Gluten Free Watchdog Updated Position Statement on Oats
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 During the course of our investigation into oats we discovered that outdated information on some manufacturer websites continued to state oats were purity protocol.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.