Kroger: Where "Gluten-Free" Means "May Contain Wheat"

People with food allergies or sensitivities know that no matter what the colorful claims on the front of a food’s package might be, you still need to chEck the ingredients. Briana writes that her recent experience at Kroger brought this point home. The front of a chicken broth carton declared the product to be “gluten-free,” but the side of the package said “may contain wheat.” Which is it? While food packaging might brag that its contents are gluten-free, such labels aren’t yet regulated by the FDA. In the case of Briana and Kroger, this led to some confusion.

She writes:

A few days ago I bought some Kroger brand 33% less sodium chicken broth. I was happy to see that the front of the carton clearly said that it was “a Gluten Free Food” and “This food has never contained gluten.” Many processed foods contain gluten and there are no federal labeling requirements for it yet, but some companies are starting to label their foods gluten-free voluntarily.

Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Some people (myself included) have to avoid gluten for health reasons, such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity/intolerance. Even trace amounts of gluten can make someone very sick.

After I had used the supposedly gluten-free chicken broth, I was about to throw away the carton when I realized that it said in tiny print on the side, “May contain wheat.” If something contains wheat, there is no way it can be gluten-free.

I called Kroger yesterday to complain about this. They asked me the barcode on the carton, looked it up, and told me that the package was not labeled gluten free. I told them I had the carton in front of me, and it said both “gluten-free” and “may contain wheat.” (I’m including pictures I scanned of the carton.) They said they would look into it and call me back, and they would send me a $5 coupon to cover the cost of the chicken broth. I haven’t heard back from them yet.

I’m mad that that they didn’t take my complaint seriously. I’m also concerned that they deny the product is mislabeled. Celiac disease alone affects 1 in 133 people in the US (www.celiac.org), and even more people gluten intolerance, so by keeping the product on shelves, they could make a lot of people sick. I hope that you can publish this to let people who can’t eat gluten know to stay away from this product.

kroger-chicken-broth-front.jpg

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Comments

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  1. qwickone says:

    Can you call the manufacturer directly? I know it’s Kroger brand, but it sounds like you called the store directly. Perhaps the ones who actually made the product would be more interested in your complaint.

    • Coalpepper says:

      If their broth is like their soda, there’s no manufacture info on it, the soda for example says either distributed by Kroger, or manufactured for Kroger (can’t remember which and i’m too lazy to look) on it, so you’re stuck talking to them, and hoping they care and have a clue.

    • dreamcatcher2 says:

      If it has the Kroger label, they are probably responsible for the packaging.

    • kjherron says:

      Kroger’s store-brand items don’t list the actual manufacturer. The closest to it is the “distributed by Kroger” text that you can see in the second picture.

  2. CaptCynic says:

    Looks Photoshopped.

    Seriously, I think this is a result of over-sensitive lawyers. The product does not include wheat, but because it is produced at a facility that also processes wheat products, some tiny trace of wheat may be accidentally picked up in the processing. There, you can’t sue now.

    • DariusC says:

      Looks like a dream filter was added… but yeah… the wheat thing must be in a warning that says “may contain wheat” just like any candy that doesn’t contain peanuts must put “may contain peanuts” in a warning. Putting it in the list of ingredients, to the best of my knowledge, is not proper procedure.

      • SomeWhiteGuy says:

        No photohop, just the result of scanning a non-flat object on a flatbed scanner. The focus is on the glass and anything above that will turn out a bit blurry.

      • mmmsoap says:

        It’s not on the list of ingredients, it’s on the list of potential allergens. There are a number of common food allergens (including soy, shellfish, wheat, nuts, treenuts) that must be identified if the food may contain even trace amounts of them. This is why non-peanut candies that are made in a facility that processes nuts must include them on the label.

        Reading the ingredients list, there’s no source of gluten, but the item was probably made in a plant that makes a number of different food products. Probably a more clear label is in order, the way many (not all) manufacturers do for peanut allergies. Something along the lines of “While this food does not contain any wheat products, it is made in a facility that processes wheat.”

        • sqlrob says:

          Those two are also exclusive when they shouldn’t be.

          Little halloween candies, no ingredient lists:

          Three Musketeers: May contain traces of nuts
          Milky Way: May contain traces of nuts.
          Snickers: Not a peep about nuts at all.

    • TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

      Sure they could. It’s still false advertising, and it still has the potential to kill someone who is seriously allergic. Would you make a product specifically marketed toward people with peanut allergies on the same equipment you make peanut butter with?

      …(The answer is no, if you hadn’t guessed.)

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      If it says gluten free and it causes a health issue, she can most definitely sue. Sort of how the system works.

