Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC was founded by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, to make state-of-the-art gluten-free food testing data available directly to you, the consumer. Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC tests labeled gluten-free foods.
Adrian generously agreed to allow us to post his slides from yesterday’s Medical Nutrition Practice Group webinar, Gluten analysis and the challenges of consumer testing devices. In this webinar Adrian provides information on:
Gluten Analysis: The challenges
Current Methods of Analysis
Consumer testing devices: Pros and Cons
Gluten Detective : Opinion
If a link to the audio becomes available, it will be posted.
If you have any questions for Adrian, please post them in the comments section.
Two weeks ago I posted on social media asking you to send me your questions on oats—anything that was on your mind. I did this because the situation with oats and the gluten-free diet is one of the most complicated issues I write about–something I’ve been doing for about 21 years.
Because you sent in so many questions, they are being answered in groups. This is the second Q&A post on oats. Some of your questions may have been slightly modified for clarity or combined with other similar questions.
Q: Are Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats really gluten-free?
A: If what you mean by “gluten-free” is “are they purity protocol oats” then the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Bob’s Red Mill uses both purity protocol oats and oats that are sorted. As I wrote last week, “Sorted oats are traditionally grown oats that undergo a sorting process at the mill to remove gluten-containing grain based on a variety of grain properties (e.g., size and color). According to Bob’s Red Mill “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.” To read the full statement from Bob’s Red Mill, please see the comments section at https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-produced-under-a-gluten-free-purity-protocol-listing-of-suppliers-and-manufacturers/#comments.
Q: Are Kind oats okay? The store was out of the regular gluten free granola I buy so I grabbed Kind.
A: If what you mean by “safe” is “are the oats purity protocol” the answer is no. Quaker oats are sorted oats. However, based on all of the information available to us, including Quaker’s sampling and testing protocols and our own independent testing, Gluten Free Watchdog does not oppose the use of Quaker gluten-free oatmeal by the community of folks with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders. We are not supportive of the use of any other sorted oat products at this time.
Last week I posted on social media asking you to send me your questions on oats—anything that was on your mind because as I stated, “The situation with oats and the gluten-free diet is one of the most complicated issues I write about–something I’ve been doing for about 15 years.”
I’ve actually been writing about oats for so long that I forgot just how long. My first article on oats was published in the scientific literature in 1997—21 years ago versus the 15 years I stated in the post!
The sheer volume of questions submitted makes it impossible to answer them in one post. This is the first of who knows how many Q&A posts on oats. Some of your questions may have been slightly modified for clarity or combined with other similar questions.
Q: My understanding is that oats are gluten-free in and of themselves. However, is it the processing or the mixing with other non-gluten-free products that makes them problematic?
A: Oats are considered a naturally gluten-free grain. However, a certain percentage of folks with celiac disease have an immune response to a protein in oats called avenin. We will address this issue in a later post.
The main issue with oats is cross contact with wheat, barley, and rye. This cross contact can occur anywhere from the field to the mill to the food processing facility. Oats may be grown in rotation with or in proximity to wheat, barley, or rye. If so, it is likely that there will be errant wheat, barley, or rye grain growing in the oat field that will be harvested along with the oats. The same harvesting, transporting, and storing equipment/facilities may be used for oats as well as for wheat, barley, and rye. All of these factors contribute to the presence of wheat, barley, and rye grain in standard oats.
Q: Is “optical sorting” of oats sufficient rather than a more guaranteed “purity oats” situation?
A: In the opinion of Gluten Free Watchdog–NO (generally speaking).
A: If a manufacturer believes a single ingredient oat product, such as rolled oats, oat flour, etc. is gluten-free it will be labeled gluten-free. If a single ingredient oat product is produced following a purity protocol, the manufacturer will likely convey this somewhere on product packaging.
Unfortunately, if a multi-ingredient product labeled gluten-free contains oats, it is sometimes difficult to know whether the oats used are standard, produced following a purity protocol, or mechanically or optically sorted.
Q: If I buy oats that say “made with certified gluten-free oats” in the ingredients list or on the food label does that mean they are purity protocol oats?
A: No. “Certified gluten-free oats” does NOT necessarily mean the oats are purity protocol oats.
Certification organizations, including GFCO and GFCP certify single ingredient oat products (e.g., rolled oats) and multi-ingredient products containing oats (e.g., granola) that utilize oats produced following a purity protocol as well as standard oats that undergo mechanical or optical sorting.
