‘Gluten-Free’ under scrutiny

A Cape Town bakery is in hot water again two years after it came under fire for falsely claiming its products were gluten-free.

Freedom Bakery was accused of food fraud and false labeling after its products tested positive for high levels of gluten.

At the time owner Natasha Mandiringa claimed she uses “alternative flour” and “alternative sweeteners” in the baking process.

The bakery is now back in the spotlight after a recent episode of Carte Blanche featuring a segment about food fraud.

It was highlighted as being a culprit after Mandiringa was caught on hidden camera responding with “Ja, coconut-based” when asked whether certain products were gluten-free.

Once again, the SANAS accredited lab FACTS (Food and Allergy and Consulting Services) run by Dr Harris Steinman found that the products tested positive for gluten, at a very high level – consistent with wheat.

The bakery issued this statement in response to the programme.

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler investigated the original claims in 2017.

“When we had Natasha in studio with us in October 2017, and asked her to explain how lab tests kept finding that the products on sale in her bakery were, in fact, wheat, very far from gluten-free, she couldn’t offer an explanation, saying only that she did not bake with wheat flour.”

Dr Harris Steinam runs the FACTS lab where these tests were carried out. He says they tested a range of Freedom Bakery’s products several times.

“At one stage we sampled every month. I personally went and bought and was personally told they were gluten-free.”

“The levels we find is pure wheat rolls. There’s no other excuse… whatever Natasha is saying is a blatant lie. These are wheat rolls.”

So then why aren’t more people falling ill after eating food they thought was wheat-free?

Dr Steinman says there are a few reasons, including that some people won’t attribute their symptoms to those particular products because they assume that when buying something claiming to be gluten-free, it will be.

“Up to 30% of people believe they are intolerant or allergic but in fact, they are not.”

But for those who are medically intolerant of gluten, like the woman who phoned in to the last show to say she was still suffering from the flare-up she had after devouring a pack of hot cross buns from Freedom Bakery a year before, having avoided all gluten for 15 years, it’s a very serious issue indeed.

The Allergy Foundation of South Africa would like to thank the Carte Blanche Producers, Dr Harris Steinman – Director FACTS (Food and Allergy and Consulting Services), Wendy Knowler – Consumer journalist and Pippa Hudson Presenter at Cape Talk for their active interventions in attempting to help keep Coeliac disease patients safe.