      • Dinhilion says:

        Gluten-Free and Wheat- Free ARE NOT the same thing. At the Grocery store I work at, we have signs on the gluten-free aisle that say “not all of these products are both gluten-free and wheat free” to avoid this kind of thing. So no she can not sue.

        • grumpygirl says:

          Yes she can. If something is not wheat-free, it cannot possibly be gluten-free. However, if something is indeed wheat-free, it is not necessarily gluten-free.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      I also have a box of Kroger chicken broth that I was JUST looking at for gluten, because I’m having a friend over for dinner who’s gluten intolerant, and mine is labeled slightly differently; mine says “Processed in a facility that also handles milk, wheat, and soy; May contain: Milk, wheat, soy.”

      Mine’s organic, though, so it’s not the exact same product. Mine also does not have the “gluten free” label on the front. (I have no idea if these are regional, product, or time variations.)

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        Checked the box when I was at Kroger this a.m. and indeed the regular Kroger clear chicken broth does not say “manufactured in a facility that also processes” or anything like that anywhere on the box. I can see how this could be confusing. Since other boxes say it, seems like an easy fix for Kroger to make it more clear.

    • DrXym says:

      If something may contain wheat you don’t label it gluten free. It’s that simple. It’s not some harmless mistake.

    • Weekilter says:

      Your quote: “some tiny trace of wheat may be accidentally picked up in the processing. There, you can’t sue now.”

      Either you chose to ignore that she said that even a trace is enough to cause a reaction with someone who is gluten intolerant or you’re just choosing to be a butt.

  3. pop top says:

    Don’t they have to say that for legal reasons? Like how some candy bars says they are made in a factory that has nuts in it, but the candy itself doesn’t have nuts. Something like that…

    • Hoss says:

      That’s a good example of why this Kroger product should not be acceptable. If the person looking to buy a candy bar is super-sensitive to nuts that would avoid that purchase. But in this case Kroger is marketing to gluten sensitive and lactose sensitive people realizing that there may in fact be wheat or milk in the product. It appears that the regulations on ingredient lists are regulated but the marketing on the product is not

  4. Jeff says: "WTF could you have been thinking?" says:

    Can we have, in the words of Paul Harvey (R.I.P.), “the rest of the story”? Quote:
    “While the front of a chicken broth carton declared the product to be “gluten-free,” ___________________________ . While food packaging might brag that its contents are gluten-free, such labels aren’t yet regulated by the FDA. In the case of Briana and Kroger, this led to some confusion.”
    Please fill in the blank. While myself and others can insert something close to the original quote, some others may not be able to improvise something.

    • jefeloco says:

      You should email Laura directly if you think her article has grammatical/punctuation errors, otherwise you look like an asshat. I, for one, cannot fully determine asshat status though because I have never seen pictures of you parking a sporty car cross-ways through multiple handicap spots on jalopnik.

  5. jason in boston says:

    I had 2 guys at my last job that could not digest wheat. I photoshopped a handicap placard for both of their cars as a xmas gift. They actually looked legit. I got a case of beer on my desk the next morning.

    With that said – call the government agency that oversees labeling at the county level. I want to say weights and measures but that is 100% wrong. If that agency loves to crack down on false labeling like the weights and measures people then the label should be fixed in no time.

  6. flinx says:

    Wheat and gluten are 2 different things, and depending on your condition you need to pay attention to those things.

    For instance, vinegar is technically gluten free, but if your sensitivity is wheat (and not just the gluten proteins), it’s a killer.

    • SerenityDan says:

      I guess I’m missing your point. Yeah having Gluten doesn’t mean it has wheat in it but having wheat in it does mean there is gluten in it so box is still a problem.

      • flinx says:

        No, having wheat in it does NOT mean it has gluten.

        Re-read my example above. White vinegar is wheat based and has wheat in it…but not (technically) gluten. Thus, vinegar is gluten-free, but not wheat free.

        • nocturnaljames says:

          Um the point is white vinegar is NOT wheat. The ingredients say may contain wheat, not may contain something derived from wheat. Gluten free means wheat should not be listed in the ingredients, period. No exceptions.

          • flinx says:

            “period” heh….you get an A for conviction, but you’re still completely wrong.

            The broth isn’t wheat either, but it may contain wheat…but not necessarily gluten. Vinegar isn’t wheat, but it *contains* wheat but not gluten. This is the language on the back of the product.

            Again (and this is the point you’re missing), gluten and wheat are completely different. Some gluten-free things are harmful to people with other wheat issues. Some things *containing* wheat are just fine for people with gluten issues.

            If we follow your arbitrary rule, it’s incorrect–mislabeling.

