NOTICE: My posting schedule has slowed down lately. Be sure to subscribe to the blog via RSS or via email so you won’t miss new posts when I do publish!

Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites, a Gluten-Free Vinegar Odyssey and Valuable Lessons Relearned

I have been sitting on this post for about a month now (researching one thing has led to another and yet another), so some of the information in this post is a bit outdated (the ingredients and labeling of the Blue Horizon GF Fish & Chip Bites have been changed since I first bought them). What started out as a simple post to help other gluten-free advocates “clear up the confusion” over the labeling of this product, has turned out to be a GREAT gluten-free learning experience for me, and I have been trying to navigate this lifestyle for 5 years now. Which only further proves to me that no one person knows everything, and living gluten-free safely and happily is a collective effort, at least until the FDA officially defines the term “gluten-free.” Hopefully you will find some useful information in this post too. So grab a cup of coffee and sit down, this is definitely one of my longer posts, LOL! :-D If you are in a rush or already know about the labeling confusion regarding the Blue Horizon Seafood Bites, be sure to check out the last part of this post on Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar.

Several months ago while on a shopping trip to Whole Foods, I bought some Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites that were clearly marked gluten-free on the front of the package. I will be honest and admit that I purchased them based on that gluten-free label alone (it happens sometimes), and I didn’t read the ingredient label on the back before buying them. When I got home, I promptly tucked them into my deep freezer and forgot about them (I do that all the time too). Anyway, back in March, I was in need of a quick meal for the boys one afternoon, so I pulled out the Fish and Chip Bites, placed them on a cookie sheet and into the oven the went. I am really thankful for having started to photograph the ingredient labels to share on my blog, because it was then that I first read the ingredient label (I don’t recommend doing that!). :-D

I’ll admit this too, I automatically thought the same thing that many other gluten-free people thought… uh-oh! But before I acted impulsively and made a blog post about it, I Googled the Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites and came across many forums already discussing the topic, like this one on Celiac.com (I encourage you to read this message board thread, because it gives you a great idea of how frustrated and confused other celiacs can become over what we thought was a black/white issue suddenly becoming very gray).

The confusion and alarm makes sense due to the fact that we are often taught to avoid Malt Vinegar on the gluten-free diet, because it is usually made from barley (although it can also be made from corn, but neither barley or corn are one of the top 8 allergens that the FDA requires to be listed on an ingredient label), AND Malt Vinegar is not distilled (or so I thought, until I read this article (you really should read this link too, Jen Cafferty does a great job demystifying the malt vinegar confusion).

I am going to go even further into vinegars in a minute, but will tie up the Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites first. I contacted Blue Horizon and they were very gracious and explained the vinegar source and even included the lab test results showing that no gluten was detected in the products! That was really cool, if you ask me and I will buy their products again because of it.

Good Morning Heidi,

Thank you for contacting us with your question on the Blue Horizon Fish
& Chip Bites.

We use distilled malt vinegar which has no gluten in it. I have attached
the report form an independent laboratory showing this product is
gluten-free. Also we have changed this ingredient from the original
formula and are now using apple cider vinegar.

If you can respond with your address I can send you some $1off coupons
so you may try these gluten-free products.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards,
Phyllis

Here are the Lab Test Results for Blue Horizon Gluten-Free Seafood Bites:

Tiffany Janes, another great advocate for the celiac community, wrote an insightful article on the Blue Horizon Seafood Bites and you can read that here. I also encourage reading that article because Tiffany touched on some things that I think every gluten-free person needs to consider more often.

So on to the vinegar odyssey I have been on!

Did you know that there was a distilled malt vinegar? I sure didn’t! I actually got excited about it, thinking I needed to score some so I could have “real” fish and chips again (I have been using Red Wine Vinegar as my Malt Vinegar substitute since going gluten-free, it’s actually pretty good!).

So what is Distilled Malt Vinegar?

According to this website, distilled malt vinegar is:

This is a clear, white vinegar, also known as spirit vinegar, made by distilling ordinary malt vinegar to produce a very strong, colourless liquid high in acetic acid. It is less pungent than malt vinegar.
Uses: In home-made pickles, and especially where the colour of the food needs to be retained for example, pickled pears.