Q: Why can’t I automatically trust the “certified gluten free” label I see on granola and other oat based products? Are certified gluten free oats always safe?
A: It depends what you mean by “trust.” If you mean, “Why can’t I trust that the oats are produced following a purity protocol” the answer is because both GFCO and GFCP certify products made using oats from suppliers of sorted oats.
Q: Are certified gluten free oats always safe?
A: It depends on what you mean by safe. “Certified gluten-free oats” does NOT necessarily mean the oats are purity protocol oats.
Q: I only eat products that specify “gluten free oats” but have noticed several products that are labeled gluten free, yet the ingredients don’t say “gluten free oats”. Is there any regulation on this?
A: FDA does not want manufacturers using the term gluten-free in an ingredients list.
According to FDA, “Gluten-free” is not part of the common or usual name for an ingredient. In addition, the term could be considered intervening material in the ingredient statement… The firm has the option to state that the oats are gluten-free elsewhere on the label.”
Q: Why don’t purity protocol providers have a badge/seal on oats as well as oat-containing products that use only purity protocol oats?
A: A purity protocol seal that could be used by suppliers and manufacturers makes sense. A seal would certainly make it easier for consumers to spot products. Questions to think about: Who should develop the protocol? Currently there is no single protocol followed by suppliers of purity protocol oats (although the steps they take are very similar). Certainly the current suppliers—Avena, GF Harvest, Montana Gluten Free Processors, and Glanbia know best about how to control for wheat, barley, and rye during growing, harvesting, transporting, and storing. Maybe in combination with those who know a lot about sampling and testing and the patterns of cross contact with wheat and barley (contamination is spotty and occurs in pockets), a rigorous agreed upon standard could be developed. Who should oversee this standard—both production and testing—and provide this seal? These are a couple of the questions that have to be answered.
Q: Why are certifying agencies allowing sorted oats to be certified?
A: You will have to ask them.
Q: Where is the FDA on all of this?
A: Oats—whether purity protocol, sorted, or standard—can be used in a labeled gluten-free food. Under the FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule, the final food product must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. However, testing is not a requirement of the FDA’s rule. Even when manufacturers are testing, the gluten level in oats may be underestimated due to the nature of cross contact with wheat and barley (when present, wheat and barley grain are not evenly distributed in oats). This is why sampling of oats for testing is so important.
Q: In an ideal world, given the current state of knowledge on this topic, how would oats be regulated by FDA for gluten-free labeling purposes?
A: In my ideal world, oats used in labeled gluten-free foods would be produced following a standardized purity protocol and also undergo some degree of mechanical and/or optical sorting to check for any errant grain. A farmer can control a lot of factors but he cannot control birds flying over an oat field. Also in my ideal world, standardized and rigorous sampling and testing protocols would be required for all oats used in labeled gluten-free foods.
If you have follow-up questions, please post them in the comments section. Thank you!
A consumer recently contacted Gluten Free Watchdog about Walkabout GFA (gluten-free ale) from Walkabout Brewing Co. The beer is labeled gluten-free and includes the following statement on the label, “Walkabout GFA is brewed with malted barley and hops specially crafted to be gluten-free.”
Consumer question: Is this legal?
Answer: Yes, in the state of Oregon (this product is also labeled, “for sale in Oregon only”).
Bottom Line: The TTB regulates malt beverages made using both malted barley and hops (e.g., what we think of as “regular” beer). Malt beverages under the jurisdiction of the TTB can’t be labeled gluten-free. They can be labeled “processed to remove gluten” as long as one of the following statement is included on the label:
“Product fermented from grains containing gluten and [processed or treated or crafted] to remove gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.”
Caveat: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) generally requires a prior certificate of label approval before beverages under its jurisdiction can be sold across state lines. IF a product is brewed and sold in the same state, this Act may not apply. For malt beverages this Act also may not apply if the laws of the state to which the beverage is being shipped do not require a prior certificate of labeling approval from the TTB.
So… this is why, if you live in Oregon, you may come across certain brands of beer made from barley malt that are labeled gluten-free.
Specifically, I have been told by the TTB that, “Under the FAA Act, States have the authority not to require Federal approval regarding the labeling of malt beverages that are sold within that State.”
Yes, it is confusing, especially for consumers who do not have the time to personally figure out the intricacies of this issue. It would be far less confusing if brewers followed the labeling and advertising policies of the TTB regardless of where their beer is sold.
During the month of May, three products were reported to Gluten Free Watchdog that were labeled gluten-free and included the certified gluten-free logo from GFCO on product packaging yet named either malt extract or malt flavor in the ingredients list.
