USPS Destroys Package & Freaks Out Over Subsequent Leak Of “Mysterious” Gluten-Free Flour

The United States Postal Service should be a bit more careful about packages it handles, especially if it’s going to damage one so badly that its contents start to shake loose. Also? While Amazon probably isn’t going to be shipping any kind of dangerous substances, once Consumerist reader Jeremiah and his wife explained that it was gluten-free flour, surely there’s no need to freak out about it twice. And hey, maybe an apology is in order?

Jeremiah writes in to say that he was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, and as such, can’t tolerate flour made from wheat. But he didn’t want to lose out on his wife’s baking, so she was sweet enough to order some gluten-free baking flour from Amazon to make her husband a delightful rhubarb crisp. It was supposed to arrive on June 7.

The day the it was supposed to arrive, we were woken up at 5:30am by the US Postal service, wanting to know why our package was leaking a “mysterious white powder.” My wife explained it was gluten-free baking flour, and the lady on the phone said she’d make a note of that and continue shipping the product, but it would be late.

Last night — six days later — at 8 p.m., a postal inspector called me with questions about a destroyed package with my wife’s name on it which was leaking a mysterious white powder. We explained to him we’d already been through this with another USPS employee last week, but he saw no record of that 5:30 a.m. conversation.

The postal inspector told us they would bag up the remains, that we were listed as the shipper, and they would be “returning” the damaged package to us. We explained it was coming to us from Amazon, but he couldn’t be sure if it was coming to us, or going to them. If the flour did arrive, and we didn’t like the shape it was in, he said, we’d have to take it up with Amazon.

Yes, it’s good to be alert about substances being sent through the mail. Once it’s been cleared as not dangerous, some communication between postal workers would be ideal as well. But how about taking a little bit of responsibility for damaging a package enough that there’s less of the product you paid for still inside the box?

Jeremiah did take it up with Amazon, as he was “hungry, angry and hoping for a refund.” Amazon picked up USPS’ slack and expedited a replacement order, with the hopes that USPS would manage to not destroy a second package.

Here’s to hoping you get that rhubarb crisp, Jeremiah. Do let us know how it tastes.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Crackpot says:

    “hungry, angry and hoping for a refund”

    Sounds like a dangerous man.

  2. framitz says:

    I actually suspect poor packaging from Amazon on this one. A very rare case in my experience.
    Yes USPS isn’t great, but they don’t usually destroy stuff so easily.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      but they don’t usually destroy stuff so easily

      LOL. I lived in a town with the most horrible PO facility I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with. Everyone in town knew it, and of course nothing could ever be done about it. If you received a package that wasn’t damaged or didn’t have the contents stolen, it was news worthy of sharing with all the neighbors.

    • Difdi says:

      Actually, if anything, Amazon usually overpackages things.

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      Are you kidding? My METAL present in the mail arrived with a hole through the entire package, as if someone had shot it. I can’t even fathom what USPS did to cause that.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    USPS, your friendly neighborhood shot first and
    ask questions later (quasi) government agency.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      Not government. Not quasi-government. Not pseudo-government. The USPS is as “government” as Bank of America or Citigroup. They have regulations and laws by which they must abide, but they have NOTHING to do with the government, and haven’t for a long, long time.

      When they *WERE* part of the government, they were solvent and competent. For most of the history of this country.

      • kenj0418 says:

        not government. Not quasi-government. Not pseudo-government. The USPS is as “government” as Bank of America or Citigroup.

        Both the USPS’s own website and Wikipedia differ with you. “[USPS] is an independent agency of the United States government” “…federal agencies, including the Postal Service…”

  4. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    I’ve bought lots of foodstuffs from Amazon (almond and coconut flour included) and I never considered what would happen if it had broken open mid-shipment. But this is perversely hilarious in its own way.

    Amazon should be good about refunding the package, once they receive it, since its not Amazon’s or Jeremiah’s fault.

