Snyder’s of Hanover, Annie’s and all Gluten free manufacturers: What is your protocol for addressing consumer complaints?Tricia Thompson
In recent weeks, two consumers have contacted Gluten Free Watchdog about potentially serious product issues. The first complaint concerns a Snyder’s of Hanover product; the second complaint concerns an Annie’s product. In the opinion of Gluten Free Watchdog, neither manufacturer handled their respective complaints well. What do you think?
Note: This post was shared with Snyder’s of Hanover and Annie’s prior to posting. Both manufacturers were invited to provide a comment. A comment from Annie’s is included at the end of the post. Snyder’s of Hanover responded that they had nothing to add.
Snyder’s of Hanover: Summary of the issue
A gluten-free consumer contacted GFWD about a bag of gluten-free pretzels. The pretzels in the bag did not look like gluten-free pretzels to the consumer. Before contacting GFWD, this consumer contacted SH and sent all but a handful of pretzels back to the manufacturer (a photo of the pretzels retained by the consumer is included in this post).
The manufacturer followed up with the consumer stating, “Our Quality Assurance Staff has completed a very thorough investigation of the product you returned and verified that these were Gluten Free Pretzel Sticks. However we apologize that some of the sticks were larger in size. This variation occurs when the dough is wetter than expected. Normally any sticks of this size is (sic) pulled from the production line before packaging and we apologize that these were missed.”
Based on all of the information provided by the consumer and our level of concern, we broke with our policy of not testing product from open packages. We had the consumer send about half of the pretzels she retained to the lab for testing.
These pretzels tested over 58,000 parts per million of gluten. In other words, the pretzels sent to the lab appear to be wheat-based.
We have been in close contact with both the consumer and SH, including vie email and phone. Because product tested was from an opened bag and the consumer did not notice the pretzels until sometime after they were opened, we (and the consumer) can not know with 100% certainty that something did not happen with this bag of pretzels post purchase.
However, because SH did not test returned product for gluten contamination, did not retain the sample sent in by the consumer, and was absolutely certain the product returned by the consumer was gluten-free (when in fact it was not), we have serious concerns about their protocol for handling consumer complaints.
Note: The best by date on the consumer’s bag of pretzels is February 27, 2016.
Annie’s: Summary of the issue
A gluten-free consumer contacted GFWD about a box of Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese. When the consumer opened the box of pasta a single spiral noodle was sitting on top (a photo of the opened box of pasta is included in this post). The piece of pasta is a different shape and color from the other noodles in the box.
The consumer contacted Annie’s and the manufacturer requested that the “foreign object” be sent back to them. The consumer sent a portion of the noodle back to the manufacturer and retained the rest of the sample.
After not hearing from Annie’s for over a month, the consumer contacted Annie’s again asking for information. The reply from Annie’s is as follows,
“Unfortunately, the sample of the noodle received by our Quality Department was unable to be analyzed due to the following:
- The sample size is smaller than the minimum amount the lab needs to perform their routine analysis.
- The condition of the sample was not intact but was broken into several pieces.
Please be assured that all of our Gluten Free pastas are from a 100% Certified Gluten Free facility. The noodle does appear to be Brown Rice Gluten Free pasta.”
The consumer contacted GFWD again after receiving this email and we contacted Annie’s on her behalf writing, “As the lab knows, sample is ground before testing so it should not matter that the sample was not intact when received. Also, only 0.25-gram sample is needed for testing. The consumer retained a portion of the sample before sending the sample to Annie’s. Gluten Free Watchdog can have this sample tested at a third party lab if necessary. Does Annie’s still have the sample sent in by the consumer?”
Annie’s has not replied to this particular email.
Recommendations for consumers
- If you open a gluten-free product and it does not look right to you, contact the manufacturer.
- If you are asked to return the remaining product, make sure the manufacturer puts in writing that they will test the sample for gluten, advise you of the results, and retain the sample.
- Do not send the entire product back to the manufacturer. Put a small amount in a clearly marked new zip-lock bag.
- Take photos of the product packaging and the product.
- If you have any difficulties, contact GFWD.
Recommendations for manufacturers
- Trust the sincerity and earnestness of the consumer
- Put the needs of the celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity community first
- Do not rely on a visual assessment of the product to determine gluten-free status
- Always test the product
- Retain the sample until the situation is resolved to the satisfaction of all interested parties
- When in doubt issue a recall of the product
Manufacturers, when you make the decision to label your products gluten-free you take on the responsibility of ensuring to the best of your ability that your products are safe for people with gluten-related disorders. When there is a possibility of a production error your response must be guided by concern for the community—a community that includes many folks with a serious autoimmune disease. This community can be very forgiving but only when you act responsibly by putting their health first.
Response from Annie’s:
“We are incredibly sorry that our consumer received a wrong noodle in her box of Rice Pasta, causing her great concern. Food safety and our consumers’ trust are Annie’s top priorities. While we are unable to test the noodle at this time given its current state, we are fully confident that the noodle in question is gluten-free. Not only is the facility that makes the rice pasta a GFCO-certified gluten-free facility, but we test every lot of gluten-free pasta for gluten prior to release. Again, we are deeply sorry for any concern that this incident may have caused and we’re taking steps to make sure it does not happen again.”
UPDATE: The consumer sent the remaining noodle fragment to GFWD and we forwarded it to the lab for testing. It tested below the lower limit of quantification for gluten of 5 ppm.
GFWD received another consumer complaint about an errant noodle in a box of Annie’s gluten-free pasta. You can read about this particular case at https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1074958945902426&id=258784214186574 GFWD contacted Annie’s about this errant noodle. We were told, “We will not be testing the noodle as we’re unable to verify any possible cross-contamination during the chain custody.” The consumer sent the noodle to GFWD and we will be testing it.