I was recently asked if I know anything about Annie’s gluten free products. I promised that I would look into it. This came up in a discussion about which companies were using safe (Purity Protocol) oats vs other oats.
All Purity Protocol oats can also be certified gluten free.
Not all certified gluten free oats can be Purity Protocol. Some certifying organizations will certify mechanically separated oats (what General Mills, Bob’s Red Mill, and others, use). Some certifying organizations will certify shared facility and/or equipment.
You can, see, perhaps, why not all oats are created equal.
On their site I discovered an association with General Mills (a bad sign). But I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe GM had acquired them, but they were still in control of production.
So, I wrote in and asked if the oats used in their products were Purity Protocol or not, and explained the above information.
Here is the response I received:
Dear Valued Consumer,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Annie’s.
To assist with your inquiry, please include in your response the following information:
• The UPC/Bar code printed on the package in question (number located underneath the bar code)
• Product code including the Better if Used By Date and manufacturing information (Example format – 12JAN2018PV1234)
• The Series Number (10-digit number)
If you are unable to provide this information, provide a detailed description of the product flavor, size, etc. and our answer will be based on the current product formula. On occasion, General Mills’ products may be reformulated and ingredient labels change, therefore, it is important to read the ingredient listing every time it is purchased.
We look forward to assisting you.
Thank you again for contacting us. We appreciate your interest.
Consumer Care Representative
Let’s break this down.
- They knew my name, but couldn’t be bothered to use it. So right off the bat, I know I got a copy/paste form letter back. “Valued Customer” does not make me feel valued.
- I have to tell them the UPC of every single product to get an answer? I’m asking about oats. In everything. It is highly unlikely that they would be using different types of oats in each product. So why don’t they know what type of oats they are?
- They admit that they are totally a General Mills products, that GM reformulates products, and ingredient labels change, and we must read labels every time. Long-time Celiacs know this; we’ve usually learned the hard way. Brand new to the Celiac life? You may be unaware that you have to check the product every single time. Even if you’ve bought it 100 times before and it was fine. (Yup, it’s a PITA. But beats being sick.)
So, the bad news is that I cannot recommend General Mills (the only thing of theirs I knowingly purchase is Kleenex) products. General Mills has continued to prove that they are in it for the money and not doing right by Celiacs. Gluten Dude says it really well. Go here to read his many posts on General Mills. Go here to read another one of mine (showing you that they’ve always been in the wrong and how much they just don’t get it).
Here is their Allergy Policy, per their FAQ:
We recognize the needs of consumers who have allergies or sensitivities to nuts, gluten, certain spices, etc., which is why we fully disclose all ingredients on the ingredient statement on our packaging. Our packaging is the most accurate and up-to-date source for allergen and ingredient information. At Annie’s, we take every precaution to ensure that cross contamination of ingredients does not occur at any point in the process, including the farm where we source our ingredients, transportation and shipping, and production and packaging.
Our manufacturing facilities have the highest standards of cleanliness and have documented and verified allergen handling policies. During production, we run our products in a particular order to reduce the risk of cross contamination, take the equipment apart and thoroughly clean it in between runs of product. We routinely test for the effectiveness of our allergen procedures.
Annie’s products are labeled for the following top eight allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, crustaceans, and fish. In addition, we also label for sesame. We label for these allergens using ‘CONTAINS’ and/or ‘MAY CONTAIN’ lists located directly below the product’s ingredient list. Ingredients may vary from one package to another due to product reformulation.
They are telling you that they try very, very hard to clean all the lines, but they are using shared lines and a shared facility. Annie’s routinely tests for effectiveness, but how often is routinely? They don’t tell you this. They have the highest standards, but based on what? Highest for whom? Highest for Celiacs would be not having shared lines/facilities.
Annie’s gluten free products are listed on their own page, which is helpful, but they’ve already told us products get reformulated and ingredients may change.
The big take away is:
- General Mills – they’re not safe.
- Shared lines/facilities – hello, cross contamination! (It will happen at some point. How many products will go out before it’s caught?)
- They use “the highest standards” and “routinely test for effectiveness” (effectiveness, not ppm!) but highest for Celiac / allergy issues is not to have that item on the same line!
- They ignored my question about Purity Protocol oats, but by saying they’re General Mills, that told me all I need to know (they’re not PP oats). It is also likely that they ignored it because it wasn’t a line in any of their copy/paste “Valued Customer” response emails.
- I wrote them back immediately but have not received a response yet. (I don’t expect to either, based on experience with other companies.)