In 1994 I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which led me to create Celiac.com in 1995. I created this site for a single purpose: To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives. Celiac.com was the first site on the Internet dedicated solely to celiac disease. In 1998 I created The Gluten-Free Mall, Your Special Diet Superstore!, and I am the co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.
My name is Trevor Pizzey, and I am currently the Executive Vice President - Operations for Can-Oat Milling, the largest industrial supplier of oat ingredients in North America. Part of the quality control that is incorporated in our operation is a monitoring of the foreign grain admixture of both our raw material and finished goods. Steve Martins comments that cross contamination of grains in North America is almost a given is indeed accurate. There are a number of points of contamination during the production and manufacturing processes. The first point of contamination is usually in the field. Crop rotation in the US and Canada means that oats are often grown on fields that have previously produced wheat, barley or rye. Volunteer grain is the term used to refer to these grains growing the following year from seed that missed being harvested the previous year. A secondary point of contamination is often the grain handling system.
Most grain handling facilities receive, store, and ship multiple grains. Usually the systems are not cleaned out between receipts or shipments, so one residues of one grain are often in equipment when the next batch of grain passes through, resulting in contamination. This contaminated grain then moves to a processor for manufacturing into a food product. If you are interested in some data related to wheat and barley (we dont see much rye and as a result have no data) content in both our raw material and finished products, please contact me at any time, and we can put together a package for you. My phone number is (204) 857-9700, and fax number is (204) 857-9500. I would suggest that oat flour is more likely to be contaminated with wheat and barley than are oat flakes, although most oat flakes do have a trace of wheat and barley present in them as well. The reasons for the difference are related to mill flows and maximizing efficiencies, but Im sure are not of much interest to celiacs other than knowing what does and does not contain the offending proteins. Im glad to see that in general terms oats are an acceptable grain based nutrition source for celiacs. I realize that we as processors need to make further progress to be able to provide the assurance necessary for celiacs that oat products are not contaminated with other grains. We would like to be able to reach the point that celiacs could rely on oat products in their diet.
November 2, 1998 Response by Mr. Pizzey to my Request for More Information:
I have reviewed our QA data, and based on the analysis of approximately 50,000 tons of groat production (Note: Groats are the oats with the hull removed, and this production is the primary stage of processing prior to grinding into flour or rolling into flakes. It is at the groat stage that we can most easily detect and monitor wheat and barley admixture.) from our two facilities during the last 6 months. Average wheat and barley contents have been 2.1 and 4.1 kernels per 100 g respectively. It takes approximately 40 kernels to equal 1 gram, so this admixture level equates to 0.0525% and 0.1025% respectively. This level can be expected to fluctuate with crop year and raw material sourcing region.
Our specifications for finished food products are a maximum of 10 kernels per 100 g, or 0.25% each of wheat and barley. As you can see, average production levels are significantly below our maximum specification, but celiacs would need to be concerned about the maximum specification level, as this concentration is on occasion present in oat products we manufacture. Most of our competitors do not carry wheat and barley as specification items, so I can not comment on the industry average or maximum concentration.
With respect to your question about the ability of smaller organic producers and processors to guarantee admix free oat products, I would have to say that they are unlikely to be any better than the larger, more conventional operations. In fact, organic producers have somewhat more limited means of controlling volunteer cereals, so admixture levels can be even more elevated than in conventional production. We have previously been a certified organic oat processing facility, and have dealt with significant volumes of organic oats. In general terms, we saw both wheat and barley levels to be higher in organic oats than in conventional products. As with the conventional producers, there is a range of quality that can be expected from organic growers, and some take more care in crop rotations to ensure low cereal admix than others.