Here's an admission: those of us in the Celiac/gluten-free community can, at times, be a paranoid group. We worry (obsessively) about gluten contamination in our food, usually because we've had an experience (or several) that has shaken our confidence in what we can eat where. Regaining that confidence is a difficult process - it can take time, if it happens at all.
It's not a bad thing to be cautious. It is what keeps us healthy in what otherwise might be unsafe situations for eating. As awareness about gluten continues to grow, and products and restaurants are more clearly labeling what is and isn't in their food, it has become easier to safely negotiate the gauntlet of gastronomy, and to perhaps even regain some of that confidence lost.
But I've recently discovered that sometimes, a little information about gluten is more dangerous than none at all. Here's the story:
Back in late October, I blogged about Boar's Head meats and cheeses, which are gluten-free. Not to worry...they remain gluten-free, but read on, for this is a cautionary tale. About one month ago, I got sick twice within two days, both very much in line with how my body responds to gluten cross-contamination. I was initially puzzled, since we have a gluten-free kitchen. The only common denominator between the two meals was one thing: Boar's Head Black Forest Ham. Funny, since it's gluten-free.
I went back to the source of my ham: the deli counter at my local King Soopers supermarket, which is part of the Kroger family of stores. Over the course of the last year, the supermarket completed a full renovation, including the deli counter, which now serves only meats and cheeses cut fresh to order. And they only serve two brands: Boar's Head, and Private Selection, which is Kroger's in-house brand.
The deli counter proudly displays a sign heralding the gluten-free status of Boar's Head. But what if the Private Selection meats weren't gluten-free? They're cut on the same slicers as the Boar's Head, and could easily cross-contaminate. This is a perfect example of a time where a little information about gluten is worse than none at all. Whereas I might otherwise have steered away from deli meats for fear of gluten, the sign at the deli gave me a false sense of security that, yes, I could safely order and eat the meat.
Of course, this is all predicated on gluten in the Private Selection meats in the first place. So, I followed the trail farther up the food chain and contacted Kroger customer service. Getting a definitive answer has thusfar proven elusive. The company sent me a PDF document of all Kroger-brand (including Private Selection meats from the deli) products that are in theory gluten-free. Yet, in the very same document, they also state that they don't guarantee that any of their deli meats or cheeses are gluten-free. What's more, in the wake of my initial communication with Kroger, my local King Soopers added a new sign to the deli counter, proclaiming "no gluten" in the Private Selection meats and cheeses.
Is your head spinning yet? Because mine sure is. My "case" has now been referred to the manager of my local King Soopers, who I have yet to hear from. In the meantime, I'm left with a questionable situation with regards to my deli meats and cheeses. And even if the Private Selection meats and cheeses turn out to be gluten-free, the Kroger parent company still says you risk cross-contamination from other parts of the deli counter. But if that's true, isn't it disingenuous to promote gluten-free meats and cheeses that you can't guarantee are gluten-free? And what would the folks at Boar's Head think about this?
I'm not suggesting any deliberate mal-intent on the part of King Soopers and Krogers. But I am suggesting that a little gluten awareness mixed with a little gluten ignorance is a dangerous combination. My sense of security has faltered. And paranoia returns (to a degree).