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Natural foods retail cooperative PCC Natural Markets (PCC) had became the first retailer in the country to be “gluten-free endorsed” by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG).
“Helping our shoppers to make safe product choices has been well worth the resources we’ve devoted company-wide to this effort,” said Russ Ruby, PCC’s director of merchandising.
Auburn, Wash.-based GIG is a national nonprofit that provides support to people with intolerances to gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat, rye and barley. A true gluten allergy, called celiac disease, can cause serious and even life-threatening immune responses when grains containing gluten are eaten. Reactions can include damage to the small intestine, and malnutrition because to the body’s inability to absorb vital nutrients.
Gluten allergies can be controlled only by avoiding all foods containing gluten. Identifying gluten-free products can be difficult, as there’s currently no requirement that food manufacturers test their products before claiming they’re “gluten-free.”
PCC identifies products as gluten-free based on information provided by vendors but recommends that customers review product ingredient lists themselves as a further safeguard. Under consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is a national standard of 20 parts per million, although GIG has called for an even stricter standard.
PCC worked with GIG closely for 18 months to ensure compliance with the organization’s criteria for gluten-free product identification and handling, and has developed and implemented comprehensive staff training and consumer education programs about gluten intolerance. The grocer offers about 2,000 gluten-free food and body care products, as well as gluten-free store tours, and gluten-free cooking classes through its “PCC Cooks” program. Gluten-free products are marked with orange shelf tags in PCC’s stores and easily found through a searchable gluten-free database on PCC’s Web site.
Throughout May, PCC will celebrate its gluten-free retailer endorsement through a multi-media promotion campaign with the aims of raising consumer awareness of gluten intolerance and informing gluten-free shoppers of all the foods available to them.
Seattle-based PCC operates nine stores in the Seward Park, View Ridge, Greenlake, West Seattle, Fremont, Kirkland, Redmond, Edmonds and Issaquah neighborhoods.