Nothin’ But Foods Cinnamon Raisin Granola Cookie Bites
Know Allergies Blueberry and Maple Bars
Goodie Girl Toffee Crunch Cookies
According to GFCO and the manufacturers involved, the malt ingredients are not actually in the product but instead are included in the ingredients list in error.
In May and June, GFCO posted alerts for both Nothin’ But Foods Cinnamon Raisin Granola Cookie Bites and Know Allergies bars.
However, it appears that mislabeled products currently on store shelves are not being removed.
Gluten Free Watchdog purchased Know Allergy bars on June 5th and bars listing malt flavoring in the ingredients were received.
Goodie Girl Toffee Crunch cookies were first reported to Gluten Free Watchdog in October 2017.
As of May 28, 2018 they remained on store shelves.
GFCO issued an alert for Nothin’ But Foods Cinnamon Raisin Granola Cookie Bites on May 17.
These cookies were spotted in a store on May 28 and reported to GFWD.
Regardless of whether a product does or does not contain the malt ingredient included in the ingredients list, leaving mislabeled gluten-free products on store shelves is causing angst and confusion among consumers with celiac disease.
Questions that need addressing:
How is it that a manufacturer accidentally includes a malt ingredient in an ingredients list?
Does GFCO advise manufacturers of the ingredients that can’t be included in labeled gluten-free foods as part of the certification process?
Does GFCO review product labels prior to certification?
If changes are made to the ingredients, is the manufacturer required to submit the new label to GFCO for review?
Does GFCO include a stipulation in manufacturer contracts requiring removal of products from store shelves if the ingredients list includes an ingredient not allowed in foods labeled gluten-free?
Manufacturers: when you make a mistake labeling your gluten-free product it is your responsibility to act in the best interest of the consumer with celiac disease. You should not only correct the labeling going forward and destroy any unused packaging in your inventory, but also remove mislabeled products from store shelves.
We’ve known for well over a decade that standard oats are highly likely to arrive at a mill from the farm containing errant wheat, barley, and rye grain. But we also have a problem with errant gluten-containing grain showing up in other naturally gluten-free grains, seeds, and legumes, including millet grain and dried lentils.
This is happening in products labeled “gluten-free” as well as those labeled “certified gluten-free.” And it doesn’t matter if the food manufacturing plant is dedicated gluten-free. Why? Because these grains, seeds, and flours may be coming into contact with wheat, barley, and rye in the field, during harvest, during storage, and during transport. A grain may not become any “dirtier” in a dedicated facility but it isn’t going to become any cleaner either.
What is being done to address this problem?
Some manufacturers and certification organizations are taking steps to decrease the likelihood of an errant wheat, barley, or rye grain showing up in a gluten-free product. For example, according to information sent to Gluten Free Watchdog from a manufacturer certified by GFCO:
“Beginning January 1, 2019, GFCO is adding an additional requirement for verification that whole, intact grain, seed, bean, pulse and legume products meet the 10 ppm gluten threshold. For any whole, intact grain, seed, bean, pulse or legume, the manufacturer/processor must use an appropriate sampling method and visual inspection to show that the material contains less than 0.25 gluten-containing grains (wheat, rye or barley) per kilogram, in addition to the antibody-based testing they are currently doing.”
How did GFCO arrive at this threshold?
In the GFCO article, “The Use of Visual Examination for Determining the Presence of Gluten-Containing Grains in Gluten Free Oats and Other Grains, Seeds, Beans, Pulses, and Legumes” by Allred et al. published in the Journal of AOAC International, researchers write:
“Based on these assumptions, in the worst-case scenario, one contaminating GCG would contain 10.5 mg protein, 9.45 mg of which would be gluten. Therefore, to stay below the GFCO threshold of 10 mg/kg (10 ppm) gluten, 1 GCG/kg would be the highest level of gluten contamination that would be acceptable to consumers. In order to reduce the risk of a consumer purchasing a grain product with 1 or more GCGs/kg to <1%, GFCO recommends a threshold of 0.25 GCG/kg for visual examination.”
Is this threshold low enough?
It is a step in the right direction for GFCO.
As the paper states this threshold would result in 1 gluten-containing grain (GCG) in every 100 (40 gram) servings.
