Allergen Advisory Statements and Your Favorite Chocolates

Allergen Advisory Statements and Your Favorite Chocolates

Over the holidays we received emails from community members concerned about the gluten-free status of various candies, including those made by See’s Candies and Hammond’s Candies.

Focusing on See’s Candies (and long story short), this is what their website currently states about gluten:

Allergen Information

Valid January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019

GLUTEN INFORMATION

Candies produced in See’s Candies facilities do not contain gluten, and these products are the vast majority of those we sell. We purchase a small amount of specialty candies made by third parties, and these also do not contain gluten with the sole exception of Candy Canes sold in our retail shops and online at Sees.com with wheat indicated on the Ingredient Statement of the Candy Canes.

Consumer concern was caused by a statement that was included on the See’s Candies website for a period of time that stated, “Because some of our sourced ingredients are produced in a facility that also processes wheat, See’s Candies are not gluten-free.”   

While it is understandable why the latter (and now removed) statement caused concern, please keep in mind that a product can be free of gluten-containing ingredients AND some of the ingredients may be sourced from suppliers that also process wheat in their facility. If both statements are true, does this mean that the product in question contains gluten? Maybe but maybe not.

  • In our published database review of 101 products NOT labeled gluten-free but appearing to be free of gluten-containing ingredients and tested through Gluten Free Watchdog:
    • Of the 87 products that did NOT include an advisory statement for wheat, 13 (15%) contained quantifiable gluten at or above 5 ppm, including 4 products that tested at or above 20 ppm of gluten.
    • Of the 14 products that DID include an advisory statement for wheat, only 1 (7%) contained quantifiable gluten at or above 5 ppm

How can the above data be accurate? Keep in mind that allergen advisory statements for wheat in the U.S.:

  1. Refer to manufacturer processing practices, such as the use of a shared facility, shared production line, or shared equipment.
  2. May appear on a label as “made in a facility that processes wheat” or “manufactured on equipment that also processes wheat”
  3. Are voluntary statements and not currently covered by any federal regulation.
  4. Must be truthful and not misleading, according to the FDA.
  5. Do NOT reflect the gluten content of foods appearing to be free of gluten-containing ingredients but not labeled gluten-free.
  6. Could result in a consumer choosing a product with a higher level of gluten if the consumer relies on the presence or absence of such a statement when choosing between products appearing to be free of gluten-containing ingredients but not labeled gluten-free
  7. Are NOT typically included on the labels of single ingredient “naturally gluten-free” grains—products with some of the highest risks for cross contact with wheat (and barley).

Note: As part of FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), ‘FDA’s longstanding position that CGMPs address allergen cross contact is now explicit in the regulatory text’. Covered establishments must have a food safety plan in place that includes preventive controls for allergens. FSMA does not appear to directly address allergen advisory statements and it is unclear at this time how (if at all) they will be impacted.

Future needs: Allergen advisory statements must be helpful to consumers. Currently, in the opinion of GFWD they are not. The FDA should strongly consider regulating allergen advisory statements, especially in light of FSMA. Such statements must be standardized and related to consumer risk.

Next steps for Gluten Free Watchdog: We will be starting a campaign asking FDA to regulate allergen advisory statements.

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Comments (5)

  • Dr.Tom H Baker
    Reply

    Keep up your very important research, Tricia!
    You are much appreciated.

    January 7, 2019 at 8:15 pm
  • Melinda Reply

    Dear Tricia,
    Thank you so very much for your dogged reporting and advocacy. What is still unclear to me by what you’ve copied here as See’s Jan. 2019 disclosure statement concerns the “chocolate” source of their See’s candies. It’s my understanding from the See’s retail staff that See’s doesn’t make their own chocolate but purchases Guittard chocolate. So, is See’s gluten statement saying that the Guittard chocolate is gluten-free and made and processed in gluten-free facilities?

    January 19, 2019 at 9:25 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Hi Melinda, I’m not sure. This is an issue you will have to clarify with See’s Candies. Manufacturers source their raw ingredients and these raw ingredients may be processed in shared facilities, etc. What concerns me are grains and legumes (products with a high risk of cross contact with wheat and barley). Are manufacturers sourcing from suppliers who provide certificates of analysis for naturally gluten-free grains and legumes? IMO, this should be a focus of concern.

      January 21, 2019 at 3:19 pm
  • Melinda Reply

    Hi Tricia,
    Unrelated specifically to See’s Candy, I have a concern about hospitals and group residential facilities (retirement, rehabilitation, skilled nursing, etc.) and how those of us with gluten intolerance (Celiac and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, and other illnesses involving ingestion of gluten ingredients, sub-ingredients (sauces, seasonings) and gluten cross-contamination) can/would be able to survive? Please wheat (and less so the other glutens: rye, barley) is ubiquitously added to so much of prepared foods, wittingly and unwittingly, as a thickener, as a filler, etc. And unlike salt-free and sugar-free dietary restriction in these types of facilities, there is NO such protection from gluten. What can be done to raise the issue and demand this legislatively or through the dietitian practice field? Gluten for many of us is a life or death issue, as ingestion can cause – and does in many of us – full immune system attacks and the life threatening consequences of malabsorption and resulting malnutrition.
    Thank you.

    January 19, 2019 at 9:44 pm

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