Thursday, March 18, 2010

I’ve Been Poisoned! Wheat in Chicken Stock?!?

I screwed up. That’s how I found out I screwed up big-time.

I whip through the grocery store like a whirlwind. I plan my menus weekly and arrange shopping lists by grocery aisle. There are times when I grab something off the shelf and don’t even stop the cart. And I’m a real hoot to go to the store with on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (I like to watch people in the baking aisle stare at flour and sugar like deer in headlights). I am an Experienced Shopper.

I’m gonna blame it on the old guy that was standing there minding his business. He stood in the stocks and soup section, about two feet in front of the shelves. I suspect he was just trying to read the labels. I feel for him, because as far as I’m concerned, they all look the same, and I can’t read the tiny print with my glasses, either. I said, “excuse me,” and snuck my hand in front of him for a quart of chicken stock. Except I screwed up and grabbed vegetable stock. Which I did not discover until I got home.

It was no big deal, really. I knew I could use it for something else, it’s just that I don’t usually buy vegetable stock; when I want it I make my own. Well, maybe I wouldn’t have to, if Swanson’s brand was any good. Except that buried in a huge list of ingredients as part of a sub-list under “yeast-extract” was wheat. Only it wasn’t called out under the list of ingredients as required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. (Like under the ingredients label on peanut butter you see “Allergen Information: Contains Peanuts” and everybody thinks, “Um, duh?”) Vegetable stock? Wheat? I can’t eat that. I took it back to the grocery store for a refund and went to get me some chicken stock.

But a Funny Feeling came over me.

I poured over ingredient lists. All the boxed Swanson’s chicken broths I saw contained wheat. I’ve been eating that chicken broth at least once a week for, dear God, years. I mean, I eat soup for breakfast...

Well then. This explains a few things (like PMS and fatigue and “digestive upset,” to name the tactful symptoms).

I went online and found out that Swanson’s is owned by Campbell Soup. If I had known that, then I would have known better than to buy Swanson’s; to the best of my knowledge there is no Campbell Soup that is wheat free. I used their customer feedback option to leave what I fully confess was a rather ranty little email, basically wailing that I’d been poisoning myself and WHY didn’t they use the allergen labeling system according to law and WHY was there wheat in chicken stock in the first place?

They sent back this very level-headed reply:

Ms. Marianne Richardson, we received your message and appreciate your taking the time to contact Campbell Soup Company.

The Campbell Soup Company follows all government regulations regarding the labeling of our products. In the case of the top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, fish, wheat, soy and shellfish) we list those ingredients in the product ingredient statement, no matter how small the amount might be. We do not include any of those items under the broader listings of "spices" or "natural flavors". We recommend that consumers always check the ingredient statement and evaluate the product based on the statement.

In regards to possible cross contact between products, we use an extensive and effective sanitation procedure in between different processing operations, and efforts are made to prevent any possible cross contact to the greatest practical extent.

Thank you for visiting the Campbell Soup Company website.

Campbell Soup Company Web Team

Which is basically true. My understanding of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was faulty and I had no one but myself to blame. (But they still didn’t answer why there’s wheat in chicken stock, which is a dumb thing to have in there. So says me. ::Flounce::)

I guess I’m not the only once wondering what’s up with wheat in chicken stock. Ms. Alison St. Sure, blogging over at Sure Foods Living (Practical advice for living with celiac disease, gluten intolerance and food allergies) has a wonderful post titled, Does chicken broth contain gluten, milk, soy? Yes. If only I’d seen her site! She did all the legwork and has listed some major brands of chicken stocks and what allergens they contain. It’s a nice site; by all means, poke around it a while.

According to Ms. St. Sure's research, there are Swanson’s brands that are gluten-free, but they weren’t available at the grocery store I was at. And by then, it didn’t matter. Let’s just say I was feeling “off” about pre-packaged food. I dumped some tainted frozen lentil soup and kung pao chicken leftovers and asked MP to make some homemade chicken stock, which he did.

Unfortunately, stock is about as photogenic as clam chowder.

The moral of the story is: Don’t assume. Wheat gets put in everything, from herbal tea to ice cream. Manufacturing processes change. Even people who have been on a gluten-free diet for a long time can get nailed by hidden wheat.

Wheat sucks. I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it.

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