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        Gluten is contained in the starch of wheat, and can be easily washed away as long as the wheat isn’t “worked” first. Its REALLY not mutually inclusive where wheat exists.

  7. qbubbles says:

    It may contain… probably doesnt, but if it may contain, you cant legally say its gluten free, right?

    It might be easier for the producer to say, “Made in a factory that also processes… blah blah blah” like how some candy bars say, ‘Made in a factory that also processes nuts’

    • SkittleKicks says:

      Part of the issue is that there’s no legal requirement (to the best of my knowledge) for something to be labeled “gluten-free.” It’s about as ambiguous as “natural” sometimes. They’re risking bad publicity, but nothing on the legal front.

  8. WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:

    Allergens listed as “may contain” mean that they are produced in a plant, or on the same line as other products that DO have these allergens as an ingredient. Since they can’t guarantee that the product doesn’t contain trace levels due to particles in the air, on the machinery, etc., they put “may contain” on the label.

    According to about.com, there was a study that found about 7% of items produced in a shared plant contain allergens from a different product.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      yep, even a risk of trace amounts is enough to worry about for many people.

      just last week i ate a hamburger at a cookout at work. i had bun, meat patty, cheese and pickles. didn’t touch the onions. none of my food was ever on a plate or serving dish touching the onions. no onions were put on the grill.
      i’m guessing someone switched the tongs between the pickles and the onions at some point during the day since the two containers were not too far away from each other on the table.
      a few minutes after eating my burger i had an allergic reaction which was exactly like my usual reaction to onions.
      all someone had to do was pick up an onion with the same tongs i used to pick up the pickles with and there’s enough of a trace amount for a contact reaction.

      i could imagine using a bin or utensil in a factory could do the same thing if it’s not thoroughly decontaminated.

  9. humphrmi says:

    I too took that “may contain” to mean that it’s processed in a plant, or on machinery, that also processes wheat. I honestly don’t know if that impacts the Gluten intolerant crowd, but if it does, Kroger should change its labeling.

    • Hoss says:

      It’s clearly showing that ingredient labeling is regulated to ensure accuracy but product marketing is not regulated. This is not acceptable at all.

  10. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    “Have you ever had bread without gluten? Do you know what has gluten? Everything that I love. I don’t know what gluten is, but apparently, it’s delicious.” – John Pinette

  11. Hoss says:

    I agree that it is not acceptable for a food producer to market this way where health is concerned. If Briana has the time the perfect thing to do is to write to her congressperson and ask that they consult with the FDA. Not only does the package clearly say gluten free but it says lactose free and the ingredients say it may include milk and wheat. If your congressperson has a good staff, they will get action on this.

  12. zyphbear says:

    Also seems it says on the front of the carton, “Lactose Free”, but then saying “May contain Milk”. Seems Kroger doesn’t understand the concept of something being “free” of an item if it still may come in the product.
    I also remember when some boxes of products used to say “Produced in a Facility that also processes (name allergy based items here)”, not this confusing terminology that it “may contain”.

    Example: Like I can eat items that have been processed in the same plant as Cashews, but if the item actually contains cashews, I have a danger of the symptoms starting, same as my partner and their allergy to Coconut.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      Really? Because lactose can be removed from milk. O.o Honestly, its like you people have never taken a nutrition/cooking/chemistry class.

  13. Brontide says:

    The label is contradiction central.

    No MSG added “*except that which naturally occurs in autolyzed yeast extract” autolyzed yeast extract is MSG in drag
    A gluten free food/This food has never contained gluten – May contain wheat
    Lactose free – May contain milk

    I will grant them one point. Gluten free != Certified gluten free. A Celiac would have known the difference and only gotten the certified product since that is guaranteed to have a less than 20 ppm concentration of gluten. If it’s not certified then it’s just some new marketing scheme for people that want to cut down on their gluten.

  14. rubicthecube says:

    I make my food from scratch so that I always know whats in it. If you want to avoid things like this, you have to learn to cook.

    • Gulliver says:

      So you grow everything, raise your own chickens, livestock, milk your own goats and cows, churn cheese and butter? Wow, sounds like a sad life top me. I didn’t know the Amish were allowed on the internets.
      More self-righteous drivel

      • rubicthecube says:

        Yes, yes i do. No, I’m not being sarcastic. I don’t like butter.

