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Cross Contamination Questions
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No one needs to answer all my questions, and I don't mind getting a variety of different opinions either. I know some people experience symptoms more easily than others from very small amounts of contamination.

A bit about me: I am new at gluten free living, although I've read quite a bit. I am a frugal shopper, like to buy the store brands or in bulk, and do not like expensive products if not necessary :). (I do buy gluten-free oats.) So I'm trying to learn what are reasonable precautions, but I don't feel like I need everything that I eat to be certified gluten free. After all, I live in a wheat-eating household, so I don't expect to never meet with a tiny bit of contamination from time to time.

1. Which of the following products would you not feel safe in buying unless they were labeled gluten-free: Millet, buckwheat, popcorn (unpopped), millet flour, rice flour, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, soy flour?

2. Do you feel it necessary to contact the manufacturer for every food product you buy if not labeled gluten-free (obviously with no gluten in the ingredients)? How about for things like: canned tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, canned beans, salsa, dried fruit, nuts, and ketchup? How about corn chips?

3. Do you feel that items with allergy warnings (may contain traces of wheat) are too risky? How about "Processed in a facility that also processes wheat"? Do you make any difference between those two?

4. I contacted my favorite bulk health food distributor, which packages their foods in a mixed facility. They said, "We do our best to clean the equipment between products, but cannot fully guarantee that gluten is not present on the equipment." Personally I feel like I would buy from them. What do you think?

5. The mill that supplies their grains "does clean their equipment between product runs, but again, cross contamination is still a possibility." Is it too risky to buy grains/flours from a non-dedicated mill?

Thank you so much for your input!

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I can hardly pass up the opportunity to share my opinion!!

1: I wouldn't require that any of those things specifically list that they be gluten free. After all, there are no particular laws pertaining to the gluten free label on foods and since they are all naturally gluten free foods they could say that on 3 different packages and one could be certified from a gluten free facility, one could come from a shared facility and the third from a shared line. There is simply no way to know without a call to the manufacturer, which leads us on...

2: Sort of, yes, but not really. I'll explain. You'll find as you wander around here that there are what I've seen called "safe" companies such as Kraft. These companies have what I'll call for lack of a better term a full disclosure policy. If there is in any way, shape or form, any sort of gluten or gluten risk in a product, it will be clearly listed on the label. So, if I buy a Kraft product or something from another safe company I will simply read the label and put it in my cart. On the other hand, if I am unsure of the companies safe status, or their disclosure policy I will call them. Every product. I want to know if it's a shared facility, shared line, all that. I will grill the rep, then I will call back and speak with someone else to see if I get the same answers. (Okay, maybe that's overkill but sometimes I get complete morons on the phone.)

3: I didn't used to. I avoided them at first as I got started but didn't have any intentions of staying away. After some time I decided to test it and had myself some blueberries from a shared facility. I changed nothing else about my diet but that and I ate a LOT of them. I got horribly ill. (Fresh blueberries for sure don't bother me no matter how many I eat.) That was the first and last time I went near anything from a shared facility. Sort of. I make exceptions for products that are specifically tested to be gluten free, for instance Lays Naturals products and I forget the brand but some nut cracker or another I'm off of for now til I'm allowed nuts again. Because these are tested, every batch, I am comfortable eating them.

4: I wouldn't eat their food if it were free. Even if I had a letter saying they'd pay for a lifetime of medical care every time I got sick and if I ended up with cancer, diabetes or a dozen other AI diseases that can be caused by celiacs who eat gluten. That sounds a whole lot like a "it's probably contaminated" statement to me. (Overreact much? Seriously though, even without all of the other problems... who wants to spend a day with explosive D and in so much pain they'd rather be dead because it saved them $2 on 25 pounds of rice flour?) You should be able to find relatively similar prices online if you can't find any near where you live.

5: YES! YES! YES! My husband drives past a flour mill on his way to work. You can literally taste the wheat flour in the air driving by. I rarely say things are impossible, but once something like a mill has had wheat in it, it is impossible for it to ever be gluten free or to process anything safe for a celiac to consume.

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1. None of them. But, in Canada, you can't label something "gluten-free" unless it is a distinguishing characteristic of that particular product. If something is inherently gluten-free, you can not label it as gluten-free X. So, no "gluten-free rice." You can say something like, "This rice, like all rice, is naturally gluten-free," or, "Rice is naturally gluten-free."

2. No. I know labels very well, and read carefully. I am not super-sensitive. The manufacturer likely has better cleaning practices in their plant than most of us do in our kitchens. Wheat can not be hidden.

