The gluten-free oats situation & why it is such a sticky wicket

The gluten-free oats situation & why it is such a sticky wicket

Gluten Free Watchdog Position Statement on Oats:

  • Gluten Free Watchdog supports the use of gluten-free oats by the celiac disease community that are produced under a robust gluten-free purity protocol.*
  • At this time we do not in general support the use of regular commodity oats that are cleaned at the “end” of production via mechanical and/or optical sorting.
  • We are not necessarily opposed to the use of such oats in the future if their gluten-free status can be definitively demonstrated via a rigorous testing protocol.

*For purity protocols followed by Avena Foods, GF Harvest, and Montana Gluten-Free see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-produced-under-a-gluten-free-purity-protocol-listing-of-suppliers-and-manufacturers/

Background:

  • In the gluten-free community we know that General Mills and Quaker are mechanically and optically sorting commodity oats to be “gluten-free.”
    • These oats are NOT produced following a gluten-free purity protocol.
  • We know that Gluten-free Cheerios and Gluten-free Quaker Oatmeal contain sorted oats.
  • Despite what we may think about General Mills and Quaker using sorted oats, both manufacturers have been transparent with the gluten-free consumer about the use of such oats in gluten-free products.
  • What is not generally known is that Grain Millers has been mechanically sorting oats since 2012 and selling these oats to gluten-free manufacturers.
  • La Crosse Milling is also mechanically sorting oats and selling these oats to gluten-free manufacturers.

Bottom Line:

  • Oats not grown under a gluten-free purity protocol are in our gluten-free food supply and have been for many years.
  • The labeling claims “gluten-free oats” or “certified gluten-free oats” or a certification symbol* on product packaging do not necessarily mean the oats are produced under a purity protocol.
  • It is very difficult–if not impossible–for a consumer to know whether the oats used in a product are grown under a gluten-free purity protocol or mechanically sorted.

*See the statements below from GFCO and GFCP.

Manufacturers and Suppliers using mechanically or optically sorted oats:

  • General Mills, Quaker Oats, Grain Millers, and La Crosse Milling are all using some form of mechanical and/or optical sorting to “clean” commodity oats to be “gluten-free.”
    • General Mills is currently using sorted gluten-free oats in gluten-free Cheerios.
    • Quaker is currently using sorted gluten-free oats in gluten-free oatmeal.
    • Grain Millers and La Crosse Milling are currently selling to a variety of gluten-free manufacturers.
  • Neither General Mills nor Quaker currently certifies their gluten-free oats via third party certification.
  • Grain Millers certifies gluten-free oats through an entity called NSF International (GFWD is not familiar with this certification program).
  • La Crosse Milling was asked about third party certification via email but has not yet responded to our query.
  • Update: On November 2, 2015 Nature’s Path wrote the following to me in an email, “This is to confirm that Natures Path Foods has purchased the Country Choice brand name from Grain Millers. Grain Millers continue to be the supplier of our gluten free oats.”
  • Update: On November 12, 2015 Bob’s Red Mill wrote the following to me in an email (see comment section for complete statement): “Our suppliers are innovative in controlling the presence of gluten by either avoiding crop rotation with gluten containing grains or using optical sorting technology to remove grain containing gluten.”

Certification of oats NOT grown under a gluten-free purity protocol

GFCO:

  • The Gluten Free Certification Organization was contacted via email and asked the following two questions:
    • “Will GFCO knowingly certify a manufacturer of single ingredient oat products if they are sourcing oats from a supplier who does not follow a gluten-free purity protocol (starting with pure gluten-free seed)?”
    • “Will GFCO knowingly certify a manufacturer of multi-ingredient products containing oats if they are sourcing oats from a supplier who does not follow a gluten-free purity protocol?”
  • We were referred to a Q&A on GFCO’s website* which states the following: (https://www.gluten.org/three-things-about-gfco/):
    • Question: What is GFCO’s position on certifying products that use oats?
    • Answer: We consider all oats not endorsed by GFCO as a high risk ingredient and that, when non- GFCO certified oats are used by a manufacturer, these products must meet built-in additional requirements for certification.”
    • *Gluten Free Watchdog is aware of a manufacturer and wholesale supplier of single ingredient oat products (e.g., rolled oats and oat flour) with GFCO certification sourcing oats from Grain Millers. These single ingredient oat products are certified by GFCO.

