Thompson T. NEJM. 2004;351:2021-2022 (Nov. 4, 2004, Number 19)Many studies have shown that moderate amounts of uncontaminated oats are safe for most adults with celiac disease. There may, however, also exist a sub-set of celiacs who also have avenin-reactive mucosal T-cells, avenin being the oat counterpart to wheats gliadin.
To summarize the study—12 containers of oats representing 4 different lots of 3 brands (Quaker, Country Choice, and McCanns) were tested for gluten contamination using the R5 ELISA developed by Mendez. Contamination levels ranged from below the limit of detection (3 ppm gluten) to 1807 ppm gluten. Three of the 12 oat samples contained gluten levels of less than 20 ppm, and the other nine had levels that ranged from 23 to 1,807 ppm. All brands of oats tested had at least 1 container of oats that tested above 200 ppm gluten. It is interesting to note that Country Choice oats ranged from below the limit of detection to 210 ppm—an amount that is nearly at the level allowed by the Codex Alimentarius for products that normally contain gluten but have had their gluten removed—and of the three brands had the least amount of cross-contamination. We must caution, however, that the sampling done in the study was much to small to make any firm conclusions about the average level of gluten-contamination of each of these brands.
This study shows that cross-contamination is indeed a concern for celiacs who want to try oats. Celiac patients should contact oat millers directly and talk to them about their clean-out procedures, and whether they have done any testing of their own for gluten cross-contamination.