As many of you know, Kinnikinnick Foods is a dedicated gluten free manufacturer. Since 1991, we've been Gluten Free and we always will be. Not only that, we do not out source the production of our products to anyone. We have complete control over the production of our products. I know how important this is to us, but I'm quite interested to know how important it is to you.
Why am I asking this? There's a couple of reasons actually. With all the publicity around gluten free recently, we are starting to see a lot more companies, both big and small, jump on the GF bandwagon. Some will have dedicated facilities, some will not and some will outsource production of their products to others. Some will get it right but some won't and that's a concern.
Mostly it's due to several experiences I've had over the last couple of years that really bring the issue into focus for me.
A Fog of Gluten
We are doing some testing of new equipment at a non-GF facility to see if that type of equipment can be used for our products. Our first day of trials was quite a reminder of why we are a dedicated facility. Flour dust hung like a fog in the air; it clung to our clothes and skin like glue (gluten!) , and I actually had a reaction later that day as I wasn't wearing a mask. Of course, the trial products went into the trash at the end of the day and we actually had to change clothes and wash our shoes before returning to Kinnikinnick as we were a contamination risk. I just don't know how anyone could make GF & non-GF products in the same building. Flour dust is -everywhere-
Think It's Clean Do You?
This also brought back memories of when we opened our K2 facility. We bought this 120,000 sq ft building and it's equipment when the largest producer of private label (wheat based) cookies in western Canada went out of business in 2005. When it was producing wheat based products, this facility was AIB (American Institute of Baking) certified with a consistently high score on it's regular audits. In other words, it was a very "clean" facility. However, before we made a single product in this new facility of ours, we spent over 6 months decontaminating the building and equipment. Every nook and cranny of the building was pressure washed, twice. Ceiling, girders, ducting, walls; all were washed. One week, the entire building had the electricity shut down so we could wash the lights, electrical conduit and instrument panels. Each piece of equipment was broken down to it's constituent parts and every nut, bolt and gear washed clean.
We were fortunate enough to be able to hire some of the employees of the previous company who knew the equipment. Being new to the gluten free world, it was very instructive for them to take apart the AIB certified, "clean" equipment and find wheat flour caked in places that were impossible to see and even harder to clean. Many of these places inside equipment would be in contact with anything produced in that equipment. Yikes. They quickly became gluten detectives, probing every bit of our equipment to ensure we could be certain this equipment was as clean as new.
We had the same experience in 2007 when we bought a used waffle production line. There were places in that machine that could only be cleaned of contamination by a complete tear down of the parts of the machine. I have some video which I'll dig up and post shortly of just how bad it really was.
UPDATE: Here's The Video
Personally, as a result of these experiences and because I am a celiac who actually eats some products from companies other than Kinnikinnick(!), I have a much greater sense of wariness when I see "manufactured in a facility that contains wheat." From a company perspective, I'd like every manufacturer of GF products to go to the lengths and expense we do. I know that some do already but some don't. As a consumer, it's tough to know just what you can expect. Hopefully, the new FDA regulations (if/when they are implemented) will bring some clarity to the issue. The issue in Canada is a bit clearer due to our regulations, but it can still be hard to know what to think.
We're not going to change the way we do things here at Kinnikinnick, because we believe it's the right thing to do and we think it's important to you. Let us know.
FYI... You can read more about our ongoing, daily procedures and testing for gluten on a previous post here