GFCP:

  • The Gluten Free Certification Program (endorsed by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in the US and the Canadian Celiac Association in Canada) was contacted and asked the following question:
    • “Does GFCP have a position on the certification of single and multi-ingredient oat products containing oats that have not been produced under a gluten-free purity protocol?”
    • GFCP provided an extensive response* that is included in its entirety at the end of this post.
      • Excerpt: “The GFCP requires that all incoming ingredients be verifiably gluten-free as they enter any gluten-free management system which includes oats. This means that any incoming oats need to be verifiable to be “gluten-free oats” and considered as a high risk for gluten contamination. Facilities should clearly set their supplier specifications such the “gluten-free oats” have been grown, transported, stored, prepared and/or managed in a manner that avoids cross-contamination by wheat, barley, rye, or their hybridized strains to consistently achieve the food safety outcome of <20 ppm for gluten. The supplier should have written, standard operating procedures (SOP’s) in place which can be assessed and/or measured by the facility management or their agent to verify that the supplier conforms to those specifications. Those SOP’s would include but not be limited to seed purity, field management, cleaning harvesting equipment, storage management and transportation or the equivalent. This is not intended to be an onerous task but does require evidence of due diligence to achieve <20 ppm.”
      • *Gluten Free Watchdog is aware of only one manufacturer in Canada producing oat-based products certified by GFCP. This manufacturer was contacted via phone and email and asked about the source of the oats used in their gluten-free products. The manufacturer has yet to respond to our query.
      • UPDATE December 4, 2015: Holy Crap Oats has not responded to our query regarding the source of their oats. GFWD also reached out to their certifying body (GFCP). GFCP did not provide a direct answer to our question about the source of oats used by Holy Crap. They stated the following in email correspondence, “… We strongly support that on-farm intervention as we described be instituted as an efficient way to ensure success of achieving <20 ppm or gluten-free status for oats. Doing this, allows the source to seamlessly plug into the gluten-free management system at the manufacturing level which is then verified and validated as efficacious. However, without this, the manufacturer needs to fill the information and confidence gap using the appropriate testing methods at a frequency which reflects the risk prior to accepting the gluten-free oats into their production stream…” Until notified otherwise by either Holy Crap or GFCP, GFWD is making the assumption that the oats used in Holy Crap oat cereals are NOT purity protocol oats.

Additional thoughts:

  • Mechanical sorting of commodity oats to be gluten-free is likely here to stay.
  • Ideally the safety and gluten content of mechanically sorted oats will be determined via independent peer-reviewed scientific studies.
  • Commodity oats are highly likely to be contaminated with wheat and barley.

*The house brand of Grain Millers was Country Choice. Country Choice was recently acquired by Nature’s Path. There is a gluten-free variety of Country Choice Oats. These oats are mechanically sorted to be gluten-free.

UPDATE: On November 2, 2015 Nature’s Path wrote the following to me in an email, “This is to confirm that Natures Path Foods has purchased the Country Choice brand name from Grain Millers. Grain Millers continue to be the supplier of our gluten free oats.”

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Gluten-free consumers:

  • If you want to know the source of oats in your gluten-free products, contact the manufacturer and ask.
  • Do not assume that oat products bearing a certification seal from GFCO, GFCP, or NSF are purity protocol oats. None of these certifying bodies prohibits the use of mechanically/optically sorted oats.
  • Manufacturers may be sourcing oats from two different suppliers; one may supply purity protocol oats and the other may supply sorted oats.
    • If purity protocol oats are important to you, ask whether ALL oats are sourced from a supplier of purity protocol oats.

