In 2008, we found out that the Wellshire Farms "gluten free" dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets that my son had been eating ever since he went gluten free (for 2 1/2 years) contained gluten - at levels high enough to make two children with gluten/wheat allergies have life-threatening reactions. We were enraged at the company and sad that our son's first two and a half years on the gluten free diet may have been compromised.
Thankfully, The Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-081120-allergens-tribune-investigation,0,4610982.story, November 21, 2008) exposed the company. The nuggets went back on the shelves and now are Certified with GFCO. If you search google under Wellshire Farms Chicago Tribune, you'll find numerous articles and blogs about how some grocery stores were slow to pull them from the shelves and how Wellshire Farms continued to sell them under another product name. It was a mess and more than those two kids were affected.
I just thought that I would include my note to Wellshire Farms and their response. This incident made me very angry at the time. I'm over it (I think), but they've lost my business forever.
The only good thing to come out of this incident, in my opinion, is that maybe it scared a few companies considering "gluten free" labeling into seeking gluten free certification (http://www.gfco.org/) from the start.
Here's the note that I wrote to Wellshire Farms back in 2008 and their response to me. Judge for yourself.
----- Original Message ----- From: "ExpatExchange.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, November 24, 2008 11:19 AM
Subject: Link to Dino Nuggets Statement Doesn't appear on Mac's Safari Browser
I spoke with a rep at your company this morning, but just wanted to
say that I'm not convinced. Your switch / Whole Food's switch from
Wellshire Farms labeling to Garrett County seems very suspicious.
It seems like you anticipated that the fight that the mom was putting
up (whose son got sick from the nuggets) would eventually hit the
media -- and you changed it's label -- so that sales of your nuggets
wouldn't be hurt. It's disappointing. You should have done the
right thing and asked that Whole Foods and other stores pull the
nuggets from the shelves back when you decided to find a new vendor
that could work toward better GF standards.
You may say that only two kids were hurt by your error, but lots of
Celiac kids have less severe symptoms externally while suffering
internal damage. This affects their growth, their moods, their
ability to learn, their entire lives -- and drastically increases
their risk of certain types of cancer. My son has eaten these
nuggets for 2 1/2 years at least 3-4 times a week since his Celiac
diagnosis. Despite our whole-hearted attempts to be a 100% GF
household and to keep his diet 100% gluten free -- it's quite
possible that your nuggets have been the culprit to his continued
growth problems and other celiac-related health issues.
So, when you say that the problem only affected 2 kids, you are being
misleading. You have no idea how many celiac kids may also have
long-term damage as a result.
My family is extremely disappointed that you didn't do the right
thing and take action to get these products out of consumers freezers
when the issue first came to your attention. Quietly going about a
new vendor search without notifying the consumer is not enough.
You're just protecting your own company. Taking action immediately
would have quickly restored my confidence in your company, but you've
lost our business forever -- you've lost our trust.
By the way, "HERE" link at the end of the statement "Information
Regarding Gluten Free Chicken Bites" on the home page not appear on
Macintosh's Safari Browser.
Hello Betsy -
Thank you for your feedback. Our Garrett Countly label is a separate label in our family of products that just recently became more predominant in other health food stores due to the exclusive Wellshire label agreement that we have with Whole Foods. It was not designed to harm our customers in any way.
Here is the statement that we have on our website, and thank you for letting us know about the MAC issue.
There have been some questions about the status and production of our
Wellshire and Garrett County gluten free Dino Bites as a result of a recent
article printed in the Chicago Tribune. Our understanding after speaking
with the author is that this article relates solely to reactions from
children with anaphylaxis, that is, with severe reactions to any level of
We have not discontinued making this product, but we are in the process of
improving its formulation. Our products are governed by the USDA and its
regulations, not the FDA's regulations. We are in complete compliance with
the USDA regulations. However, in light of a new FDA proposal under
consideration to re-define "gluten-free" to a lower level of gluten parts
per million (ppm) in the product than is currently allowed under FDA
regulated foods, we are also working on our products conforming to their
definition of "gluten-free." As the FDA considers setting a new regulation,
this does not affect our legal obligation to comply with USDA regulations,
which specifically govern the food products we produce. Our effort to
reduce permitted gluten content is a proactive improvement of our product to
meet our customer's needs, and an effort to comply with the strictest
Our Wellshire products are tested at a level of 200 ppm or less, which is
equivalent to 99.98% gluten free. The FDA is now considering a new proposal
that would reduce the amount of gluten to be 20 ppm or to 99.998% gluten
free. This will be difficult to achieve as wheat and other grains can
become cross contaminated from growth in the fields, or milling in the
combines. It becomes very, very difficult if not impossible to control.
The FDA interprets the definition of gluten free to concern the level or
amount of gluten in the product; thereby recognizing that there is still a
contaminate of gluten in the product. The USDA bases the gluten free claim
on the identity of the ingredients listed in the product, that is
prohibiting the use of ingredients that contain gluten, such as wheat,
barley, or rye.
It may take a month more to fully complete the transition of the Wellshire
products, but the Dino Bites will be returning to store shelves as soon as
possible. This new Dino Bite will be a better tasting product, suitable for
child and adult palates alike.
Wellshire is committed to improving the quality of our products. We
apologize for any inconvenience this confusion between the USDA and FDA
regulations may have caused our customers.
Louis B. Colameco, III