So, I had to see what my GF pals on Twitter thought and if anyone knew where I could find distilled malt vinegar. One response I received was from a pal in Ireland, where it is quite common, he even sent me a photo of an Irish Distilled Malt Vinegar (seriously, how cool is that?). To make a long story short, after quite a bit of chatter on the gluten-free status of the different types of vinegar from various parts of the world, and a bit of confusion after I wasn’t overly clear on another question I had asked (something as simple as another person thinking I had made a statement of fact because they did not see the ? after something I wrote). It was an innocent oversight but it took off like wildfire! Remember playing the “telephone” game as a child?

I realized just how easy it is to add more confusion (even if it is unintentional) to the swirling whirlpool of misinformation flowing in the gluten-free community. ;-) I highly recommend reading a GREAT article titled “The Gluten-Free Rumor Mill” by Tiffany Jakubowski (make note of when Tiffany talks about similar products by the same company but in different countries) Whether you are new to the GF lifestyle or have been doing it for many years, it is useful “continuing education.”

Anyway, I now realize that much of the confusion caused by my Twitter bomb could have been avoided if I had paid closer attention to some information on the Heinz website (see below… I told you this was a vinegar odyssey, right?).  And this just speaks to the greater problem that I think many of us face on a daily basis: how many products have we become so comfortable with that we just drop them in our shopping cart week after week without realizing that we haven’t “checked” on them for a few years?  How many products have similar sounding names but different formulations that we don’t even think to check the label for that extra word or two that signals the difference?

From the Heinz Website:

Are Heinz® Vinegars gluten-free?

Heinz® Distilled White Vinegar is sourced from corn, not from wheat, rye, barley, or oats. Wine Vinegar and Apple Cider Vinegar are sourced from grapes and apples, respectively, not grains. Therefore, they would all be appropriate for gluten-sensitive individuals. However, Heinz® Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar is NOT gluten free.

Ah, yes. I had completely forgotten about the Heinz Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar! I cannot recall ever seeing it at the store, and I buy my vinegar in bulk at Costco anyway, so I do not even use Heinz to stay acquainted with the products.

So, I probed deeper into the Heinz Website, looking for more information on the Apple Cider FLAVORED vinegar. I visited their products page and found nothing about the flavored vinegar. I did a Google Image search looking for a picture of the label… nothing. I eventually ended up on their foodservice site, Club Heinz (scroll down to the Products section, then a little further down to the subcategory “Bulk Vinegar,” and that is where I saw it, still no picture though)!

I started to relax thinking this was just a commercial foodservice product (that lasted a millisecond before I thought.. oh no, how many restaurants/manufacturers use this product, unknowingly? So, I sent an email to Heinz and the following is what transpired:

March 22, 2010

Dear Heidi,

Thank you for contacting us to find out where you can purchase Heinz Apple Cider Flavored Vinegar. This vinegar is distilled white vinegar with an apple flavoring. The other kind is the Apple Cider Vinegar that is made from apples. Both are gluten free. The labels will be on the bottles and if you have any additional questions please feel free to contact us.

If the above stores (I omitted these to save on space) are not close to your area or the item is out of stock, we suggest that you speak with your store manager.

While we would like to be able to offer you the option to purchase this item directly from our company, we unfortunately are not set up for direct sales to consumers at this time.

Thank you again for your interest and continued patronage.  We hope that you will soon have a convenient source for all the products that you enjoy.

Heinz Consumer Resource Center
Heinzconsumeraffairs@us.hjheinz.com

When contacting us, please refer to the following reference number: 003159252A

HEINZ/cl

PS – We love hearing from Heinz® Ketchup fans. So we’ve created a place on Facebook where Heinz® Ketchup lovers can share thoughts, ideas and stories. Stop over and fan us. You’ll find recipes, videos, info, and have a chance to chat with your fellow Heinz® Ketchup aficionados. Plus you’ll be among the very first to get the latest news from Heinz® Ketchup.  Join us at:  http://www.facebook.com/HeinzKetchup

Okay, did I read that first paragraph right? Did the Heinz representative say that BOTH the regular Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar and the Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar ARE gluten-free? Does the Heinz website not say the exact opposite?? Hmmm.. so, I had to send an email back to them for clarification (I have been known to read things wrong before!):

You are saying that the Heinz Apple FLAVORED Vinegar IS gluten-free?