Manufacturers:

  • Please be transparent about the source (purity protocol or mechanically sorted) of your oats.
  • If you are purchasing oats from Grain Millers or La Crosse Milling, these oats are commodity oats that have been mechanically/optically sorted.
  • Do not tell consumers that the source of your oats is proprietary information.
  • Do not assume that gluten-free oats from your supplier are purity protocol oats.
  • Ask your supplier if their oats are purity protocol oats or mechanically sorted oats.

Consumers and Manufacturers: At Gluten Free Watchdog we have dealt with manufacturers using regular oats* in their gluten-free products. If you are newly diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder please be advised that oats are highly likely to be contaminated with wheat and barley and you should NOT eat regular oats. If you are a manufacturer new to producing gluten-free foods, do NOT use regular oats in your products. 

*Regular oats are defined here as those oats that are neither mechanically sorted nor purity protocol gluten-free oats.

For more information about General Mills mechanically sorted oats see http://www.blog.generalmills.com/2015/07/how-did-we-make-cheerios-gluten-free/

For more information about Quaker mechanically sorted oats see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PDF-GF-Fact-Sheet.pdf

For more information about La Crosse Milling (Diamond Brand) mechanically sorted oats see http://lacrossemilling.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/SPC-QSP-OATS-PG2-140.pdf

Currently, Grain Millers does not have any information available online about gluten-free oats.

…………………………………….

Complete statement from the Gluten Free Certification Program (endorsed by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in the US and the Canadian Celiac Association in Canada)

In response to your query on the GFCP position with respect to acceptability of “cleaned oats” not subjected to verifiable, preventative protocols on-farm.

The GFCP has the obligation and the right as a private, voluntary standard to balance the regulatory requirements as a foundation and considers approaches which are most appropriate to protect consumers from inadvertent contamination from gluten. The GFCP regularly consults with experts whether industry or government including those in the Canadian Celiac Association and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness which endorse the GFCP.

Considering the above, the GFCP requires that all incoming ingredients be verifiably gluten-free as they enter any gluten-free management system which includes oats. This means that any incoming oats need to be verifiable to be “gluten-free oats” and considered as a high risk for gluten contamination. Facilities should clearly set their supplier specifications such the “gluten-free oats” have been grown, transported, stored, prepared and/or managed in a manner that avoids cross-contamination by wheat, barley, rye, or their hybridized strains to consistently achieve the food safety outcome of <20 ppm for gluten. The supplier should have written, standard operating procedures (SOP’s) in place which can be assessed and/or measured by the facility management or their agent to verify that the supplier conforms to those specifications. Those SOP’s would include but not be limited to seed purity, field management, cleaning harvesting equipment, storage management and transportation or the equivalent. This is not intended to be an onerous task but does require evidence of due diligence to achieve <20 ppm.

The GFCP recognizes that these requirements are more restrictive than what the USFDA and Canadian regulations require. However, it feels that it is the “safe haven” approach defers to proven methods of management which prevent gluten contamination and ensures that there is sufficient level of protection to consumers as well as participating facilities and brands managers. In this way, the facility can have one management system which meets both Canadian and US regulations and the GFCP as well.

Notwithstanding the above, as more science and proven technologies become available, the management of the GFCP will continue to consult with experts such as industry and those within the CCA and NFCA based and reassess as needed. This will be done to ensure the appropriate level of protection to persons with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is in place and that they can be confident that products carrying the GFCP trademarks will consistently deliver it.

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Comments (13)

  • Sharon H
    Reply

    I eat Bob’s Red Mill. Do you know if these are ok for celiacs?

    October 31, 2015 at 1:19 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Sharon, If you are asking whether gluten-free oats from Bob’s Red Mill are produced under a purity protocol, please contact Bob’s Red Mill directly. Ask if ALL oats used in their gluten-free products are purity protocol oats or whether some are mechanically sorted oats.

      October 31, 2015 at 1:27 pm
  • AGK Reply

    Great info. Thanks!

    November 1, 2015 at 1:02 pm
  • B. Herman Reply

    If I understand the above correctly, does this mean GFCO is certifying some mechanically-sorted oats as gluten free? Because I was under the impression that their certification was based upon purity control from field to plate. I am also very concerned about Bob’s Red Mill, as my dad uses several of their products. If they are using mechanically sorted oats, we will stop buying their products.