        • rubicthecube says:

          Let me be more specific. I grow onions, tomatoes, avocados, bell peppers, strawberries, cucumbers, watermelons, limes, cactus (cactus pears are delicious), chives, oregano, cilantro, peppermint, spearmint, carrots and other vegetables and fruits I can’t recall at the moment. I don’t have a farm, and I have what is considered to be a small backyard. I live in Los Angeles (not a farm for miles). I don’t consider myself a farmer, just someone who decided to plant sunflowers instead of roses. I used to have chickens, but apparantly I’m not allowed to have them where I live. I’m not saying everyone should grow their own food or that I’m better than anyone for doing so. All I’m saying is you avoid these type of problems when you prepare your own meals; they also taste a helluva lot better.

    • Hoss says:

      Why the hell would a non cook buy chicken broth?

  15. deadandy says:

    Gluten sensitivity, eh? My mom better not get wind of this, or she’ll add it to her list of popular disorders she’s magically developed in the last ten years: Restless Leg Syndrome, ADD, Fibromyalgia…

    • Bdog59600 says:

      It is the hottest new trendy condition, where a legitimate medical concern for a small percentage of the population is turned into some kind of reverse panacea for any problem you might have. The books literally list symptoms like “tired, depressed, not enough energy.”

      • bennilynn says:

        Jeez, is that all I needed to do? Pick up one of those books?

        My doctor stuck a tube down my throat and snipped part of my intestine to make the diagnosis. Things are so much easier now!

        /s

        I love the fakers. I really do. They’ve made gluten-free products trendy and by making them trendy, they’re everywhere. When I was diagnosed over a decade ago, it was hell on earth trying to find products that didn’t have gluten or find company’s or restaurants that gave a damn. This rise in gluten-free eating is the best thing that ever happened to Celiac sufferers.

        • DrXym says:

          I agree to some extent, but then you have jerks who trivialise the condition (easy to find in this thread) despite it being a real condition. Also it means that if GF becomes associated with a “lifestyle” choice that restaurants may take the term a lot less seriously. After all if a vegetarian comes into a restaurant demanding meat free and a bit of meat is left on the grill it won’t hurt them right, so why would a GF person care if we don’t sweep away the crumbs first? etc.

          So on the one hand it means more GF products (good). On the other it means trivializing and diluting the reasons that GF should strictly mean GF.

          • Conformist138 says:

            Except even the vegetarian thing isn’t always a “lifestyle choice”- there are actual people (rare though they are) that cannot digest meat properly. I knew a girl in junior high who just could not eat meat, it would always make her sick. 99.9% of vegetarians (

            ADD is real, but too many people claim it. Autism and Aspergers are real, but too many people claim them. Food intolerance and allergies are real, but too many people claim them or else follow the diets on this misguided notion that some people having allergies means it’s bad for everyone in general. Whenever someone claims to have any condition now, I just instantly ask what their doctor recommended they do. If they get confused or just admit no doctor diagnosed them, I roll my eyes and brush them off. If you can’t be bothered to make sure it’s put in your medical records by someone who knows what they’re doing, I assume it just can’t be that serious.

    • DrXym says:

      Coeliac disease is not some imaginary condition. Perhaps there are people who have decided for whatever bogus reason that they’re “sensitive”. Regardless, approximately 1 in 100 people actually have the real thing whether they’re diagnosed or not.

      Something labelling itself as gluten free has a responsibility to be actually gluten free. Vaguely saying the thing contains wheat is hardly reassuring. The consequences for someone who has the disease can be extremely unpleasant. In Europe gluten free products can contain wheat starch but regulations are becoming a lot tighter and products have to say exactly what allergens they contain.

      • deadandy says:

        Where did I say it was an imaginary condition? I know it’s real. I just think there are a lot of people who read about these conditions and then decide they must have them.

  16. AnonymousCoward says:

    Chicken broth shouldn’t contain wheat, soy, msg, juice concentrates, dextrose, or “natural flavoring.” The fact that it does contain these things, and is still called chicken broth, is the real problem.

    I do make my own chicken broth. Not because I’m special in any way, but what else am I going to do with the carcass after I eat the chicken? Anybody who cooks enough to know what chicken broth is for cooks enough to make the chicken broth. And my chicken broth doesn’t contain sugar, wheat, MSG, or any of that other crap. It does contain chicken heads and feet, but that’s another story.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      I agree; making your own stock is a great way to use up the carcass. Boil the last ounce off the bones. Also if you have off-cuts of vegetables or leftover ones, throw those in there too!

  17. Dallas_shopper says:

    I wouldn’t wait for Kroger to get back to you; they suck at that. Keep at them.

    • Stiv says:

      It’d been a day since she called them:

      “I called Kroger yesterday to complain about this…”

      You may be right that Kroger sucks, be come’on…I think she should give them at least a few more days before saying they didn’t take her complaint seriously (although the CSR she spoke to would’ve been damned by this site if they had said they’d take her complaint seriously).

