, nearly 2,000 products, and informational articles on living gluten-free.
“I’m one of those people who needs to stay away from gluten because of non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” says Kazacos, who writes a gluten-free blog on wegmans.com. “I’m also a working parent, so I understand what the shopping, meal-planning, and cooking looks like in a household like mine, where someone needs to avoid gluten, but others may not need to.”
Think your symptoms might indicate a problem with gluten? “Celiac Awareness Month is a good time to remind everyone that of the estimated 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, over 80 percent of them haven’t been diagnosed – or have been mis-diagnosed,” Kazacos says. “The first step to take if you suspect you have a problem tolerating gluten is to talk to your doctor about getting tested before you change your diet. If you start eating a gluten-free diet before getting tested, it could affect the reliability of the results.”