Then why does your website list it as NOT gluten-free? http://www.heinzvinegar.com/faq.aspx (Last question on the page)

Just want to make sure I have it correct before making a post on my blog. :-)

Thank you kindly,

Heidi Kelly

Response back:

March 23, 2010

Dear Heidi,

Thank you for your interest in Heinz Products. We certainly understand how difficult it can be to find foods that meet the requirements of a restricted diet.

As you requested, the following is a listing of all of our products that do NOT have gluten containing ingredients. If the product you asked about is not on this list, then it may contain gluten containing ingredients.  Also, please note that recipes can change without notice.  Therefore, we recommend you always check the ingredient statement on the label.

HEINZ PRODUCTS:
Heinz BBQ Sauces  (Original, Chicken & Rib, Garlic, Honey Garlic Only)
Heinz Chili Sauce (All Varieties)
Heinz Cocktail Sauce (All Varieties)
Heinz Horseradish Sauce
Heinz Ketchup
Heinz Organic Ketchup
Heinz Reduced Sugar Ketchup
Heinz No-Sodium Added Ketchup
Heinz Hot Ketchup
Heinz Mustard   (All Varieties)
Heinz Pickles  (All Varieties)
Heinz Peppers  (All Varieties)
Heinz Relish  (All Varieties)
Heinz Sloppy Joe Sauce
Heinz Tartar Sauce
Heinz Traditional Steak Sauce
Heinz Worcestershire Sauce
Heinz Vegetarian Beans
Heinz Distilled White Vinegar
Heinz Red Wine Vinegar
***Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar
***Heinz Apple Cider Flavored Vinegar

Heinz Red Wine Vinegar
Heinz Garlic Wine Vinegar

Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauces  (Original #7, Honey Smokehouse, Hickory Brown Sugar, Spicy BBQ Only)
Jack Daniel’s EZ Marinader — Teriyaki, Garlic & Herb, Steakhouse
Jack Daniel’s Steak Sauce (Both Varieties)
Lea & Perrins White Wine Marinade
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (All Varieties)
Lea & Perrins Traditional Steak Sauce
TGI Fridays Salsa  (All Varieties)

CLASSICO PRODUCTS:
Classico Red Sauces  (All Varieties)
Classico Alfredo Sauces (All Varieties)
Classico Pesto Sauces  (All Varieties)
Classico Bruschetta (All Varieties)

DELIMEX PRODUCTS:
UPC CODE:          PRODUCT NAME:
1769600019        Tamales, 12 ct. Delimex Chicken & Cheese
1769600024        Tamales, 6 ct. Delimex Beef
1769600028        Taquitos, 25 ct. Delimex Beef
1769600029        Taquitos, 25 ct. Delimex Chicken
1769600048        Taquitos, 36 ct. Delimex Beef
1769600095        Taquitos, 12 ct. Delimex Beef
1769600096        Taquitos, 12 ct. Delimex Chicken
1769600155        Tamales, 15 ct. Costco Beef
1769600159        Tamales, 20 ct. Delimex Beef, Costco
1769600180        Taquitos, 60 ct. Delimex Beef
1769600186        Taquitos, 60 ct. Sam’s Club Beef
1769600214        Taquitos, 25 ct. Delimex 3-Cheese
1769600565        Tamales, 20 ct. Beef, Sam’s Club
1769600684        Taquitos, 66 ct. Costco Beef
1769600685        Taquitos, 66 ct. Costco Chicken
1769600315        Taquitos, 50 ct. Delimex Beef
1769600316        Taquitos, 50 ct. Delimex Chicken
1769602630        Taquitos, 50 ct. Delimex Chicken Grande
1769602640        Taquitos, 50 ct. Delimex Beef Grande
1769600189        Taquitos, 60 ct. Delimex Chicken

