McDonald’s and the Celiac Community
The Gluten Intolerance Group of NA, members of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, and others have worked at length with McDonald’s, the FDA, research and industry leaders to help provide an answer to the outcry by the celiac and allergy communities to McDonald’s recent announcement of wheat and dairy being in the fries.
A position statement from GIG:
The science and processing of refined oils does not allow residual proteins to be left in the oils at any level significant to be detected or cause an allergic reaction. The favoring agent added to the oil during par-frying is possibly suspect, however until information is provided on testing of the flavoring agent we cannot say if it is a problem or not. It is possible that the flavoring agent could be an exempt ingredient under FALCPA law, meaning if it has no proteins, it does not have to be labeled. McDonald’s policy is that the fryers used fry the French fries are dedicated and only used for potatoes, this would mean the fries are gluten-free. McDonald’s is expected to make an updated statement about this situation in the very near future. We anticipate that it may include information about recent testing.
Choosing to eat any food is always the individual consumer’s choice. If you feel uncomfortable with this information, it is ultimately your choice to eat the fries or not.
GIG and other leaders in the celiac community have taken a proactive position on advocating for safe food for persons with celiac disease and appropriate labeling. At the same time, it is important to recognize the need for education about how the law may initially cause confusion about ingredients that are truly safe and should not be required to be labeled, according to this law.
As we try to educate consumers, it is important that the community approach their questions and concerns in a calm, logical manner. This is not always easy to do when the health of a child or yourself is at potential risk. Ultimately, it will have positive impact on the food industry and their desire to work with us for our benefit.
The FALCPA law does not apply to McDonalds or other restaurants. It applies to packaged foods. The allergen information will appear on the packaging of foods purchased by consumers and those purchased by food businesses, such as restaurants, hospitals and schools. However, the law does not require such businesses to post this information.
FALCPA is an excellent law, and will resolve the majority of labeling issues for persons with celiac disease, gluten intolerances and allergies. It requires that plain language be used on packaging to identify the top 8 allergens – wheat, soy, eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts. The law exempts from labeling these allergens in the event that the allergens are removed and the allergenic protein does not exist in the ingredient. An example of such an exemption is refined oil. The law allows companies to file exemptions for ingredients, if they can prove no allergen exists in the ingredient.
At this time, the FDA has not filed formal rulings on the exemptions filed.
The issue at hand:
McDonald, wanting to be transparent and community-minded, disclosed the information on packaging of their fries, indicating that the FLAVORING Agent added to the par-fry oil included a wheat and dairy source, which the par-fry company states does not contain proteins (therefore cannot be allergenic).
People in the allergy and celiac communities feel betrayed and outraged with McDonald’s for being untruthful in the past. They are angry and afraid.
Refined oils are processed by cold, or heat and pressure extraction. Cold extraction oils, such as olive and peanut oils, are generally more expensive and less shelf-stable. They also retain their natural flavors, aroma, and nutritional values. Heat and pressure extraction allow oils to be more stable. Heat extraction includes oils that are extracted from the fruits and seeds under high pressure (up to 15 tons), known as expeller processing or a solvent extraction process. Solvents are used to extract the oils from the seeds and then it is boiled to remove the solvents. These oils are often further refined using bleaching, deodorizing and high temperatures. Oils highly refined in this manner have very little of the original flavor, aroma, and nutrients of the original seeds or fruit. These oils have high smoke points and long shelf lives, making them ideal for frying. Scientists have stated that the bleaching process or high atmospheric pressure is enough to destroy the proteins.
Any flavorings are added after the deodorizing process to highly refined oils, otherwise the process would render the flavoring neutral.
We do not know a lot about the flavoring used at this time, except what was reported in the press and by McDonalds.
Word reached Canada about the McDonald’s information. Health Canada is launched even stricter regulations than they currently have in place for allergens. Health Canada is like the FDA in the US. This representative felt that even with their strict regulations, that these ingredients would be excluded from having to be declared on labels based on their lack of protein content. We are trying to encourage that an exemption be filed with the FDA by the oil and/or flavoring company.
Why the Confusion
The confusion comes in that very few ingredients, that do not have allergic proteins in them have not filed for or been approved by the FDA as exempt from the law. Until they are exempt, the law requires that the label bear the starting ingredients if they are a top 8 allergen. This confuses and frightens consumers, who are depending on this law to provide a measure of assurance to safety. We knew this would happen in the beginning and hope that the reaction of consumers to the McDonald incident will cause the FDA to fast-pace the exemption process and stop the confusion. Remember that proteins cause allergic reactions. Companies must show no allergenic proteins are in the ingredient to be exempt from the law.
What Can We Do
First, do not panic. It is important we approach any labeling issues with a sense of fully understanding the process and issue. If the celiac community chooses react and lash out at companies, without having all the facts and full understanding, they risk isolation of those companies and others. The food industry is on the same learning curve about the law as consumers. They are watching how consumers react to labeling changes. History shows us that when we are supportive of the companies in the changes they make, they support us. When we attack, they and others will choose not to support the consumer community. Do we want companies to purposefully add wheat to their products so they do not have to deal with us? That is already happening. Wouldn’t you rather pat them on the back and watch them do more to support our needs? That has happened, but could very quickly stop.
We ask that as leaders in the celiac community, that you help us to support the community needs by providing sound information and a calming effect. Help us to help consumers understand and act in a productive rather than destructive manner towards the changes. Help us to educate others about food processing and the allergen labeling law’s benefits.
For more information about this information contact: Cynthia Kupper, RD, Executive Director, GIG 206-246-6652 or the American Celiac Disease Alliance.