For the past week or so I have not been feeling quite right. As the last couple of weeks have progressed I have realised I have definitely been glutened. Lethargic, dodgy stomach and now the clincher – joint pain in my right wrist. I had no idea what it could have been until a well time tweet from GF_Photographer happened to mention that Tetley Green Tea may contain gluten. Gluten in tea, surely not!!? However, I’d been drinking the stuff for the past two weeks at work and everything seemed to make sense.
I got to work the next day and the first thing I did was check the box. As clear as day on the side were the words “May contain gluten”
I posted the picture to Twitter and managed to have most of my coeliac followers checking their tea boxes in no time at all. Carly soon came up with the #TeaGate hashtag. I always check the label, and never assume – but tea?! It never even occurred to me to check. Several of us contacted our tea manufacturers for clarification. Myself and Kirsty received this standard reply from Tetley:
“It has come to light that some green teas imported from China may contain very small traces of wheat gluten due to unintentional cross-contamination. We are confident that there is a very small risk of our green teas containing traces of wheat gluten but as a precautionary measure we have re-labelled our green teas sold in the EU. This is because EU regulation requires that traces of cereals, such as wheat, contained in the product as sold, i.e. the tea bag, shall be labelled on packaging if they are above the threshold of 20mg/kg (=0.002%).
In a sample of green teas that we have tested, some meet this threshold. To inform and protect our customers we have added an allergen statement on green tea packaging. Wheat gluten traces in tea bags are diluted in the brewed tea, so we calculate that in a small amount of cases then the level of wheat gluten in the tea you are drinking is much below 20ppm (the EU threshold for labelling).”
In discussion Lykara mentioned that she had been told by the Tetley helpline around a month ago that the gluten was “in the glue used to seal the teabags shut”. I asked Tetley to clarify this point as it conflicted with their statement above, and I also asked them to clarify the products affected. I received a fuller reply today:
“Thank you for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to give the correct details!
I’m not sure that it was the Tetley helpline that advised about the tea bag “glue”, we don’t have a big staff and our training is quite rigorous however, I’ll be picking this up with a re-training exercise to ensure the correct information is passed on to our helpline callers.
So, to put the record straight, at Tetley we seal our tea bags with heat and pressure. At no point do we use glue or adhesives of any kind.
As you are aware, it has come to light that some green teas imported from China may contain traces of wheat gluten. This problem is not exclusive to Tetley and there are many people across the global tea industry working on this issue. I don’t have a conclusive report of what happened but it seems that during the usual process of picking and drying the green tea there has been an accidental cross-contamination with wheat. This might be that the physical area used has previously stored wheat, it might be that the equipment (sacks, dryers, heaters) have also been used for wheat, at this stage we don’t know but we are working with our suppliers to eliminate all possibilities one step at a time through the picking and drying process. When we are confident that this has been achieved and this “cleared” tea is working through our supply chain, we will remove the allergen warning. At this stage we have a mixture of teas and we feel that the warning should stay, just in case. This warning is on all Tetley Green tea products sold in the UK.
We do understand that for people with health concerns this is frustrating and potentially worrying, we’re happy to pass on what information we have as we get it. Every pack of Tetley has our FREEHONE number, our FREEPOST address and our ‘Contact Us’ web form. If you have any follow up questions or need clarification on anything – please call me 0800 387 227 or use the link below to email. “
So there we have it. Good to hear Tetley have been working on it, and let’s hope they can make progress on this soon. The line “This problem is not exclusive to Tetley” will of course raise some concerns. While it is surprising and disappointing that tea can contain gluten, I must give some credit to Tetley for their response and package labelling. If you have come across any other teas that have this problem please leave comment below.
To end on a positive note, Laura contacted Twinings and received this response:
“In response I can advise that ALL of our teas and infusions are suitable for coeliacs. They do not contain gluten, wheat or any derivatives thereof.”
This information is also available here on the Twinings website.
See also:http://www.givemeglutenfree.com/tea-coffee-whats-safe-to-drink-with-coeliac-disease/ http://www.howardtheceleriac.com/comics/628 SEE UPDATE 04/04/2014: http://gfreebythesea.me/2014/04/04/a-storm-in-a-tetley-teacup/