Gluten Free Watchdog Updated Position Statement on OatsTricia Thompson
Background: Two scientific publications from PepsiCo scientists provide us with the best data to date on the state of contamination of oats sold as gluten-free in the US (1, 2). Extensive testing by PepsiCo found 1 in every 57 servings tested (0.25 g sample taken from each 45 to 50 g ground serving) to contain gluten at levels at or above 20 parts per million using the R5 ELISA R7001 assay. The scientists point out that the number of contaminated servings and part per million level of contamination is likely even higher. Based on their research, a single extraction test result is likely to underestimate the “true” gluten level in a serving of oats. “In other words, much of the gluten from the contaminant kernel remains concentrated in a few pockets within the serving after grinding, not being well dispersed. So consequently, a small test amount, randomly selected from the serving, is more likely than not to undercount overall gluten.”
Concerns: The PepsiCo researchers tested oats purchased from stores in 2014. The sources of these oats are described in one of the research articles as “two large, well known US producers.” The lingering question is whether these producers were sourcing purity protocol oats, sorted oats, or a combination of both.
Wouldn’t oats purchased in 2014 be purity protocol? Not necessarily. In 2014, unbeknownst to many, sorted oats were already in the gluten-free foods supply. For example, Grain Millers had been providing oats to gluten-free manufacturers since 2013 (3). During the course of our investigation into oats we discovered that outdated information on some manufacturer websites continued to state oats were purity protocol. However, at least one manufacturer had switched entirely to sorted oats and at least one other was using both sorted and purity protocol oats (for updated information on the source of gluten-free oats see reference 4). While it is not entirely clear if these changes in oat sourcing by these manufacturers had taken place at the time oat samples were being collected, the bottom line from the standpoint of the PepsiCo studies is that unless the company tasked with purchasing oats was buying the brands Avena Only Oats, Canyon Oats, GF Harvest, or Montana Gluten Free * then we cannot assume the oats were strictly purity protocol.
So we are left not knowing if the test results represent a picture of contamination of purity protocol oats, sorted oats, or a combination of both.
*Note: These are the house brands of the suppliers of purity protocol oats. This listing does not include the names of the manufacturers these suppliers sell to. For a listing of purity protocol oats see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-produced-under-a-gluten-free-purity-protocol-listing-of-suppliers-and-manufacturers/
Why this is important: The PepsiCo scientists have done extensive testing on commercially available oats—far more than has ever been published previously. It would be very helpful to know exactly what we are looking at in terms of the class of oats tested (e.g., purity protocol, sorted, combination).
What if they are purity protocol oats? It would not be surprising if purity protocol oats occasionally contain an errant wheat, barley, or rye seed. There are a lot of things that can be controlled by farmers but birds are not one of them. A flock of geese flying over an oat field and doing their business may drop a few wheat seeds. Hopefully these rogue seeds and eventual plants are detected but keep in mind that oat fields can be vast.
Testing done by Gluten Free Watchdog has always found gluten levels in purity protocol oats to be less than 5 parts per million (5). However, we have been provided with detailed testing data on oats purchased from a supplier of certified gluten-free purity protocol oats. On a couple of rare occasions test results were at or above 20 parts per million of gluten.
If this level of contamination is indeed coming from purity protocol oats what level of contamination is coming from sorted oats? Quaker (gluten-free Quaker Oats) and General Mills (gluten-free Cheerios, gluten-free Lucky Charms) have been very transparent about their testing protocols for sorted oats and have provided testing data. Quaker is likely conducting more testing for gluten contamination than any other supplier/manufacturer of “gluten-free” oats (This includes testing of oat groats and final product oatmeal. For detailed information about the testing done by Quaker, see reference 6). If any single extraction from Quaker’s round of final product testing is greater than 12 parts per million the entire lot of oatmeal is destroyed. While General Mills also has been transparent about their testing protocol, the extractions from their final round of testing are averaged. Lots of Yellow Box Cheerios are testing below 15 parts per million based on this averaging (For detailed information about the testing done by General Mills on Cheerios, see reference 7).
