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How to Interpret Company Responses about Gluten

When you call a company to find out whether its product is gluten-free, you get one of a few responses. Interpreting these responses to your inquiries sometimes requires a little inference, deduction, and conjecture on your part. If you can’t get a straight answer, play it safe and leave the product on the shelf.

The most common responses to your questions about gluten content in a product and possible interpretations are

  • “We can’t guarantee our product is gluten-free.” This often translates to, “Yes, our product is gluten-free, but our legal department asks that we cover our fannies by telling you we can’t guarantee it.”

    Aside from legal considerations, the “we can’t guarantee our product is gluten-free” reply — the most common you’ll hear — may be for other reasons, as well:

    • The product has ingredients that may be derived from a gluten-containing source.

    • The company gets ingredients from other suppliers and doesn’t know for sure that they’re gluten-free.

    • The company suspects that other products produced in the facility could cause contamination.

    • The company doesn’t test for gluten, so even though the company’s certain the products are gluten-free, it doesn’t want to guarantee that.

    • The company suspects its products are gluten-free but doesn’t completely understand the concept, so it defers to this reply.

    If you’re told “we can’t guarantee our product is gluten-free,” ask questions and find out why they won’t vouch for the product’s gluten-free status. With more information, you can decide for yourself whether the product is safe to eat.

  • “Our product is not gluten-free.” Don’t make the mistake of interpreting this one as always being “our product is not gluten-free.” You need to probe a little deeper. You may find that they think whey (a milk derivative) is wheat-related (they both start with “whe” after all). Of course, if the service rep is so unknowledgeable, you may want to take every pronouncement with a grain of salt.

  • “Yes, our product is gluten-free.” You have to judge for yourself whether the person on the other end of the phone truly understands what you’re asking. If the rep follows up the gluten-free claim with, “There are no sources of wheat, rye, barley, or oats, and there are no questionable additives. Therefore it’s safe for someone with wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease,” you breathe a satisfied sigh and feel the love.

    Of course, don’t be afraid to push. If you reply, “Terrific! Then I can assume the brown rice syrup is from a non-gluten-containing source, right?” and the rep asks you to hold … and hold … and hold, you may want to probe a little more before trusting the final answer.

  • “We won’t tell.” Company representatives who won’t tell you anything about the ingredients probably don’t have a good idea of what’s in their product, so avoiding those foods is a good idea.

  • “Huh?” This isn’t a common response anymore, but at least you know where you stand with people who don’t know what you’re asking about. Politely try to explain what types of ingredients may be in the product you’re calling about, and if it still doesn’t click, ask to speak to a quality control supervisor or nutrition expert.

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