Compare this to the protocol followed by Quaker/Pepsico for their gluten-free oats (1 gluten-containing grain in every 1,000 (40 gram) servings):
Described as “an attribute-based sampling plan requiring zero GCGs (i.e., zero GCG assumed equal to <20 ppm gluten in a serving here) in 3000 servings (40 g) of product in order to pass, with this being evaluated on a production lot basis. This approach is designed to detect a 1 in 1000 serving noncompliance rate with 95% confidence.”
To determine whether the threshold of 0.25 GCG/kg for visual examination was achievable for suppliers, GFCO evaluated oats from two gluten-free oat-processing plants—Cream Hill Estates* (purity protocol oats) and Grain Millers (sorted oats).
The article includes a table (see table 3 at this link https://www.gluten.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Oat-Study.pdf). Data from Cream Hill and Grain Millers is presented side by side** and includes information on the number of samples, the total weight of product analyzed, the number of wheat grains detected, the number of rye grains detected, the number of barley grains detected, and the total number of gluten grains detected.
It would not be surprising if readers looking at the data come away with the conclusion that in general sorted oats from Grain Millers contain fewer wheat, barley, and rye seeds than purity protocol oats from Cream Hill. However, important information about the data is missing from the article that prevents the data from being put into context.
Based on correspondence with Cream Hill (with permission granted to post the information):
The data included in the article for Cream Hill is for 7 growing seasons 2004 to 2010 as this is when their seed lab testing was done (we do not know the number of growing seasons or the specific years for the data from Grain Millers but sorted “gluten-free” oats hit the market years after purity protocol oats in approximately 2013).
In other words, the data from Cream Hill includes the beginnings of the purity protocol.
The number of seeds/1,000 grams in 2004 was more than double the amount found in the next highest year.
If the authors do not want the data between the two suppliers compared (as has been stated) then the data should not be presented in the same table and additional contextual information should be provided.
No rye seeds were found in Cream Hill oat seeds as reported in the GFCO article.
Instead the seed data is for barley.
*Cream Hill Estates is no longer in business.
**Despite the data being presented side by side in table 3, the article stresses, “This study does not serve as a validation for either the Purity Protocol or the mechanical sorting method of producing gluten free grains, but rather demonstrates that achieving the proposed threshold is possible under both systems. Because the starting material can vary widely from season to season and even truckload to truckload, no method for generating gluten free grains, pulses, seeds, beans, or legumes can ever be considered validated, and examination of each lot from beginning to end is necessary.”
At Gluten Free Watchdog we continue to support the use of oats produced under a gluten-free purity protocol. We are supportive of the use of Quaker gluten-free oats due to the transparency of Quaker and their extensive and detailed protocol. At this time, we are not supportive of the use of any other mechanically and/or optically sorted “gluten-free” oat product.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
How many potentially facially misbranded products, including those containing barley malt ingredients and hydrolyzed wheat protein have been reported to FDA staff by Gluten Free Watchdog?
2016: 14 products
2017: 17 products
2018 (to date): 9 products
Note: Some products are included in more than one year as they remain on store shelves.
Note: The above listing does not include foods tested by Gluten Free Watchdog and found to contain levels of gluten of at least 20 parts per million.
Based on the above information, it appears that FDA is not recalling products labeled gluten-free that include in the ingredients list: malt, malt extract, malt syrup, malt vinegar, and wheat as a sub-ingredient in shoyu/soy sauce.
Does this mean FDA allows the above named ingredients to be included in foods labeled gluten-free?
FDA on soy sauce: “If a soy sauce is made from wheat and soybeans, “wheat” is a gluten-containing grain, and, therefore, cannot make the gluten-free claim.”
FDA on malt extract, and malt syrup: “Malt extract and malt syrup are ingredients derived from gluten containing grains and containing gluten therefore we would consider them as ingredients not processed to remove gluten and they would not be permitted in foods bearing the claim gluten-free.”
Then why isn’t the FDA enforcing the gluten-free labeling rule when it comes to these ingredients? We don’t know.
What recourse does the community have?
As many of you know, Gluten Free Watchdog filed an FDA citizen petition requesting that the FDA establish a specific protocol for increased surveillance, investigation and enforcement of potential facial misbranding violations under the gluten-free labeling rule.
On February 13, 2018 the FDA issued an interim response stating, “we have not reached a decision on your petition within the first 180 days due to competing priorities. However, be advised that your petition is currently under active evaluation by our staff.”
There have been no further public updates from FDA.
Is there legal recourse if the FDA is not enforcing the gluten-free rule? Hmm.
