HomeFree recently opened a new state-of-the-art dedicated baking facility in Windham, New Hampshire. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the facility by owner Jill Robbins and her husband. As the parent of a child with multiple life threatening food allergies, I’m happy to see safe food products being made. As a woman who spent a year working on her own line of allergen free food products and who nearly opened up a similar facility, I’m thrilled to report that Jill and the staff of HomeFree really “get it”.
From the moment I corresponded with Jill, it was clear to me that she understood food allergies and the dangers of cross contamination. I received an email with specific instructions that I was to arrive in clothes that I had not eaten in, or I was to bring a clean change of clothes so as to avoid bringing any food particles into the facility.
When I arrived there was a “staff” entrance and a “visitor’s” entrance. I opened the visitor’s door and found myself in a small and closed waiting room. Jill came down to greet me and handed me a hair net, a full zip cloth body suit, and cloth booties to go over my shoes. She stood on one side of the doorway and explained that I was in the contaminated zone and that she was in the clean zone. A black and yellow hazard tape on the floor marked the line. I put on the hair net, body suit, and tried to balance myself as I put on one booty and stepped over the line into the “clean” zone-then put on the other booty. The door was locked behind us and we began our tour.
Jill showed me where the cookies are made and packaged, where dry ingredients are tested and stored, the employee locker rooms and rest rooms, and where the loading docks are. Each batch of ingredients that comes into the facility as well as random finished products are allergen tested. In the four years they have been making cookies they have not had a single real positive test result.
This is more than likely due to the fact that they run such a tight ship. To explain each and every detail and thought that Jill has put in to making sure her product is safe would take a lot of words and time. Let’s just say that I was amazed at her thoroughness and thoughtfulness. Things that most people take for granted and even many food allergic individuals take for granted are certainly not at HomeFree. The facility sparkled with clean floors and shiny stainless steel appliances. The employees were animated and kind. Jill and her husband were extremely involved, warm, and down to earth. They really seemed happy and proud of what they were doing.
Why do I think what they are doing is so great? Having worked in the food industry I’m well aware of what food facilities can look like and what is required by law. The average consumer is not aware that many supposed allergen free products are made by co-packers and in facilities with allergens. Many of these companies do not have their own facility-they hire out an existing cookie company to make and package their cookies. Some of these companies use the cheapest ingredients they can find.
HomeFree products are made with the best ingredients available-many of them are organic. Jill has done months of research to find ingredients that are safe. She has even altered a recipe after having to drop a specific ingredient. Her products are free of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy. No peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, or dairy are permitted in the facility at any time. While she does not consider her products wheat/gluten or soy free (they contain soy lecithin and oats) they are safe for most individuals allergic to wheat or soy. HomeFree are certified kosher pareve, certified vegan (oatmeal cookies and coffee cakes), certified organic, and certified whole grain. They are made without trans fat, cholesterol, corn sweeteners, artificial colors, MSG, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Last but not least-they taste GREAT!
HomeFree are not only a safe food alternative for the food allergic, they are an overall great product for the healthy parent looking for a healthier cookie for their kids. My food allergic and non food allergic boys love them and my husband and I have to refrain from sneaking them late at night.
HomeFree can be found online at http://www.homefreetreats.com/or in New England Shaw’s and Whole Foods Markets as well as other grocery stores-check yours. If you can’t find them, ask your local store to carry them. It’s the only way stores will know about HomeFree and that you want healthier and safer options for you and your family.