Gluten levels in products NOT labeled gluten-free but appearing to be free of gluten ingredients
Testing data from Gluten Free Watchdog was recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The focus of the article is allergen advisory statements for wheat but the article also includes data on gluten levels of products not labeled gluten-free but appearing to be free of gluten ingredients. It was recently brought to my attention that these levels should be highlighted (thanks, Al!).
Summary findings for products NOT labeled gluten-free:
101 total products tested
87 products tested below 5 parts per million (ppm) of gluten
9 tested between 5 ppm and < 20 ppm of gluten
5 tested at or above 20 ppm of gluten
For a listing of the types of products tested see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/category/products-not-labeled-gf/22
Citation: Tricia Thompson, Trisha B. Lyons and Amy Jones. Allergen advisory statements for wheat: do they help US consumers with celiac disease make safe food choices? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition advance online publication, 14 September 2016doi:10.1038/ejcn.2016.155 http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ejcn2016155a.html
Summary findings for products labeled gluten-free
Interestingly, as a whole, the levels of gluten found in foods not labeled gluten-free but appearing to be free of gluten ingredients are similar to the gluten levels found in foods labeled gluten-free. However, Gluten Free Watchdog has not crunched the numbers since our 2014 study. Gluten levels for labeled gluten-free foods at the time of the study are summarized below:
87% of foods tested below 5 ppm of gluten (compared to 86% of products NOT labeled gluten-free)
8% of foods tested between 5 ppm and less than 20 ppm of gluten (compared to 9% of foods NOT labeled gluten-free)
5% of foods tested at or above 20 ppm of gluten (compared to 5% of foods NOT labeled gluten-free)
Important note: Gluten Free Watchdog tests foods labeled gluten-free and those appearing to be free of gluten ingredients. Foods tested are based largely on subscriber requests. In general, no attempt is made to test similar foods from both categories of foods (i.e., gluten-free claim; no gluten-free claim) for comparison purposes. In other words, we are not necessarily testing apples to apples when it comes to foods that are labeled and those that are not. Please keep these facts in mind when contemplating the information in this post.
Citation: Thompson T, Simpson, S. A comparison of gluten levels in labeled gluten-free and certified gluten-free foods sold in the United States. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition advance online publication, 1 October 2014; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.211 http://celiacdiseasecenter.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/2-2014-A-comparison-of-gluten-levels-in-labeled-gluten-free-and-certified-gluten-free-foods-sold-in-the-United-States.pdf
Regardless of test results you should always:
- Choose single ingredient grain products (e.g., oats, quinoa, millet, etc.) that are labeled gluten-free.
- Choose multi-ingredient grain foods (e.g., rice noodles, rice crackers, corn tortillas, etc.) that are labeled gluten-free.
- Choose other foods prone to cross contact with wheat, barley, and rye (e.g., dried beans, peas, and lentils) that are labeled gluten-free.
Generally speaking, if any of the following words appear in an ingredients list of a food product that is NOT labeled gluten-free, the food should be avoided (note: there are some ingredient specific exceptions): Wheat; Barley; Rye; Malt (unless a gluten-free grain is named as the source); Oats; Brewer’s yeast; Yeast extract