Organic Valley: Gluten-Free Status

The other day I was on the hunt for heavy cream or heavy whipping cream that didn’t contain unwanted ingredients (ex: carrageenan), which led me to searching through websites of dairy brands I knew were available where I live. Through my search, I discovered something alarming about Organic Valley.

OrganicValleyFront

 

They have two cheese products they don’t consider gluten free: their regular and low-fat cottage cheese. (Incidentally, not everything on their GF product list is even clickable for ingredient viewing, which raises another red flag for me.)

 

So I checked the ingredients, assuming I would find flour in the list. Nope. And the ingredient list confused me — where was the gluten?

Regular:

Ingredients

Organic Cultured Pasteurized Skim Milk, Organic Pasteurized Cream, Organic Nonfat Milk, Citric Acid, Salt, Organic Guar Gum, Organic Locust Bean Gum,  Acidophilus and Bifidus Cultures, Enzymes.

Low-fat:

Ingredients

Organic Cultured Pasteurized Skim Milk, Organic Pasteurized Cream, Organic Nonfat Milk, Citric Acid, Salt, Organic Guar Gum, Organic Locust Bean Gum, Acidophilus and Bifidus Cultures, Vitamin A Palmitate, Enzymes.

Maybe they had a misunderstanding about the guar or locust bean gum? After all, they do have a warning that some of their meats may contain “corn gluten”. (While there are people who cannot have corn, in my experience, the term ‘corn gluten’ just leads to panic among the newly gluten free, as they assume this means corn is on the unsafe list for everyone too.)

So I did some more site-digging.

This is what they say on-line:

Why is Organic Valley Cottage Cheese not gluten free?

On our web site, we list the cottage cheese as not gluten free as a precautionary measure for our gluten-sensitive consumers. This product doesn’t contain a known gluten source as an ingredient.

According to our ingredient supplier, a barley source MAY be used as a fermentation nutrient in one of our cultures in the cottage cheese. Whether or not there is barley in the final product, we cannot make a definite statement. During the manufacturing process, the culture is “used up” to form the curds and provide the lactic acid fermentation of the milk.

The protocol for allergen labeling requires the allergen be listed if it is an ingredient of the product. [Source link]

This bothers me. Why? If I hadn’t ended up on their website looking for carrageenan-free heavy whipping cream, I never would have learned about this. From the description above, it’s clearly not labeled on the actual product. Some stores put gluten free tags on shelves. Some don’t. Some shelf tags are wrong.

Nothing here tells me gluten is a concern!
Nothing here tells me gluten is a concern!

I sent them an e-mail:

If barley is possibly used in the cottage cheese, no matter what the FDA says, if you actually value your customers, you need to let them know ON the product, not just on the website. Not everyone has one of those smart phones to look up products while in the grocery store.

Whiskey manufacturers [seem to] operate under the same belief that the “grain” is distilled (whereas you say the culture is “used up”) and no gluten remains, but gluten intolerant people still report getting glutened from gluten-based whiskey and liquor. It is very likely customers are getting glutened from your products, but never realizing the source, because who would expect dairy, especially with no warning label on the product, to gluten them?

And, how are you preventing cross contamination from your barley cheese and the rest of your products?

If everything is on the same lines, than ALL of your products may actually contain gluten.

Please advise. Please do not send a computer-generated response. They’re easy to spot and generally useless.

Thank you.

Their response:

Thank you for contacting us at Organic Valley.

Because the fermentation nutrient used in the production of the cultures for the cottage cheese may or may not contain barley [emphasis mine], nor is it an ingredient in the product, we are not required to list it on the label. I will be happy to forward your concerns regarding labeling to the appropriate departments.

We copartner with production facilities all over the country. Some do have gluten containing materials in the plant. Our production partners are audited on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are following Good Manufacturing Practices, as well as making continuous efforts to prevent cross-contamination from any allergens, including glutens.  In spite of our best efforts, we cannot absolutely guarantee the absence of gluten in our products. Depending on your level of sensitivity, this may or may not be an issue for you.

Thank you again. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Regards,
Brandy S-V
Organic Valley / Organic Prairie
Consumer Relations
1-888-444-6455 ext.3701

My reply:

I know you are not REQUIRED to list but, but you SHOULD out of common courtesy. Manyof  us are beyond sensitive to even trace amounts. No other group of people (ex peanut allergies) are forced to suffer such labeling issues. If a product may have peanut, has been produced in a facility with peanut, etc, it is on the label. Same for dairy. [In my experience.]

Gluten should be no different. I get sick within an hour to trace amounts of gluten. And I stay sick for days to weeks. Then I itch for a year or so. But without seeing your website, I would have never known that your cottage cheese, and then by default, all of your products, were a gluten risk.
Nothing in your response answers my question about shared lines, so I will assume that the cottage cheese, which may contain barley, is made on the same lines as your other products. For people who cannot digest gluten, this means that ALL of your products should be on your “not gluten free” list because of cross contamination.
I will be informing my bloggers that for their safety, they need to avoid your company. (Thus, here is my advisement post to avoid their products).
Their only response to this was to send me a customer satisfaction survey. You can guess how that went.
I am going to maintain that this is not a safe product. I do not see the difference in starting cottage cheese with barley, and whiskey and beers that claim to be gluten free but were started or distilled with gluten. Read the blogs, the Facebook pages. You will find multiple complaints that these types of products are glutening people.
I bet that people have been glutened by Organic Valley, but since the label said nothing, never dreamed that cottage cheese did them in. I wouldn’t have suspected it!
They clearly aren’t testing their products for gluten either. If they were, they would have said something to that effect. Nor does it sound like their production partners do any testing.
Since they won’t come clean about shared lines, I am also going to assume that there is risk, however slight, of cross contamination of all their products and declare all Organic Valley products items that gluten intolerant and gluten sensitive people need to avoid.