A coeliac consumer (CC) contacted me last week with a problem. CC had been eating Sainbury’s GF oats for about a year, and had been experiencing some symptoms. While CC knew, thanks to the product recall of September, that the effected batches carried a best before date of July, August and September 2012, CC did not know when these batches may have been actually on the shelves. With no packets left to examine but remembering when they were purchased, CC is unsure whether he or she may have consumed the affected batches, and whether these may have contributed to symptoms.
My first port of call was the FSA – the number given on the allergy advice notice. They explained that they didn’t hold this information, and advised I try the Sainsbury’s Customer Helpline (0800 636 262). This I did and spoke to a very helpful assistant called Evelyn who knew immediately what I was talking about and seemed very familiar with gluten-free issues. Ultimately, though, she couldn’t find out the information either, for certain, and gave me Sainsbury’s head office number, based in London.
There I spoke to Rhona, who was also familiar with the issue. She had to refer to colleagues in another department, but within five or so minutes established that the oats had been on the shelf in July, August and September of this year, and were taken off in early September, when the contamination issue became known.
The good news, as Rhona told me, is that Sainsbury’s GF oats which have been certified safe are slowly beginning to reappear back on the shelves, and she offered to find out whether my local branch had them in store yet. So, I presume, you can call Sainsbury’s and find out whether yours has them in stock.
Although she couldn’t tell me the level of contamination, she added that it “very, very small amount”, and that the issues and causes had been identified and now resolved.
I haven’t contacted other affected companies which I wrote about six or so weeks ago, but would imagine that we will be shortly seeing the availability of GF oats returning over the coming month, given the same supplier was involved in all cases.
I found this issue interesting, as I’d not properly considered before the possibility that a food sensitive person may consume a problem product and not be able to easily find out retrospectively whether he or she may have done so. It brings up issues of whether it may be sensible to buy in bulk, ‘stock up’ on foods with a long-shelf live, and avoid consuming recently bought foods in case a contamination issue comes up in the subsequent months or weeks. Or, indeed, whether it’s wise to hold on to packaging of some foods we consume – batch codes and BBE dates, for example, to refer to should we need them.
Please add a comment if you have new information about other brands, GF oats’ appearance back on the shelves, or thoughts about the issues.