For anyone that has struggled or is struggling with a dietary lifestyle change, such as going gluten-free it’s not always an easy task. Gluten is hidden in a variety of things; anywhere from condiments to meat-glue to alcohol. As the changes begin to sink in, and avoiding the said ingredients becomes second nature a new detour comes into sight; cross contamination (insert scary music here).
So what exactly is cross contamination and why did the scary music start?
Cross contamination can be found in a variety of non-gluten grains; the most common being oats. But, as I already mentioned oats are a gluten-free grain, so what is the deal?
There are several different ways cross contamination can affect gluten-free gains. Cross contamination can occur any time during the planting of the oat seed to the packaging of the grain for sale, and anywhere in between. First of all oats are a seasonal crop, so many farmers will alternate growing oats with other grain crops such as wheat or barley. Leaving behind contaminates when the oats are planted. Secondly, if neighboring farms are growing wheat, the wind can carry the wheat spores over to the oats, contaminating them. Then you need to know where the oats are processed. Are the machines that pick the oats and process the oats shared with any other type of grains? Then, even if they are processed in a gluten-free facility how are they being transported once they are harvested?
I remember hearing a speaker at a seminar mention that a lab called Cyrex labs had done a study to see how much of the oats on the market were contaminated with gluten. The surprise that they found was that oats that were labeled as “gluten-free,” were at times more contaminated with gluten than were just regular Quaker oats!
An incident at Whole Foods market brought this to consumers’ attention when several children with gluten allergies were sent to the hospital after consuming products sold exclusively at Whole Foods that claimed to be “gluten-free.”
Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, took 12 containers of oats; 4 different batch numbers from 3 different brands (Quaker, Country Choice, and McCanns). Scientists tested all 12 containers for gluten contamination and found that:
- 3 of the 12 containers contained gluten levels of less than 20 ppm
- 9 of the 12 had levels that ranged from 23 to 1,807 ppm
- All brands that were tested had at least 1 container of oats that tested above 200 ppm gluten
Although the FDA has not set criteria for what a “gluten-free” claim can be, they have proposed that any product that claims “gluten-free” must be tested to have less than 20 ppm of gluten detected. As of now there is no set regulation that requires products to guarantee that their claims of “gluten-free” are accurate. Sadly, as consumers we must merely trust that the food manufactures are complying with the voluntary guidelines that have been set, without truly knowing if the claims that they have made are 100% accurate or what degree of testing they have undergone.
My advice to you if you know that you have a gluten allergy or intolerance, is to avoid manufactured products that claim to be gluten-free until an enforced standard is in place. You can also look for the Gluten Free Certification logo on packaging, which proves that the product has gone through testing to certify the gluten-free claim. The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America® (GIG) is a non-profit support organization that was founded by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). “Products that earn Gluten-Free Certification by the GFCO contain less than 10 ppm; half the gluten levels that the FDA has proposed as levels allowable in foods labeled gluten-free.”
Then there are guidelines that go above and beyond that of the FDA and GFCO. The Celiac Sprue Association has determined their own guidelines for what they consider to be gluten-free. In order to help those with celiac disease choose uncontaminated food products, they have determined the following criteria:
- Gluten-free products can not contain any form of gluten grain; this includes all species of wheat, barley, rye, and oats (WBRO). (Oats are not a risk-free choice for all celiacs. In vivo and in vitro studies indicate that some celiacs have an immune response even to pure, uncontaminated oats. Presently there are no indicators available to predict which celiacs may have such a response.) CSA
- Source ingredients and additives can not be from WBRO grains
- Ingredients that have been “specially processed” to remove gluten are not allowed.
- All products must be tested to contain less than 5 ppm of gluten
- ELISA testing to determine the level of cross contamination
To view a comparison against the different gluten-free definitions, click here.
It’s not only oats that you need to be aware of, other non-gluten grains have been shown to be contaminated as well. Rice and Corn are ones that I would suggest to also be wary of.
For a list of products that have been guaranteed gluten-free according to the Celiac Sprue Association standards, click here.
Alica Ryan, NTP
Thank you Alica for this guest blog. Alica writes a great blog on a variety of topics from nutrition, recipes to views on a multitude of topics. You can visit her blog at http://puravidanutrition.blogspot.com/
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- Adams, Scott. Gluten Contamination of Commercial Oats in the United States. Celiac.com. November 2004. http://www.celiac.com/articles/842/1/Gluten-Contamination-of-Commercial-Oats-in-the-United-States/Page1.html
- Gruss, Teri. Whole Foods Market Removes Mislabeled Gluten Free Products from Stores. Gluten-Free Cooking. About.com. December 2008. http://glutenfreecooking.about.com/od/resources/a/wholefoods.htm
- FDA.GOV. Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Labeling Proposed Rule. Jan 2007. Last updated April 2012. http://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/foodallergenslabeling/guidancecomplianceregulatoryinformation/ucm111487.htm%23q8
- Defining the Term “Gluten-Free.” Published by the Celiac Sprue Assocaiation, retrieved on April 12, 2012 at http://www.csaceliacs.info/defining_the_term_glutenfree.jsp