Where does this leave us? Based on the totality of information available to Gluten Free Watchdog, we remain supportive of the use of purity protocol oats for persons with celiac disease and gluten-related disorders who tolerate oats. However, in light of the study findings from Quaker we ask all suppliers of purity protocol oats to re-evaluate their testing procedures, including sampling methodology and the amount of testing done on oat groats and finished product.
Based on the extensive amount of testing being done by Quaker and their willingness to discard entire lots of oats* if any single extraction from their final product testing is above 12 parts per million of gluten, Gluten Free Watchdog is supportive of the use of gluten-free Quaker Oats by persons with celiac disease and gluten-related disorders. At this time, we are NOT supportive of the use of any other product containing sorted oats, including gluten-free Cheerios, gluten-free Lucky Charms, and gluten-free and certified gluten-free products sourcing oats from Grain Millers or La Crosse Milling.
*Note: When testing of oat groats does not meet Quaker specifications, the entire lot is sent to non gluten-free oat processing. Once gluten-free oats are packaged, if final product testing does not meet specifications the entire lot is discarded.
In the opinion of Gluten Free Watchdog, when oats are pulled from the marketplace for testing they should be tested using the Ridascreen Gliadin R5 ELISA Mendez Method using the new protocol recommended by R-Biopharm (homogenize 200 grams, test 1.0 gram samples in duplicate from this larger sample).
Recommendations for consumers: Choose your oat products based on your comfort level with regard to the level of information provided to you by manufacturers. You may want to consider the following:
- Does the manufacturer disclose whether they use purity protocol or sorted oats?
- Do they disclose their testing protocols?
- Do they disclose the assay they use to test oats for gluten contamination?
- If a manufacturer refuses to disclose their source(s) of oats, testing protocols, including the assay used for testing or responds to you by saying the information is proprietary, the advice of Gluten Free Watchdog is to move on to another company.
Links to referenced articles:
© January 23, 2017 By Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Oats, along with corn, rice, teff, and millet, are on the taxonomic branch next to the gluten-containing grains, . I heard so many anecdotal stories in our local gluten-free support group about people who could not tolerate one or more of these grains which are closely related to the gluten-containing grains. I personally get as sick with teff as I do with the gluten-containing grains. My suspicion is that, even if these closely related grains are pure, they may cause problems for people who are gluten intolerant. Have you ever gotten involved in looking at the reactions of people who are gluten intolerant to these closely related grains? Thanks for any info that you might have.
Hi Katy, If I can figure out how to post the grain taxonomic chart I published in one of my journal articles and books I will but in the meantime (this information is from one of my books Easy Gluten-Free) … The Kingdom name for all plants is “Plants.” Rice, corn, oats, millet, teff, sorghum, wild rice, buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa belong to the class of plants known as “Flowering Plants.” Rice, corn, oats, millet, teff, sorghum, and wild rice belong to the subclass of flowering plants known as “Monocots.” Buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa belong to the subclass of flowering plants known as “Dicots.” All true grains, including gluten-free and gluten-containing grains, belong to the family of monocots known as “Grasses.” Millet, sorghum, and corn belong to the subfamily “Panicoidaea.” Oats, teff, rice, and wild rice (as well as wheat, barley, and rye) belong to the subfamily “Festucoidaea.” The grains wheat, barley, and rye are closely related and belong to the same tribe. Oats, teff, rice, and wild rice belong separate tribes. In other words, wheat, barley, and rye all belong to the same tribe “Hordeae.” Teff, rice, wild rice, and oats although part of the same subfamily as wheat, barley, and rye belong to different tribes. Millet, sorghum, and corn are more distantly related and belong to a different subfamily.
The oat prolamin avenin may cause an immune response in a small minority of folks with celiac disease. We need more research in this area.
Is this close to your diagram Tricia?
It is similar, Al. Thank you. I am posting a photo of the grain taxonomic chart from one of my articles/books. For some reason, I can’t find the chart file. This chart was adapted with permission and approval from two of Donald Kasarda’s taxonomic charts. The gluten-free community owes Dr. Kasarda (retired cereal chemist from the USDA) a tremendous debt of gratitude for his efforts to explain the relationship of the various grains and pseudocereals (i.e., buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa) to us.