ORE-IDA PRODUCTS:
UPC CODE:           PRODUCT NAME:
13120XXXXX-        ALL VARIETIES of Ore-Ida® Tater Tots®
1312001879         Ore-Ida® ABC Tater Tots®
1312000080         Ore-Ida Golden Patties® (9 ct.)
1312000258         Ore-Ida® Golden Fries® (32 oz.)
1312000278         Ore-Ida® Golden Fries®  (5 lb.)
1312000286         Ore-Ida® Golden Crinkles® (32 oz.)
1312000291         Ore-Ida® Golden Crinkles® (5 lb.)
1312000296         Ore-Ida® Pixie Crinkles (26 oz.)
1312000377         Ore-Ida® Cottage Fries (32 oz.)
1312000392         Ore-Ida® Southern Style Hash Browns (32 oz.)
1312000428         Ore-Ida® Country Style Steak Fries (28 oz.)
1312000455         Ore-Ida® Zesty Twirls (28 oz.)
1312000469         Ore-Ida® Potatoes O’Brien (28 oz.)
1312000647         Ore-Ida® French Fries (8 lb.)
1312000654         Ore-Ida® Country Style Hashbrowns (6 lb.)
1312000784         Ore-Ida® Steam N’ Mash Cut Russets®
1312000785         Ore-Ida® Steam N’ Mash Cut Sweet Potatoes®
1312000787         Ore-Ida® Steam N’ Mash Garlic Seasoned Potatoes®
1312000483         Ore-Ida® Golden Twirls® (28 oz.)
1312000484         Ore-Ida® Zesties® (2 lb.)
1312000800         Ore-Ida® Steak Fries® (28 oz.)
1312000801         Ore-Ida® Shoestrings® (5 lb)
1312000828         Ore-Ida® Shoestrings® (28 oz.)
1312000833         Ore-Ida® Country Style Hashbrowns (30 oz.)
1312000862         Ore-Ida® Country Style Hashbrowns (6 lb.)
1312001036         Ore-Ida® Crispers® (20 oz.)
1312001176         Ore-Ida® Waffle Fries® (22 oz.)
1312001260         Ore-Ida® Extra Crispy Crinkle Cut (26 oz.)
1312001280         Ore-Ida® Extra Crispy Seasoned Crinkle Cut® (26 oz.)
1312001417         Ore-Ida® Extra Crispy Fast Food Fries (26 oz.)
1312001461         Ore-Ida® Country Fries  (30 oz.)
1312001492         Ore-Ida® Fast Food Fries (4 lb.)
1312008564         Ore-Ida® Golden Crinkles® (8 lb.)
1312008565         Ore-Ida® Golden Fries (8 lb.)
1312008572         Ore-Ida® Golden Crinkles® (8 lb.)  CLUB
1312001320         Ore-Ida® Sweet Potato Fries
1312001330         Ore-Ida® Sweet Potato Fries

SMART ONES PRODUCTS:
UPC CODE:           PRODUCT NAME:
2580002011         Smart Ones Broccoli & Cheddar Potatoes
2580002247         Smart Ones Lemon Herb Chicken Piccata
2580002254         Smart Ones Fiesta Chicken
2580002360         Smart Ones Santa Fe Rice & Beans
2580002918         Smart Ones Chicken Santa Fe
2580002931         Smart Ones Cranberry Turkey Medallions
2580002290         Smart Ones Honey Dijon Chicken

Again, we appreciate you taking the time to contact us.   If you need further information, feel free to call us at this toll-free number (1-800-255-5750).  Our offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM until 6:00 PM, Eastern Time.

Heinz Consumer Resource Center
Heinzconsumeraffairs@us.hjheinz.com

Huh! I love how they did not address the issue that there is conflicting information on their website! It was probably an “auto-reply!” ;-)

So, one day while shopping at my local Smith’s, I saw the elusive Heinz Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar (so yes, it is in some grocery stores) and bought it, as well as a bottle of the regular apple cider vinegar so I could take photos of the labels for you!

If you are not looking closely at the label, would you think these products are the same, just in different sized containers?

