Contamination in Naturally Gluten Free Grains – but Don’t Panic
Previously, Aaron posted about the proposed FDA guidelines for labeling an item gluten free. These guidelines would allow products with less than 20 ppm (parts per million) to be labeled gluten free. My thoughts were that if you eat one item that contains 20 ppm of gluten, there may be no issue. However, if you have multiple items, does that gluten have an additive effect? It is like eating something with a considerably larger amount of gluten?
We don’t know.
My thoughts are to focus on naturally gluten free foods and eliminate the worry. In the proposed rule, single ingredient foods that are considered inherently gluten free (think rice, millet, amaranth) can be considered misbranded if they are labeled gluten free. They would have to be labeled gluten free and also state that all foods of that type are gluten free. (Like labeling an apple low fat. It would have to say-“all apples are low fat.”)
Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, and well known in the celiac community, was recently involved in a research study that examined naturally gluten free grains, and tested them for gluten. Their findings indicate that naturally gluten free grains can be, and are, contaminated with gluten.
So much for sticking to naturally gluten free foods to avoid the 20 ppm of gluten, eh?
They tested 22 types of naturally gluten free grains that were not labeled gluten free. 7 of the 22 included a voluntary allergen statement for wheat. (I’m assuming that this is the “processed in a facility which also processes wheat” statement.) From Tricia’s write up on the study “products included white rice and flour, brown rice, corn meal, polenta, buckwheat and buckwheat flour, amaranth seed and flour, flax seed, millet grain and flour, sorghum flour, and soy flour.”
Let’s look first at the ones that had the allergy advisory for wheat. Out of those 7, 4 tested had above 5 ppm (5 ppm was considered the threshold for gluten with the testing they used-this is less than the proposed FDA guideline) and 3 had less than 5 ppm. Seems a bit of a crap shoot, doesn’t it?
For the remaining 15 that did not have the wheat allergen advisory, 5 items were over the 5 ppm of gluten. 10 were below.
The conclusion from Tricia’s write up:
Results of this study confirm that a certain percentage of inherently gluten-free grains, seeds, and flours are NOT gluten-free when they are purchased by consumers. Co-mingling of grain and seed can occur anywhere along the line from the field to the packaging plant.
Results also suggest that consumers can not rely on voluntary allergen advisory statements for wheat to make decisions about which products are more or less likely to be contaminated. Four of seven products containing greater than or equal to 20 ppm gluten did not contain an allergen statement for wheat while three of the products that contained below the limit of quantification for gluten did contain an allergen advisory statement.
While we can infer from this study that some degree of contamination exists in naturally gluten-free grains, seeds, and flours sampling was not large enough to make any assessment on the overall percentage of contaminated product.
Sampling also was not large enough to make any inferences on the specific grains, flours, and seeds more or less likely to be contaminated.”
- To note: This study was funded in part by Schar USA, a manufacturer of prepared gluten-free foods. It’s always good to look and see who funds any research you may be interested in. In this particular case, I certainly don’t think that Schar framed the study by intentionally contaminating anything, and the testing procedures seem very cut and dry. It does not appear that the funding would have had any impact on this study.
So what’s the take home from all this?
Well, don’t panic. As noted above, the sample size (number of products and grains tested) was not large enough to make any sweeping conclusions. It does certainly warrant additional testing, as well as continued tweaking to the proposed gluten free labeling guidelines.
For me, it reinforces what I tend to do anyway-utilize white and sweet potato, rice, and gluten free oats for the majority of my carbohydrate sources. There could still be contamination in the rice, but for now, that’s what I’m going to do.
After all, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. You just never know.
What are your thoughts?
FYI-I’ve added a new free downloadable “tips” PDF to Gluten Free and Fit 101-go check it out!
Addendum: Tricia has now added a Part 2
Leave comments below-are you going to change anything you currently eat based on this information?