December 31, 2008

Whole Foods pulls wrongly marked kids food

Whole Foods Market Inc. has pulled three gluten-free products for children because the items actually contain the substance, the Texas grocery chain said.

The chain, with 273 U.S. stores, also said it would create a strict gluten-free definition and begin monitoring its items so such problems don't recur.

Three products made for Whole Foods by Wellshire Farms Inc. of Swedesboro, N.J. -- Chicken Bites Dinosaur Shaped, chicken corn dogs and beef corn dogs -- contained between 116 and 2,200 parts per million of gluten, a Chicago Tribune investigation found.

While the federal legal definition of gluten-free is imprecise, most experts view it as containing less than 20 parts per million, the newspaper said.

Gluten -- a protein found in wheat, rye and barley -- can cause allergic reactions in people with wheat allergies and severe abdominal pain in those with celiac disease, a disorder of the small intestine.

Whole Foods initially refused to remove the products, saying Wellshire Farms was responsible for ensuring the items were safe and legal.

But after receiving about 20 consumer complaints or inquiries, including from people who thought gluten-free meant zero gluten, Whole Foods pulled the products from its U.S. stores, the Tribune said.

Wellshire Farms now has a batter supplier that guarantees less than 20 parts per million of gluten, owner Louis Colameco said.

The Wellshire Farms Web site lists all products in its Wellshire Kids line as gluten-free.