    November 1, 2015 at 11:58 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      The answer to your question is yes–GFCO is certifying rolled oats and oat flour from a manufacturer and whole-sale supplier who is sourcing oats from a supplier of mechanically sorted oats.

      November 2, 2015 at 12:18 am
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Forgot to answer the second part of your question. Please contact Bob’s Red Mill and ask them if all of their gluten-free oat products are purity protocol oats.

      November 2, 2015 at 12:21 am
  • Tricia Thompson Reply

    On November 2, 2015 Nature’s Path wrote the following to me in an email, “This is to confirm that Natures Path Foods has purchased the Country Choice brand name from Grain Millers. Grain Millers continue to be the supplier of our gluten free oats.”

    November 2, 2015 at 8:47 pm
  • Tricia Thompson Reply

    On November 12, 2015, Bob’s Red Mill wrote the following to me in an email (bottom line–BRM is using both purity protocol oats and sorted oats in their gluten-free oat products):
    Dear Ms. Thompson,
    Thank you for your inquiry regarding Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats. For over 30 years, Bob’s Red Mill has been committed to providing the very best in gluten free flours, cereals, baking mixes and grains for our friends on gluten free diets. For all of our gluten free products, we thoroughly batch test every product in our quality control laboratory upon delivery, during production and after packaging. We adhere to a standard of no more than 19 parts per million of gluten. Should a test show that a product exceeds that limit, it would be simply rejected and made unavailable for distribution to anyone. Every step in the production of our gluten free products is done in a separate gluten free packaging division complete with specialized machinery to make sure that our products maintain their purity. By going to these lengths, we’re able to ensure that people with wheat allergies, celiac disease and gluten intolerance can trust that our products are safe to consume.
    Oats require special care to ensure that they are safely free from gluten. Bob’s Red Mill only sources from oat suppliers who are committed to practices for eliminating the presence of gluten. Our suppliers are innovative in controlling the presence of gluten by either avoiding crop rotation with gluten containing grains or using optical sorting technology to remove grain containing gluten. Regardless of our suppliers’ chosen methods for meeting our gluten free specification, we require that each lot is tested and confirmed gluten free before authorization for shipment to Bob’s Red Mill. To ensure that they stay just as gluten free as the day their seedlings sprouted from the earth, we test each batch in our quality control laboratory when they arrive from the farm, during production and once again after they are packaged in our dedicated gluten free facility.

    November 13, 2015 at 5:02 pm
  • Elvie Reply

    So which brands of oatmeal or oat flour is safe? After reading several pages here and in links, I’m more confused than ever. Is there a link to a list?

    December 27, 2015 at 2:35 pm
  • Wendy Reply

    We’ve been discussing Bob’s Red Mill on the Gluten Jntoleranxe Group FB page and one of the members went to speak with a manager at Bob’s Red Mill directly. I’ve posted her experience below. Thoughts? I’m concerned about the conflicting messages, and lack of response when I was emailing BRM.

    I just talked to Mike, the retail store manager at Bob’s Red Mill on International Way in Milwaukie Oregon. He assured me that the oats they purchase are grown in Canada away from any wheat farms and transported in a clean way and they test them before they even come into the factory. He didn’t know anything about an optical sorter. He said on a bad day their tests come out at less than 2 ppm. I left him my GIG of Portland business card and asked if he could have someone from customer service contact me about our concerns. He also wanted to know who any of us has contacted in regards to our concerns. What email address did you send your concerns to? Who did you contact? Do you have a name or phone number or email address… Let me know and I will pass that information on so he can check into it. Thanks everyone for your help in this matter!

    February 18, 2016 at 2:37 am
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Wendy, The statement provided to Gluten Free Watchdog by Bob’s Red Mill and posted above comes directly from Matthew Cox, Vice President of Marketing, Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, Inc. Please feel free to pass along this information.

      February 18, 2016 at 1:15 pm

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