Collaborating with nutritionists and food labeling experts, Safeway has devised this shelf tag system to alert customers to products that meet certain nutritional criteria. Among these, are 4 categories for lifestyle/dietary needs: Gluten Free, Organic, Natural and Calorie Smart
I asked Safeway about these designations, and how they determined which products could be labeled “Gluten Free.” It is often difficult for consumers to determine whether an item is truly free of gluten, so I was interested to know how Safeway stores would assign this label. Turns out, they rely on the manufacturer to do so. It makes sense, as neither Safeway, nor any other grocer, realistically has the ability to determine if each food manufacturer‘s products are truly gluten-free. Unfortunately, at this writing, it’d be a short list if they restricted this designation to only those products that are verified by an independent certification organization. What’s more, the two most popular programs don’t even agree on a standard: the Gluten Free Certification Organization – GFCO – certifying at 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten or less, and the Celiac Sprue Association insisting on 5 ppm or less.
Yes, I’m beating my food-labeling drum again: we need a federal standard for “Gluten Free.” (See the American Celiac Disease Alliance for details.) Such a standard would educate and protect both consumers and manufacturers, and while we’re on the subject, grocers. At this point, Safeway, and any other progressive food stores attempting to help consumers locate and choose safe foods, simply can’t be certain of the true gluten-free status of any product on its shelf unless it is independently certified by one of the aforementioned organizations. It is because of this situation that Safeway should get behind the groundswell of grassroots sentiment in the gluten-free community, calling for such a federal labeling standard. It would make their tags more reliable and would further ease consumer concern over accurate package labels.
Until such time as the FDA enacts a federal gluten-free standard for food labeling, Safeway’s tags are a good start. However, it remains incumbent upon each of us as gluten-free consumers to read and weigh the information provided on each food package. Is it worth the risk to try a cereal that is not independently certified as gluten-free, when it is made in a facility that also produces gluten-containing cereals? Is it wise to choose a can of beans which is not labeled gluten-free, but has no gluten listed on its label? These are decisions we have to make every day, and even with such a tag system, we will still have to make for ourselves.
I applaud Safeway for recognizing a need and for developing this program to help its customers make better, safer food choices. Once incorporated into Safeway’s on-line shopping site, I think the benefits of this program will be even more evident, with category searches that can limit page views to just foods with certain nutritional tags. And cnce food labeling in gluten-free becomes more reliable, this system could be a real Godsend to shoppers saddled with dietary restrictions.
Here’s a look at what their typical store shelves are starting to look like (if you haven’t seen these tags at a Safeway near you, expect to see them appear soon). Each tag can have one or two “benefits” called out, and should make it faster to locate products fitting your nutritional needs. I have heard some chatter that the tags are confusing because they are so populous. I can see the point, and Safeway should be careful that tagging too many products with too many similarly colored labels could cause label fatigue and defeat the program’s purpose. I expect these kinks will be worked out in due time through customer feedback though, and I still net out thinking that these tags will benefit many customers, not only those shopping for gluten-free.
To celebrate this new program and to encourage everyone to check it out for themselves, Safeway has given me THREE 25$ GIFT CARDS to give to three lucky grocery shoppers! These cards are good for purchases made at Safeway, Vons, Dominick’s, Genuardi’s, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Pavilions and Carrs.
The contest ended Monday March 7, 2011 12:00 pm EST.
Three winners were picked at random (using Random.org). The winners are:
Charlene Schwieger; Brenda; & Sharon (as listed in comments below).
Go to Jules Gluten Free Flour on Facebook and send me a message OR email Support@JulesGlutenFree with how to contact you so that I can get your $25 gift card to you asap! If we don’t hear from you by March 15, new winners will be selected.
Thanks for all your thoughts on Safeway’s new system. Customer feedback from people like us is what will shape labeling systems like Simple Nutrition, and make them better!