  5. LightningUsagi says:

    Shortly after 9/11, I had shipped a package of baby formula to someone. They wrote to me later to say that the package had gotten damaged in shipping and some of the formula was leaking out, which prompted an evac of their local branch while it was investigated. Luckily, there were 4 cans in the package, and only one was damaged, so their investigation was quick and the majority of the product reached the buyer. But I have to laugh now and again that I (through the careful handling of the PO’s ultra-clumsy oafs) caused an anthrax panic.

  6. jeb says:

    Yes, because I’ll come out and say that I’m mailing something illegal when asked. (Heck, it’s pretty easy to fake a return address.)

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to, you know, test the substance themselves if they had a suspicion of it? Or at least inspect the package, rather than just simply ask.

  7. 2 Replies says:

    How they should have handled the 5:30 am call:

    USPS: “Why is your shipment leaking a mysterious white powder?”
    Customer: “Good question. Why IS my package leaking? What did you do to the packaged flour to cause it to leak?”

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      It would’ve been more funny if they had said “OH MY GOD WHY DID YOU MAKE THE ANTHRAX LEAK?!”

      • The Cupcake Nazi says:

        No…no it wouldn’t. Maybe for about five minutes until the federal agents smashed his door in and he was charged with causing a terror scare resulting in boatloads of monetary loss…

      • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

        Very good point. ;)

        “Tsk tsk. There wouldn’t have been a contamination if you guys handled things properly.”

      • Jawaka says:

        I would have responded, “because whoever packaged it didn’t know what they were doing”.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Or simply, “Oh my God, it’s Leaking? GET OUT OF THERE! GET OUT OF THERE NOW!” lol!

  8. sirwired says:

    “But how about taking a little bit of responsibility for damaging a package enough that there’s less of the product you paid for still inside the box?”

    Chill MB. Amazon’s packaging of dense bulk items (liquids, powders, etc.) does not exactly have a stellar reputation, as their packaging methods are meant for stuff that is either lighter and/or rigid and/or not so susceptible to damage.

    Unless we can see the package, it seems a bit premature to blame the USPS.

    • absherlock says:

      Not really. If the package wasn’t leaking when the USPS got it and they caused it to leak, it’s their fault. Remember, regardless of how Amazon packed it, it was still most likely in it’s original packaging that was also compromised.

      I realize with the number of packages they move they can’t treat every package like it’s eggs and light bulbs, but they should try and apologize when they fail. That’s good customer service.

      • who? says:

        A bag of flour in its original packaging isn’t exactly fit for shipment through the mail without a little reinforcement.

        Amazon shipped me a toner cartridge that broke open during shipment, because it wasn’t properly packed. It was just a toner cartridge in a plastic bag, with a couple of those air bag thingies thrown into the box for flavoring. The difference between the bag-o-flour and the toner cartridge was that the black powder stayed inside the plastic bag until it got to my house, so that I could get it all over my house as soon as I opened it. Amazon was great about refunding my money, but what a mess!

        • StarKillerX says:

          Oh dear Lord, I can’t even imagine as one little speck can result in getting it everywhere (as I’m sure you know. lol!)

      • sirwired says:

        So if Amazon ships a box of crystal wineglasses in a retail display package, puts it in the same box as a brake rotor, and does nothing but toss in some perfunctory pillow-packs, we should blame the USPS instead of the shipper?

        Sometimes it IS the shipper’s fault, and that’s all there is to it.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      I also order GF items from Amazon on occasion. They are often not packaged well. Rarely reinforced. Things get banged up. Cans are the worst, they arrive all dented up.

  9. Puppyclaws says:

    I find gluten-free flour to be something of a mystery myself….

    • Snapdragon says:

      It’s usually something like rice flour mixed with garbanzo bean powder…. My personal fave though is coconut flour :)

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Often they’re combos of rice flours (regular and short-grain rice), other starches (tapioca, corn, potato), and always, xanthan gum to hold it all together. Bean flours have better baking structure, but I think they taste nasty (metallic), and they give me and others tummyaches. I’ll put in a plug for Pamela’s GF AP flour here, as it’s the best of the commercially available GF flours I’ve used.

