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Pret A Manger “Gluten Free” Wrap

21 Jul

Some of you may have seen recently that Pret A Manger have joined the gluten-free bandwagon by launching their own “gluten free” wrap.  However, the eagled eyed amongst you will notice the small print that states “While the ingredients of this product are gluten-free, it has been made in our kitchens which are not gluten-free environments”.  Pret stated on Twitter that they use cross contamination controls, so I asked them what they were.  Oddly they emailed me to ask if this was for “business purposes” which I soon set them straight on, but I’ve now finally managed to get a reply:

pret wrap“The gluten free wrap is made with no gluten ingredients (the wrap itself is gluten free), but we can’t call it gluten-free because of the risk of cross contamination. As it is made on site every day, and not in a segregated room in a factory, we can’t guarantee ‹20ppm. (this would mean putting the product on hold, send it out to a lab for testing and then release it once the results were available. We don’t carry sandwiches over, so wouldn’t be able to retain stock for analysis and wait for the results.

There are strict health and safety standards in place in our kitchens. Team Members need to thoroughly clean their benches and equipment before starting a new batch of sandwiches, and ensure that previous used ingredients are put back tin the fridge/cupboard. But this still doesn’t guarantee gluten-free. Also, sandwiches are made throughout the day for availability of fresh product. The same product is made several time throughout the day. Production is not limited to one batch, so again, we can’t guarantee no contamination.”

Interestingly the product name on the website is “Mexican Guacamole Wrap” and makes no mention of gluten free.  However it then states underneath “does not contain gluten”, with then further small print saying they cannot guarantee completely free from any allergen.  The product is described in store as a “New gluten-free tortilla wrap”.  Clear enough?  Personally my initial reaction is to avoid this one, as the cross contamination controls just sounds like basic hygiene rather than anything to avoid gluten cross contamination.

I posted this on Facebook the other day, and some were in agreement that they would avoid and a few said they would be happy to give it a go.  There was one particular comment from Carly Talbot of Gluten Free B that was very thought provoking:

Odd one- they surely aren’t technically correct as the likes of Dominoes etc can call their product ‘gluten free’ without testing every batch, based on the controls they use. Perhaps they should be looking for Coeliac UK accreditation for their process and training.

Also, are we guilty of holding Pret to a standard we wouldn’t hold other restaurants e.g. independents to if they also served GF bread?

Carly’s first point is of course correct, if Pret had engaged with Coeliac UK to gain official accreditation they could have indeed labelled their wraps gluten free.  To do this they would have to demonstrate that clear and documented cross contamination controls were in place along with staff training.  I had mentioned in my emails to Pret that I was surprised that a company of their size had not worked with Coeliac UK when rolling out a gluten free option, unfortunately they did not reply to this point.

Moving on to Carly’s second point and that’s a really interesting one.  Rightly or wrongly I do expect more of a large chain.  They have the resources to ensure they have responsible allergen processes in place, and if they don’t have confidence to put procedures in place on-site could have brought in a wrap prepared off-site.  One of the main differences to me between a chain and an independent is the point of contact.  If I email an independent restaurant I generally get emailed back by the manager, chef or owner detailing exactly what they do (or don’t!) do to prevent cross contamination.  If I’ve contacted the customer services team of a large chain I expect some sort of standard reply.  Pret initially didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, and took a week to come back with essentially “we wash hands, counter and put stuff back in the fridge”.  No mention of separate utensils and nothing to inspire confidence, and as a coeliac confidence is what I need to enjoy food when eating out.

It is of course welcome to see more and more companies offering a gluten free option, but this one just makes me a little uneasy.  Am I being too harsh?  I am genuinely keen for your feedback on this one, and I’d really love you to comment below with your opinions or if you’ve tried the wrap.  Coeliac UK have also said they are going to look into this one so I will be interested in their response too.  I’ll be sticking to the Costa gluten free wrap for now, which is certified gluten free.  I hope I’m wrong about the Pret offering but it just goes to show that it’s the confidence gained from the first point of contact that dictates if we eat somewhere as a coeliac.

Thanks also to Sarah from the Wuthering Bites blog for the photo.

UPDATE 08/08/14: Following comments on this blog I asked Pret to clarify if other items such as salads and soups were subject to the same cross contamination risks as the wrap.  Their reply below.

I would like to explain that everything made in our kitchen does not contain gluten ingredients ie salads. Items which do not go into the kitchen such as soups, popcorn bars are definitely gluten free and not at risk of cross contamination. So we only say gluten free on the items which are not at risk. I have confirmed with our food team that there is indeed a slight risk of cross contamination for our salads.

UPDATE 15/08/14: I’ve also had some comment back from Coeliac UK via Twitter:

We’re discussing kitchen processes with Pret who are very anxious to avoid confusion and want to provide suitable options for customers.

UPDATE 10/12/14: Following some concerns from other Tweeters I asked Pret for an update on the current situation.  Here is their latest reply:

I am sorry you are concerned about the labelling of our chicken harissa wrap. We are very keen to ensure our labelling is informative and allows our customers to choose their food with confidence. With regard to the labelling of food made with gluten free ingredients, we are at present in contact with Ceoliacs UK so we can gain from their years of experience. These discussions are still ongoing but we will be more than happy to contact you once they have reached an outcome should you wish.

Just to reiterate a little of what we have said already, we are unable to label our freshly made food as gluten free as they are all made in the same kitchen throughout the day and we cannot fully guarantee there will not be any cross contamination. However we did want to let our customers know we were making the chicken harissa wrap with a gluten free wrap and so highlighted this on this particular label.

UPDATE 12/01/2015: I’ve received a further reply from Pret following my reply to their last communication, where I prompted them for further info on their cross contamination controls and raised concerns about how they were handling new allergen laws:

We will indeed let you know of any outcome with our conversations with Coeliac Uk.

With regard to your comment about customers not being able to get information about certain allergens in our food, this detailed information is available on our website and our app, and our shops have access to this information as well. As our fresh food is made on the premises, the law on labelling is a little different and we are not obliged to list every allergen for these products. We have of course made the changes to the labelling on all our products that are not made in the shop such as cakes and drinks.

As Laureanne mentioned when you contacted us originally last summer, we do have robust cleaning procedures and checks in place to prevent cross contamination between products. These include the thorough cleaning of benches and equipment, Kitchen Manager line checks, and clear storage guidelines.

I still don’t think they really “get it”.  Catering gluten free is far more than just cleaning down and good hygiene practise, and I can only hope that the discussions with Coeliac UK bring a positive resolution.  I will of course bring you an update if they get back to me in the future as promised, but I feel I’ve taken this as far as I can at the moment given the answers I am getting.  There continue to be many concerns on Twitter with Pret’s handling of allergens, and this is covered in Alex Gazolla’s excellent post covering the Pret allergen situation which is well worth a read.  I would of course as always love to hear your comments if you have experienced dining gluten free or with another allergy in Pret, be them good or bad.

Kevin, Gluten Free by the Sea

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