A closer look:

And closer still:

Is it just me, or do these two labels look very similar?? At least similar enough that you might not catch the distinction?

The two Ingredient Labels:

Ingredient label for the Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar

The ingredient label for the Regular Apple Cider Vinegar

Talk about a paradox!

Now, knowing what I know about the distillation process (by Megan Tichy) and the gluten-free status of caramel coloring, (Nancy Lapid is another great source of information for the celiac community). I would personally lean towards the fact that the Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar is probably indeed “gluten-free,” but should I take the risk?

This little “adventure” has really got me thinking about the products I buy for me and my gluten-free family. Several months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mary Schluckebier, Executive Director of the Celiac Sprue Association. We were originally discussing McDonald’s french fries and whether or not they are in fact “gluten-free,” (I will leave that one alone :-D ) and she said something that has really resonated with me over the past several months. In a nutshell, Mary planted the following seeds in my head:

  • As celiacs, our heath is a matter of personal responsibility.
  • It all comes down to personal RISK, as to the products we choose to buy and consume. Reducing risk when possible should always be our main priority.
  • We all need to learn to “ask the next question.”
  • The term “Gluten-Free” does not necessarily mean “free of gluten.”

Here are few things I have been pondering over the past several months as a result of those “seeds” (these are just my personal thoughts):

  • So if one eats 10 products a day that have been tested to be under the 20 ppm limit, but still registers some level of gluten, does that have a cumulative effect?
  • If a product is tested to contain, say 6 ppm of gluten, is that per serving or the entire package?
  • If it’s per serving, and you eat the entire thing and it is technically 4 servings (how many folks actually eat a true serving size?), would that not be equal to eating something that contains 24 ppm of gluten? What is the daily maximum threshold of gluten consumption for someone with celiac disease?

I cannot seem to find any concrete answers to those questions (and yes, I do realize that I may be the only “wackadoodle” that thinks of these things!). But I have celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis and my son has celiac disease too. I want us to LIVE a healthy, happy and long life if possible, and in order to do that, I need to know what I am eating (have you seen Food, Inc. yet? :-D )

On that note, I want to recommend a video on the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website, that I really encourage folks to watch. I cry each time I hear the kiddos talk, I feel the pain of the parents and am inspired to do whatever I can to help spread awareness. While you’re there, if you can spare a buck or two, please consider donating to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

Incoming search terms:

  • gluten free malt vinegar (30)
  • malt vinegar gluten free (14)
  • blue horizon seafood (14)
  • is malt vinegar gluten free (12)
  • distilled malt vinegar gluten free (10)
  • gluten free malt vinegar substitute (6)
  • heinz Vinegar label (5)
  • vinegar label (5)
  • acids vinegar label (4)
  • goldfish label (3)

Comments

  1. Jen says:

    GREAT post Heidi!!!! Thank you for doing all of this detective work. I would never have noticed the difference between the two vinegars!! Very interesting.

    I have often thought about the 20ppm quandry as well. Especially that part about eating 10 different foods that contain 19ppm in one day – will that cause a reaction? How long before it ends up being equal to one slice of regular bread per day? Why is this an ok solution when there are people that are super sensitive?? Gluten free should really mean FREE OF GLUTEN!!

  2. Thanks Jen for saying you think about these things too, I was starting to wonder how to get rid of those "voices" in my head! :-)

    I also realized this… I think I had better leave the "investigating journalism" to the pros and get back in the kitchen to do what I do best, cooking, LOL!

  3. tastyeatsathome says:

    Excellent post. I can't believe how similar those vinegar labels are. I'd totally not notice that. Of course, I don't think I've ever bought Heinz brand apple cider vinegar – I usually buy Braggs or something like that. But I totally understand buying things that you've purchased time and time again, and forgetting to check the label. Blue Bell chocolate ice cream has wheat in it. Yep, I didn't check. Same with Tazo Honeybush tea. (I'm sure all of us have many stories like this!) And then that 20 ppm thing is quite perplexing. I already steer clear from a lot of processed foods, but they're a great livesaver from time to time…and you want to be able to rely on them without getting ill. And when you see gluten-free, and you know that it's been tested, it should be safe, right? Well, who knows if the batch YOU'RE eating tested below 20 ppm…this was the case with some Quaker rice cakes I bought the other day. Label reads brown rice, salt. Says it's gluten-free. I read online that Quaker says they test below 20 ppm. Yet I was sick. With all the other "gluteny" things processed by that company, I have no doubt that some gluten floated over and into my batch. Boo!