      • ohiomensch says:

        personally I like Better Batter GF flour. Its a cup for cup substitute for traditional flour. No garbanzo (and no garbanzo taste).

      • GadgetsAlwaysFit says:

        Have you tried King Arthur’s yet?

        • ChuckECheese says:

          No but I will. I used to enjoy their wheaten products, back when I was covered in sores and lived on the toilet seat.

  10. donjumpsuit says:

    A little tip for all the consumerists out there. Making crepe’s for manicotti with gluten free flour as opposed to regular flour makes a better softer more robust manicotti.

  11. Gehasst says:

    First problem is they shipped with USPS.

    If you are shipping letters, USPS, if you are shipping a package, pony up and pay the extra for UPS/FEDEX if you want it to arrive. We have had USPS break more than a few laptops in shipment. Our main provider is UPS has not damaged one laptop yet. Go figure.

    • AldisCabango says:

      Anyone who has read consumerist for any length of time knows that UPS and Fedex are not always better then USPS in delivering a package.

    • DFManno says:

      You’re not always (or even often) given a choice.

  12. scoosdad says:

    Great Seinfeld moment (YouTube clip):

    Newman the postman, interrogating Jerry about a postal insurance claim on his broken stereo: Let me ask you this. Don’t you find it interesting that your friend had the foresight to purchase postal insurance for your stereo? Huh? I mean, parcels are rarely damaged during shipping!

    Jerry: Define ‘rarely’.

    Newman: Frequently.

  13. mikeMD says:

    Not shipped by amazon directly I’d wager, but in case you have several hours to kill there are now 337 reviews.

  14. Posthaus says:

    If I had a dollar for every mispackaged item that came through my hands everyday…

    And I swear, as a rule of thumb, people who privately send perishable goods purposely package them in the flimsiest container they can find. A few weeks ago I had someone’s olive oil leak all over my legs and the floor (and other peoples parcels!) because they didn’t see it fit to cushion the box the bottle was in or contain it if it happened to leak they do make cushioned seal-able bags for moving wine bottles ya know!] Never mind it was a box so beat up it looked like it was on it’s 4th or 5th trip through the mail.

  15. dush says:

    Too bad USPS messes up packages so much. They wonder why they are hurting so much financially.

    • pythonspam says:

      This has nothing to do with the current financial state of the Post Office.
      They would be operating with marginal profit if Congressional Oversight had not imposed the regulation to prefund 75 years of retiree benefits (which no other government agencies or corporations do). The Post Office was targeted partly because it was a large pool of unionized workers within the reach of Congress and partly because they didn’t want to get into a situation where the pension fund was actually insufficient to cover retirees…

  16. Difdi says:

    Reminds me of a story I heard during the height of the anthrax scare following 9/11.

    A guy on a plane ordered a powdered sugar doughnut. When his doughnut arrived, he took note of the fact it was dusted in a “suspicious” white powder, and proceeded to completely freak out. Whole airport got locked down, until the HAZMAT teams could determine what the powder was.

    Yes, he specifically ordered a powdered sugar doughnut, he was not handed a random type.

  17. HalOfBorg says:

    I’m proud of the fact that while selling items on Ebay, I’ve shipped glassware to several states and a few foreign countries and never lost a single item.

    Never tried to ship a sack of flower though.

  18. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I didn’t think Amazon used USPS and I also thought their packages were clearly addressed and included packing lists.

    Did Amazon ship this or was it a marketplace seller?

  19. km9v says:

    I buy gluten free flour shipped all the time w/o issue. It’s called UPS

  20. hrdcorefan says:

    All 1st class mail and priority parcels/boxes the USPS “delivers” are actually transported by FedEx and commerical airlines after acceptance at USPS and then “delivered” by USPS upon arrival.

  21. bruin14 says:

    So USPS just calls and asks what it is. I feel so much safer. These are not the droids you’re looking for…..No officer that’s not anthrax just some flour…