I am new to your group and new to a gluten-free life. I’m also very confused and probably too old to understand all the scientific information. As of now, could you please tell me if Cheerios and Quaker oats are safe to eat? Thank you so much. I do look forward to getting posts so I can try to learn more. I don’t know how to read the posted chart. To me, it seems it is indicating that rice is not gluten-free.
Hi Peggy, In a nutshell, Gluten Free Watchdog supports the use of Quaker gluten-free oats but we do not support the use of gluten-free Cheerios. The chart is a grain taxonomic chart. Gluten-containing grains are wheat, barley, and rye. Rice does not contain gluten.
Thank you! Do you expect that General Mills will become more stringent in their testing and that you will be able to recommend them in the future, or do you think GM is just unwilling to comply? Why can they still label their product as “Gluten-Free?” Thanks again.
The FDA does not require manufacturers to use oats grown under a gluten-free purity protocol. General Mills and Quaker both use regular oats and they sort out the wheat, barley, and rye via mechanical and optical sorters. Quaker is doing a lot of testing to demonstrate that their product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. The testing protocol followed by General Mills is not as rigorous in my opinion.
Perhaps I missed something, but can you explain why you said, “Gluten Free Watchdog supports the use of Quaker gluten-free oats but we do not support the use of gluten-free Cheerios”? What enables you to trust the Quaker gluten-free oats? (I understand why you do not trust the Cheerios.)
Hi Diane, Please see the articles on Quaker oats, including https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/quaker-gluten-free-oatmeal-take-two/ and https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/quaker-gluten-free-oatmeal-gluten-free-watchdog-updated-position-statement/. Additional articles are available at https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/?s=quaker
Pepsi (the author of the study touted here) owns Quaker Oats. If this was disclosed in the article above, I missed it.
Hi Alison, Yes, Quaker is owned by Pepsico. We’ve covered Quaker oats in numerous articles. Please see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/?s=quaker+oats.
Tricia, I am sure you do great work. I was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and a friend, who is a subscriber, thought I should check out your website. I just think that you should have mentioned the relationship between the author of the study and the ownership of Quaker Oats.
Hi Alison, This post is GFWD’s updated position statement on oats. Please see the posts on the studies mentioned in the article.
“Must Read Study Courtesy of Quaker on Testing Oats for Gluten” available at https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/must-read-study-courtesy-quaker-testing-oats-gluten/
“Quaker researchers publish a second study highlighting the difficulties associated with testing oats for gluten contamination” available at https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/quaker-researchers-publish-a-second-study-highlighting-the-difficulties-associated-with-testing-oats-for-gluten-contamination/
Is there any update on quaker gluten-free oats? We have used them for years, but wondered if anything has changed in the past 4 years.
As we wrote in the position statement, “Quaker Oats gluten-free products: We remain supportive of Quaker gluten-free instant oatmeal, gluten-free old fashioned oats, and gluten-free quick oats. This is due to Quaker’s transparency, willingness to always answer questions from Gluten Free Watchdog, and most importantly their robust sorting and testing protocols. For more information, see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-revisited-quaker-gluten-free-oats/.”
Nature’s Path statement sent via email this week to me on their “Gluten Free” oatmeal products:
At this time, Nature’s Path Gluten-Free oats containing products are not third party gluten-free certified. However, our gluten-free oats suppliers conduct gluten testing per lot to ensure that the oats are in compliance with the FDA requirements for gluten (<20 ppm).
We further conduct allergen cleaning for the lines between gluten containing and GF products, and perform in-house swabs to verify cleaning efficacy on the equipment before each production run. In addition, each lot of the Gluten Free oats containing finished products are sent to a third party accredited laboratory for gluten content testing to ensure it is within the acceptable limits.
Our Materials Manager has confirmed that our oats are run through a color sorter to remove the wheat, unfortunately the oats are not pure gluten free growing conditions for all of our sources.
We do offer a wide variety of products that are gluten free, third party certified (GFCO) and these are ensured to be under 10 ppm.
Very disappointing and I'm going to have to change oatmeal brands.
Thank for posting, nomen. I have several boxes of Natures Path GF oats and made cookies with them. After 2 days of eating them I had a, let’s say, unpleasant reaction – just like before I knew I had CD. Now I know what caused it. Even though I looove oats/oatmeal, I think I will leave them alone. Sad.
