I made my first pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s. Been wanting to go for years. I was on vacation in the Boston, MA area, and went to one in Brookline near my sister’s condo. Saturday morning, crazy busy parking lot; we were thrilled to find a space! I was not so thrilled with what I found inside. No separate gluten free area. IT was all mixed in all over the place. Like a treasure hunt but unfortunately I found cross contamination issues with their products and had to put lots of the treasures back on the shelf. I also was not happy to have gf stuff right next to all purpose wheat flour based products.
I couldn’t accept foods that were “processed on equipment that may also process wheat, etc.” Nope. Been there, tried that and got pretty sick: total waste of money to purchase, waste of time to bake with it and not be able to enjoy and so not good for my digestive system. Yes, the possibility of a small contamination due to shared equipment for processing food is definitely enough to cause a celiac to not buy a food product. Happens all the time to me when I shop; I read the label and then regretfully put the product back on the shelf.
Now, I hear Trader Joe’s has a reputation for gluten free products and after the fact I discovered that you can get a list of gf foods from the service desk and their staff will help you find it. Frankly I saw no staff around the store but I can say that they were very friendly at the check out and gave me a free TJ’s bag for it being my first ever TJ experience. Sweet of them. Would have been sweeter if I had been able to buy some salad dressing and chocolate covered nuts. Neither of which was safe consider the cross contamination issue, here-to-for referred to as cc.
Today I did find a blog posting giving me some direction on what was great at TJ’s; gonna use it next time, check it out: http://dragonflyglutenfree.blogspot.com/2014/05/trader-joes-gluten-free-love.html
Something else bothered me; the shelving of gluten free products. Two reasons for my dismay; first: when they are blended together it is frighteningly easy to mistake something and take it home and as you are munching on it you realize it was not gf, just looked a lot like the gf product next to it! Secondly, I hate seeing gf products next to or on a lower shelf than regular products that have loose flour in them; bags of wheat flour for instance. Before you jump to conclusions of me baking with wheat flour by accident; the problem is those wheat flour boxes and bags do leak at times or even burst. Then a shower of wheat based product sifts down or over onto the gf boxes/bags. I might touch that gf bag or box to read the ingredients. I don’t even have to buy it to get sick. If I get a small amount of flour which contains gluten on my fingers and then touch my face/lips it is shockingly easy for me to get quite sick. That brief touch of flour is all it takes to make someone with celiac very ill.
Smart managers of some grocery stores have a dedicated gf baking area for products so they are not next to wheat based mixes: Wegmans does that. They have the best gf department in general and the don’t spread their gf stuff all over the store.
Other stores, at least, put the gf stuff on the top shelf so if the flour leaks; it doesn’t get on the gf stuff which is above it. Giant does this which I applaud. Sadly, Whole Foods doesn’t nor do most heath food stores. I have told mangers about this issue but unless they know a celiac well enough to realize how easily products get contaminated, they just don’t get it and can’t be bothered to move the arrangement of products around to make it safer for us celiac sufferers. I would be curious to know what other grocery store chains do in how they shelve gf products.
My friend Josh who is a total TJ addict didn’t understand what I meant by cc and suggested I share some of this in my blog so you understand it when your gf family member freaks out about such stuff.
It may seem minor but when your life depends on you eating consistently safely, then you look at all the little stuff. I hate getting ill from gluten and if I suffer several bouts in a short period of time I feel so terrible I can barely function and spend weeks feeling nauseated all day long as a result of the multiple glutenings. So I look at all the ways I can get glutened and avoid food with any possibility of cross contamination as well as outside the package contamination.
Finally, I also belong to several celiac support groups and have heard serious rumblings about the authenticity of Trader Joe’s gluten free designations on their products. I take that gf label very seriously and if they are found to be slapping it on unsafe products you will Never find my personage in a Trader Joe’s again. I hope it is not so, I really do. Meanwhile I am going to go open my fig butter and indulge in a little fig jam party!