  4. Thanks Alta. I am steering more and more away from processed foods too, it's definitely a journey!

  5. I drive everyone around me crazy with my inquiries into everything my kids and I put into our mouths (and on our skin, in our hair…) – does it have this or that, are you sure, can I see the label (then I google it, look in a gf grocery book and call the company) … It might sound repetitive, but it has to be done. Your questions are valid and not wackadoodle at all (or maybe we're all wackadoodle with you!) Better that than getting glutened.

    • Becky,

      LOL! I know what you mean, people always look at me like "there she goes!" You are a great mama, so like my husband always says to me, "Crazy is a relative definition… follow our family for a week and you will learn what crazy means!!!"

      Stay strong my friend, it's a journey. :-)

  6. Kim says:

    Excellent post and detective work!! You are far from a wackadoodle!

    I love the response you got from Blue Horizon!
    Kim

  7. Deanna S says:

    Hi,
    Great post. I actually DID notice the difference on the label in the store, but only because there's a vast price difference between the real stuff and the flavored stuff. "Huh," said I – why is this bigger bottle so much cheaper? That doesn't make sense… Wait – they're not quite the same color, either. Wait!?! They're not the same thing!"

    Super annoying.

    I'm still completely in the learning stage, so stuff like this drives me insane. Thanks for lots of good detective work, though.

  8. Hello Heidi,

    Thank you for the tremendous amount of work you did researching this confusing topic.

    Just today while at my local Whole Foods I double checked a brand of chips that offers a malt vinegar and salt variety. They made no distinction of whether the malt vinegar was distilled or not so I would assume it isn't. They also made no distinction of the source of the vinegar – barley or corn.

    They did have several other varieties of chips, many of which were labeled gluten-free meaning that the company does have awareness about gluten.

    This particular variety was not labeled gluten-free but it certainly gave no indication that it contained gluten either – which I think we can safely assume that it did.

    I recently wrote a blog on this as well if you'd like to check it out :http://www.healthnowmedical.com/blog/2011/05/02/celiacs-gluten-sensitive-beware-watch-out-for-malt/.

    I do believe we have isolated an area of "fuzzy" labeling and with enough light shed upon it we can prevent others from getting contaminated from this little known source.

    To your good health,

    Dr Vikki Petersen

    Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center

    Co-author of "The Gluten Effect"

    • Hi Dr. Vikki!

      I absolutely agree with you. In the year since I wrote that post, I have never seen "distilled malt vinegar" in the grocery store or elsewhere. I would definitely urge people to assume that all malt vinegar in the U.S. is unsafe for the gluten-free diet.

      I sure hope the FDA gets finally moving on the labeling law and the vinegar odyssey is just one example of the danger we face everyday by not having strict labeling standards.

      Hugs,
      Heidi

  9. Jeanette says:

    Wow, that is some detective work Heidi! Allergen labeling/gluten-free labeling is so critical, yet the general public doesn't understand the critical nature of it. I was at Dunkin Donuts trying to find a dairy free drink for my son; finally saw one drink on the menu and ordered it, after which the server proceeded to put whipped cream on top! Needless to say, I had to reorder the drink, but just goes to show how difficult it is to educate the general public. If they don't know what dairy free is, they're not going to understand gluten free for sure.

    • Jeanette,

      Oh yes, you really need to keep your eyes open for things like that. I was at a restaurant last summer and they put croutons on my salad. Of course, I sent it back and the server returned within seconds with a "new" salad. I knew there was no way that it could be a fresh salad so when I asked the server about it, she said (and I quote), "But the cook used gloves to remove the croutons."

      No rest for the weary! :-D

      Hugs,
      Heidi

Speak Your Mind

*