A series of bites, barks, tail wags, face licks, and pant tugs from Gluten Free Watchdog
May 31, 2018
Gluten Free Watchdog Face Lick, Post # 31
Dear Gluten Free Watchdog community,
As Celiac Disease Awareness Month comes to a close I would like to thank all of you who make Gluten Free Watchdog possible.
Gluten Free Watchdog launched a little over seven years ago. This would not have happened without the support of my husband, Dave. His only request was that I not lose money running this service. He had no expectations that I would make any money (this is a running joke in my family).
Gluten Free Watchdog also would not have gotten off the ground without the testing expertise of Bia Diagnostics and their willingness to test product for a consumer group. A huge thank you to Thom, Luke, and the entire Bia team!
That Gluten Free Watchdog has survived for seven years is thanks to you—the subscribers, and most especially the early adopters of this service (I wish I could give you a public shout out but you know who you are). This service is 100% subscriber driven. It continues to exist because of you.
I consider it my responsibility to provide you with good data that you can use to help inform your decision making process. We do not take advertisements or sponsorship money from manufacturers. For this reason, the information you find on this site is strictly science based. It is not influenced by any outside group.
It is also my responsibility to put data into context and to offer my recommendations based on the science. You may not always agree with what I have to say and that is obviously fine. What is most important is that decisions—yours and mine–are based on facts, as we know them today.
Thank you for allowing me to do this important work.
A series of bites, barks, tail wags, face licks, and pant tugs from Gluten Free Watchdog
May 30, 2018
Gluten Free Watchdog Bite, Post # 30
Goodie Girl and Nothin’ But Foods: Product packaging erroneously lists malt extract from barley
Reportedly neither cookie actually contains barley malt extract. BUT the decision by manufacturers to leave packages on store shelves with incorrect information in the ingredient list is causing confusion and angst in the celiac disease community.
Goodie Girl Toffee Crunch Cookies. This product was first reported to us in October of 2017. As of May 2018 it remains on store shelves. The product includes the Certified Gluten-Free mark from GFCO and the ingredients list includes “malt extract.” The manufacturer states on their website that this product does not actually contain malt extract.
Nothin’ But Foods’ Cinnamon Raisin Granola Cookie Bites. GFCO issued an alert for this product on May 17. As of May 28 it remains on store shelves. The cookie includes barley malt extract in the ingredients list and product packaging includes the Certified Gluten-Free mark from GFCO. The manufacturer states that the product does not actually contain malt extract.
In my opinion, both products should have been pulled from store shelves to avoid causing confusion among folks with celiac disease and gluten-related disorders. Reassuring this community should matter more than the manufacturer cost associated with removing products.
Consider speaking with your wallet when it comes to these brands.
Thank you to the consumers who continue to notify Gluten Free Watchdog about these products and share their photos.
A series of bites, barks, tail wags, face licks, and pant tugs from Gluten Free Watchdog
May 29, 2018
Gluten Free Watchdog Pant Tug, Post # 29
Brewer’s Yeast and Gluten
Bottom Line: When used as an ingredient in a food product NOT labeled gluten-free, brewer’s yeast may contain gluten from malt and gluten-containing grain.
Some information about brewer’s yeast (and yes, it is confusing):
The term brewer’s yeast can refer to both the live yeast used to make beer and the spent yeast that is a by-product of the beer-brewing process.
Spent yeast is what is left of the yeast once it has been used to make beer.
Brewer’s yeast may be grown on non gluten-containing growth media, including sugar beets.
When brewer’s yeast is used in food as a flavoring agent, it is typically spent yeast.
As a result, it may be contaminated with small amounts of gluten-containing grain and malt.
Occasionally, food products sold in the U.S. list brewer’s yeast as an ingredient.
Currently, individuals with celiac disease in the U.S. are advised to avoid food products with brewer’s yeast that are not labeled gluten-free.
Yeast extract and autolyzed yeast extract also may be made from spent yeast. These ingredients should be avoided if their source is spent yeast.
Note: Yeast may be grown in a gluten-containing media. When a lab tests a product for gluten that contains live yeast, the yeast must be deactivated prior to testing to prevent interference with the testing assay. This deactivation does not impact the level of gluten that may be present in the growth media.
The above information is from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Pocket Guide to Gluten-Free Strategies for Clients with Multiple Diet Restrictions, Second Edition by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD. It is available from the Academy store.
Note: Consumers, the above book is meant primarily for dietitians. A good primer on food labeling is the booklet Celiac Disease Nutrition Guide, Third Edition by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD. It is available from Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y9vg3y25