Monday, August 28, 2006

Don't settle for the quick, easy answers

All too many times, I've called a company to ask whether there are any corn- or soy-derived ingredients in a product, only to get a quick and easy, "No, our product does not contain any corn," answer.

However, I've discovered that I can't necessarily accept that answer. Usually when I explain that ingredients such as vitamins, yeast, and alcohol in flavorings are often corn-derived or manufactured using corn, they will change their tune. I frequently find myself educating food company representatives about the various ingredients in their products.

Occasionally a company will research it for me and in 9 cases out of 10 will discover that their "corn-free" product actually does contain corn. More frequently they just tell me that they have no way to find out the ingredients of their ingredients, so they can't know for sure whether their product contains a specific allergen or not.

Cascadian Farms Purely O's cereal is a great example of why it's so hard for consumers to get accurate information about which products contain corn. Several corn-allergic people have been told by the company that the product is corn-free. It's on the "safe list" at the Delphi Forums Avoiding Corn community. One would think it was pretty well confirmed corn-free.

The first time I called Cascadian Farms (a branch of General Mills), the customer service representative I spoke to said that Purely O's did not contain any corn or corn derivatives whatsoever, and was also free of soy.

But when my baby refused to eat the Purely O's cereal after trying it a few times (even though she loved it the first time she ate it), I began to wonder. She often refuses initially well-liked foods when they make her feel badly, and usually I later find out that they contain corn or soy.

By this time I was more educated. I now knew more of what to look for on a label that might indicate undeclared corn or soy ingredients. Many of the additives on the Purely O's ingredient list, particularly some of the added vitamins, were items frequently derived from or manufactured using corn or soy derivatives.

So I called the company again. But this time I didn't just ask if the cereal had corn or soy in it. I asked specifically if any of the vitamins were derived from corn or soy, pointing out a few of the most common culprits such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E in particular.

I called several times and e-mailed them once, and still it took over a month before they had an answer. They apparently had to contact each of the vitamin manufacturers individually to try to get the information. This which would indicate to me that this had not been done previously when I and others inquired about corn-derived ingredients in the product.

This morning I got a telephone call from a representative at the company. She said they still hadn't been able to get information on the sources of all the vitamins yet. But she had been able to find out for sure that the Cascade Farms Purely O's cereal DOES contain corn derivatives. She said that she does not think it contains any soy derivatives, but it definitely does contain corn derivatives.

I've reached the point now that most of the time if there is any ingredient that can be corn- or soy-derived in a product, I just assume that it is. I've been told too many times that a product didn't contain corn or soy, only to find out upon further prodding or upon dealing with an allergic reaction that the product actually did contain an allergen it was supposedly free of.

In order to protect ourselves, we do have to ask very specific questions and push for deeper answers. People dealing with severe allergies or sensitivities simply cannot trust any manufactured foods without very careful research. Unfortunately, we can't necessarily take the manufacturer's word for it either.

Just because the manufacturer says something doesn't contain corn doesn't necessarily mean that's true.


Von said...

How very true that is. For me, contacting the company is only to prove that it does have corn. If the company then claims it to be corn-free, there's still a 50/50 chance that its got corn in it.

I don't trust any companies word on corn-free, until someone has guinea pig tested it first.

Its sad that we have to take such chances in order to get a well rounded diet, and hopefully someday we won't have to anymore.

purple_kangaroo said...

So true. I'm finding out that so many of the things even on the corn-free list do have corn derivatives in them. I don't know if the formulation changed or if it just depends on who you talk to, how much work they're willing to go to in order to actually get an answer.

I called Ben and Jerry's ice cream to ask if their vanilla and other flavorings contained corn derivatives. It took them quite some time to answer, and the rep who finally called me back said she'd checked on it and the vanilla did not contain any corn derivatives. This agreed with at least 2 or 3 different spots on the Ben & Jerry's website that said the vanilla was corn-free, and that any corn derivatives would be clearly labeled on the ice cream.

I've been trying to find some vanilla with no corn in it, so I asked for info. about the flavoring manufacturer so I could see if any of that corn-free vanilla was commercially available.

So I called the vanilla company B&J's buys from yesterday. They said they had to check on whether they had any corn-free vanilla.

Lo and behold, this morning I had a message on my phone machine from the vanilla manufacturer, saying that they don't have any corn-free vanilla extracts.

Trying to find corn-free products is like playing Russian Roulette.