3. I know rationally that these are voluntary, so the absence of a notice means nothing. But if I have a choice between a product that "may contain" and one that doesn't say so, I tend to chose the latter.

4. I generally don't buy from bulk suppliers, but do buy jelly beans from the candy aisle at a local bulk store. There are no flour or baked products nearby.

5. We buy rice, quinoa and various flours from a variety of sources. Seriously, most flour mills just do wheat. The ones that do other grains usually don't do wheat. This isn't something that I lose sleep over.

That is my life. As I said, I am not super-sensitive, but do react to small amounts.

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4. I generally don't buy from bulk suppliers, but do buy jelly beans from the candy aisle at a local bulk store. There are no flour or baked products nearby.

Some but not all candy manufacturers dust their conveyor belts with flour (wheat ?) to stop the candies sticking, likewise jellies are coated in flour for the same reason though most jelly manufacturers use corn or maize starch.

So if you've been tucking into the jelly candies and feel a bit 'iffy' then there's the culprit.

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Thank you so much, Adalaide and Psawyer, for taking the time to write such careful responses to my questions. I really appreciate your taking the time, and I appreciate the two perspectives too. Since I'm just starting out, it is hard to say how sensitive I may be. It also seems like there is not one hard and fast rule for some of these things, but that maybe there is room for using our good judgment and trying to see what works for us and what doesn't.

Adalaide, I have a question. I hope you don't mind; I'm just really trying to learn. In the thread about "Do grains have to be certified gluten free?" I notice you wrote that you buy things in bulk, by the box, or when a scoop is not involved. Do you try to find out the sources of all those grains and contact the processors of them, or do you find that you don't experience problems with them? I know you mentioned in one of your posts that you had a problem after eating veggies that had been cut on a cutting board that had touched a pizza stone, so I would be interested in whether you've had a reaction to the grains you buy in bulk, or how you research their sources. That is really what I'm looking into in my own case too. Thanks!

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Whenever possible I call everyone. If I can't source something I'll find something I can source. I have 3 grocery stores in town that sell in bulk so I have the luxury of being able to say to one, well if you can't get me that information so-and-so can. Some companies are small local companies that mill and package their own flours. Some are large companies that package flours that come to them milled and they'll give me the "we aren't sure" statement so I'll either ask for information to call the mill or cross them off my list. It really just depends on how much stupidity I can deal with that day. :lol:

I should point out that I have no life. So on top of my OCD and severe anal retentiveness I have a severe excess of time on my hands and get some sort sick joy out of grilling slightly moronic customer service reps. This may not be right for everyone. :P

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I think one of the important things is to do what feels reasonable to you, and then make sure that you get a 12 month check up where you are retested to ensure that your body is responding well to the precautions that you've chosen.

Damage can happen without symptoms, so it's good to get a confirmation that the diet you're on is working. If it worked, you're golden. If there's still damage, you can always increase your precautions and test again in another year, until you find exactly where you need to be in terms of health and safety. :-)

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Adalaide, I appreciate your explanation. I think I am starting to learn the ropes of all of this a little bit.

Shauna, thank you for the idea about getting retested after some time. Unfortunately I was never diagnosed with celiac. I had one positive blood test that is supposed to be not highly specific for celiac disease and all of the others were negative. So I do not know if I am celiac or even gluten intolerant. I do know I had a lot of the symptoms and there is definitely some improvement in this first month of gluten-free, though I am far from being "there" yet.

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I agree with Shauna.

I was diagnosed very recently. My doctor told me that for the next 12 months I should implement the diet and use things that are in theory safe and avoid the bad ones. If I'm not sure, I should check the ingredients and if nothing sticks out as gluten, I should not care about the warning about plant processing gluten. After 12 months I should get tested and see if I need to correct my diet or not.... It was a huge relief as I was starting to panic about not being able to eat anything....

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As to the "produced in a facility that also...", My husband keeps a loaf of Wonder Bread in our otherwise gluten free kitchen. I would have to list us as a facility that also uses wheat. If there is no other red flag, I would tend to go with it. The "may contain traces..." and "produced on shared lines..." give me more pause. Shared lines I will sometimes go with but never with may contain traces.

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Thank you Iguana and mbrookes for chiming in!

Mbrookes, I appreciated hearing your understanding of the warnings on product labels. Recently I called Great Value about the "May contain traces..." warning on two of their products. The lady looked each one up and found that each is listed as being produced in the same facility with wheat. One of the products was also listed as being produced on the same line as milk. So it seems from this that these two products are not produced on the same line as wheat, just in the same facility, although they have the "May contain traces" warning. I think I will probably use them. One is cornstarch and I use a lot of that.

I too live in a "mixed" household. That's a good point.

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