Friday, 2 May 2014

A miss is as good as a mile - Costa Coffee's new 'dairy free' wrap

Grr! So annoyed I have to find myself writing this post, when there is so much I want to tell you about our recent trip to Euro Disney.

Yesterday morning, I was extremely excited to see messages popping up on Twitter and Face Book, to the effect that Costa Coffee and had a new gluten free and dairy free option on their menu. And that in fact it was the kind of thing you might like to buy and eat for lunch on the go. 


'Oh, how exciting!! How that could revolutionize my life,' I thought.

I've been a fan of theirs for a long time, because we like their mini Cherry Bakewells's and I've also enjoyed their Christmas Cake Slice (only available at Christmas) both of which are gluten free but actually appear to be dairy free also, and have never caused us any problems. They've been a particular boon, since Starbucks stopped making their gluten and dairy free Chocolate and Hazelnut loaf.

Costa even tweeted me directly about their new product.

Here it is!

SO, not one to waste any time, I popped along to a nearby Costa Coffee to see for myself.

I was excited to see that they had used Newburn Bakehouse's gluten free Seeded Wraps, as I know that these re also dairy and soya free. Despite their price, I buy them regularly as they taste great, stay moist-feeling and don't fall apart too easily like some others do.

They were indeed in stock. SO I picked one up and perused the ingredients lists to see if they were also egg and nut free etc. - not for our benefit, but for those who are.

And then I spotted this:

See that, 'May contain' statement??

And I was shocked! Another 'May contain traces of milk' on another product claiming to be dairy free.

So NOT suitable for those with the potential for a severe allergic reaction OR for someone (like 'Baby') who is and certainly has been extremely sensitive to the slightest traces.

To me the word 'free' denotes 'completely free' NOT 'somewhat free' OR 'almost dairy free.' It's extremely misleading and a HUGE disappointment to anyone who is completely dairy free and who happens to come across these kinds of statements - particularly if they are newly arrived to the dairy free lifestyle, through a recent diagnosis and is struggling to get to grips with it all.

As someone who is gluten free, I am aware that 'gluten free' is a legally protected statement. For a product to claim 'gluten free' status in the UK it must be tested and found to be below the officially recommended level of 20 ppm.  See the Food Gov information on this, here. This minimum standard helps me to select products that keep me safe.

Products that are made without gluten sometimes carry 'non gluten containing ingredients' or 'NCIG' on the label. In the same way, a food product that is NOT completely dairy free, could perhaps be best described as 'made without dairy' - it would be far more accurate and helpful. Perhaps even more helpful would be to state that a product is made 'without any milk or any milk by-products' - as so many people seem to think that eggs are also included under 'dairy' (it is in the US, but not the UK).

This week happens to be Food Allergy Awareness Week, and in this week of all weeks, for a product to be launched as 'dairy free' when it isn't, completely angers me. I'm still annoyed with The Coconut Collaborative (otherwise known as Bessant and Drury) for recently doing the same with their new coconut-based yoghurt.

I think it is high time that even though there are varying levels of sensitivity in the dairy free allergic world (see Michelle of 'Food Matters' recent blog post for elucidation on this point), a minimum standard is set that would protect the most vulnerable from companies making claims that can't be substantiated.

Also, Costa are presumably producing these wraps in a dedicated gluten free environment, in order to qualify for their gluten free status. They are no dairy ingredients in any of the products, that I can see, so I don't quite understand why they can't be completely dairy free also. 

I have tweeted Costa, yesterday, and this morning. Their representative is now apparently looking into it. I'll keep you updated if anything comes to light. 

On the picture above, you can see the words 'Costa Cares' (OK, it's upside down, but it's there), so... let's see if they do!!


Message from Costa Coffee Twitter account:

Just heard back and the product is free from dairy; the warning is standard due to cross contamination in-store.

Which is great news - in that we know there's no dairy in the product itself, but highlights precisely the problem that lie within blanket 'may contain' warnings...

If you don't know where the risk lies, how can you may an informed decision. *sighs*

And one has to wonder, if the wraps may come into possible contact with products containing dairy, might they not also run the risk of cross-contamination with gluten (or anything else for that matter)??? 

Oh the conundrums!!

Update 15th May, 2014:

Okay! So the message I got back from Costa was apparently wrong!

How did I find this out? By reading this post, by Kevin Gollop author of the blog 'Gluten Free by the Sea'.

Kevin was told:

“It is not possible to guarantee that the product is 100% dairy-free because it is pre-prepared in a third party factory, which also produces products with dairy in them. Therefore there is an extremely small chance of a trace of dairy being present.”

'Sorry!' I thought, 'Scuse me! That's not what I was told!' 

My concern was not merely for our situation, but also for other people who follow our blog, Face Book posts and Twitter feed. 

The statement in Kevin's post was confirmed later by 'Adam' via Twitter, in response to a tweet, by myself.

Sorry about this. We've now had confirmation and the statement given to Kevin is correct ^Adam

I'm extremely annoyed about this, because the original line they fed me was also the line that others were given (not just myself), and it was WRONG!! So I know the truth, and now you know the truth, but what about the others??

The reason this matters, should not need spelling out.But here we go:

If you suffer from an extreme sensitivity to milk you need to be given accurate information, in order to gauge the exact nature of risk involved. There's a whole world of difference between merely buying your prepackaged dairy free sandwiches in a coffee shop and actually facing a 'small risk' (but a risk nonetheless) of cross contamination occurring at the point where the sandwich is made. Obviously, if we all avoided buying dairy free food from premises also handling milk, we'd probably starve! However, buying a sandwich that's potentially been cross-contaminated at point of production is like playing Russian Roulette - one day your sandwich might be fine, the next (because someone neglects to follow procedure) you're not. 

Depending on the extent of your sensitivity to milk, you might not wish to take that risk.

I sincerely hope that Costa recognise the importance of this and take steps to ensure that this situation is not repeated.

This lunch time I'm eating my own wraps - made with Warbuton's wraps, which are completely dairy and gluten free. 

I know what's in them, 'cos I made them myself!


  1. Costa just told me the same on Twitter. No dairy in product but they put the warning on because they use milk re cross contamination. I have also asked them the question about cross contamination from gluten as they sell cakes and sandwiches etc...Are they worth the risk?

    1. Good question Sally!

      As we are all different, and have varying degrees of allergy/intolerance or whatever, I'm guessing that the answer will be different for each one of us!