Three words when it comes to gluten-free oats – “Bob’s Red Mill” – I am wheat and gluten-intolerant, and I find their oats to be easy to digest – and they don’t give me any issues
If it matters to you, please know that Bob’s Red Mill sources both purity protocol oats and sorted oats for their labeled gluten-free oat products.
Tricia – I am still a little concerned about “Bob’s Red Gluten Free Rolled Oates”. I made a granola with the Oats along with an assortment of pecans, almonds and others and I am not clear if I should continue to eat it (I eat it daily with milk every morning). I am asymptomatic but I do have Celiac Disease (ferrtin levels very low and elevated Liver enzyme) and I do not want to impact any recovery. Should I just play it safe and remove the oats from the mix? Thank you.
If you are concerned about your use of oats please discuss this with your dietitian and gastroenterologist. As mentioned to Andrea, Bob’s Red Mill uses both purity protocol oats and oats that have been mechanically/optically sorted to be gluten-free. For more information on oats see the two most recent articles https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-and-the-gluten-free-diet-qa-part-1/ and https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-and-the-gluten-free-diet-qa-part-2/. For a listing of purity protocol oats see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-produced-under-a-gluten-free-purity-protocol-listing-of-suppliers-and-manufacturers/
Have you ever looked into Kind snack bar’s statement that their products with oats are gluten free. I asked where they get their oats and they said that was proprietary information. They say they only buy oats from sources that do not process gluten-containing grains. Also, they regularly test their products with oats to assure they are 20ppm or less. I would appreciate any information you have on Kind.
Hi Susan, Kind is the best source of information for you on the type of oats (sorted or purity protocol) used in their products. Generally speaking, when manufacturers source all of their gluten-free oats from suppliers of purity protocol oats, they want to share this fact. Also, generally speaking, when a manufacturer states that the version of oats they use is proprietary, this is a red flag that they may not be using purity protocol oats. My suggestion is to reach back out to Kind and ask them if ALL oats used in their labeled gluten-free foods are sourced from a supplier of purity protocol oats.
This was the response I received from Kind Snacks in 2017. Things may have changed since then…
“Thanks for reaching out to our customer service team about this question. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure we’re upholding ourselves to best practices when it comes to gluten free oats. A significant amount of our oats are produced under a purity protocol process while the remainder undergo sorting and lab-tested visual inspection methods. All of our oats are held to our suppliers’ specifications of <10 PPM, which is within the FDA guidelines of <20PPM."
I reached out to my contact person for an update but they are no longer working at Kind. I was given a new contact person. When I get a response I’ll update you.
Thanks for posting, Al! Kudos to Kind for being transparent. If your new contact states that ALL oats are now sourced from suppliers of purity protocol oats, please encourage them to reach out to GFWD.
Here’s is the response I received today [11/19/19]…
“We work with our suppliers to make sure our oats do not come into contact with gluten during the production process. A significant amount of our oats are produced under a purity protocol process. We also use sorting and lab tested visual inspection methods for our oats and adhere to the FDA threshold of less than 20ppm of gluten in order to make a gluten free claim.”
I voiced my displeasure over upping the limit from <10ppm to <20ppm in light of the studies from Quaker/Pepsico that reveal testing and sampling methodologies for oats are often inadequate and return variable results due to uneven distribution of gluten "hot spots."
I asked if they would disclose the percentage of purity vs sorted oats and the names of their oat suppliers. We'll see what I get back. Stay tuned.
Their oat suppliers are still held to the <10 ppm.
I asked the names of their suppliers and the percentage of purity protocol oats…
Response dated 11/20/19:
“We’re unable to share the names of our suppliers.”
“In terms of our purity protocol oats, they make up more than half of our oat ingredient process.”
While I was hoping for a bit more transparency on their suppliers, they did share the proportion of PP oats. Of course, I petitioned them to consider using ALL PP oats and to certify their products.
Response dated 11/21/19:
“I do know our Procurement team has been focused on finding ways to prioritize our usage of PP oats next year. If we have any developments, I’ll be sure to keep you informed. We understand how important this process is to the gluten free community so we appreciate you reaching out and sharing your perspective.”