  18. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Cook a pot of chicken soup in your kithcen on your stove. Across the kitchen, throw a bag of flour on the floor. Yes, make a mess.

    Now, tell me – did some of that flour get in your soup? I bet. Even if not, maybe minute particles that you can’t see did.

    THAT’S what that label means. It doesn’t mean they put it in the broth, but its made in a factory that uses the stuff and you should be fucking careful.

    They should’ve reworded this as “made in a facility that processes < offending substance > “

    • bennilynn says:

      If there’s a chance it contains wheat, even a small chance, they cannot label it as gluten-free. To take it along the same lines, you would never, ever see a candy manufacturer label a chocolate bar as peanut-free if it were made in the factory as something with peanuts in it. On the back, there’d be a warning and the consumer is on their own to decide if it’s worth the risk.

      You can’t advertise something as not containing X and then say it may contain X.

      Ben and Jerry’s cannot accurately source the ingredient suppliers that they use, so they refuse to say if any of their kinds of ice cream are gluten-free. They say that right on their website. What this Kroger brand is doing is misleading.

      There really needs to be a certification for this kind of thing. That would solve the whole problem.

  19. mcmunchkin says:

    This may be a sourcing issue. I know I have to watch out for this with generic drugs. Things like “food starch” usually come from corn in the US, but the manufacturer will really buy whichever is cheapest at the time.

    I’m always suspicious of “natural flavoring.”

  20. maruadventurer says:

    One needs to be careful in more ways than one. First a friend has a gluten allergy. She can eat wheat (really flour) that is gluten free and in fact goes to a local bakery that caters to her. Quite possible to bake a cake that is gluten free. Something else is substituted for the binding process than gluten usually provides in the product.

    As to the carton. At a minimum it is poor packaging. The product could very well be gluten-free. But then I would suggest that it then really does not contain wheat. Generally wheat is defined as the whole kernel less the husk but including the gluten. Anybody know what USDA defines wheat as?

    Last, something like this I would never argue over the phone. Its one of those things, seeing is believing. Keep the receipt, take the product back, get your money back and point it to the poor sap in person. Its the only way they are going to believe you.

  21. DanGarion says:

    Looks like this is one of those where because of where it is manufactured it may contain wheat because it’s processed in a facility that also processes wheat. You see this say label on almonds or other types of nuts (not peanuts) when they are labeled that they might have peanuts, soy, etc due to where they are processed. I think it’s more of a CYA type thing.

  22. kimmie says:

    Until these labels are regulated, welcome to my own personal hell. Instead of a gluten allergy, I have a corn allergy. Since labelling allergens like this isn’t fully regulated yet, I just plain can’t eat anything processed, ever. I like cooking, so it’s usually not a problem, but it rules out a LOT of food.

  23. unpolloloco says:

    So…the product is safe for those sensitive to gluten, but not those allergic to wheat. Think that’s the intent here…

  24. Darkneuro says:

    If you want pure, 100% chicken broth without any danger of ANY OTHER ITEM in it beyond chicken and water, don’t buy it. MAKE IT. You can get a couple of chickens, bone them out and simmer up the carcasses for about a gallon of stock that can be frozen to be used at will. You can also simmer the whole chickens, some onions, carrots and celery for flavor, then bone out the chickens after cooking – freeze the meat and you have chicken salad for WEEKS… Recipes abound and I haven’t PURCHASED stock for YEARS.
    No MSG either, and I control the amount of salt.

  25. Not Given says:

    Since I always put in vinegar when I make chicken broth, mine must not be gluten free, either.

  26. It's not my baby, baby! says:

    Wheat contains gluten, but it may be removed.

    Just like milk has fat, but that can be removed.

    Gluten is a component of wheat, not wheat. A product may say that it contains wheat, but the wheat it contains may have had the gluten removed.

  27. Bladerunner says:

    I concede that it is possible to remove gluten from wheat. But do any of you pointing that out REALLY think that’s what they’re saying on that package? Because I don’t. I definitely think it’s the whole “In the same plant” thing. And here’s the deal on that: DO NOT advertise gluten-free if there’s a chance of gluten. I really don’t want to spend the next twelve hours in agony, thanks.

  28. bullschuck says:

    I picked up one of these the other day in the store and sure enough, just like the picture above, it said “gluten free” on the front and “may contain wheat” on the side. I spoke with the manager and told him that I understand that he doesn’t put this stuff together himself and that it’s not his fault that it’s labeled like this, but that this was irresponsible on the part of the company. He told me later that he had passed it up the chain. We’ll see if that means anything.