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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    In the USA Over 20% of Foods Labeled "Gluten-free" Could Contain Too Much Gluten

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 12/05/2014 - To remain healthy, people with serious gluten intolerance, especially people with celiac disease, must avoid foods containing gluten from wheat, barley, and rye. Accordingly, gluten detection is of high interest for the food safety of celiac patients.

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons--SieBotThe FDA recently approved guidelines mandating that all products labeled as “gluten-free” contain less than 20ppm (20mg/kg) of gluten, but just how do products labeled as “gluten-free” actually measure up to this standard?

    Researchers H.J. Lee, Z. Anderson, and D. Ryu recently set outto assess the concentrations of gluten in foods labeled "gluten free" available in the United States. For their study, they collected seventy-eight samples of foods labeled “gluten-free,” and analyzed the samples using a gliadin competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. They then calculated gluten content based on the assumption of the same ratio between gliadin and glutenin, testing gluten levels down to 10ppm (10mg/kg).

    They found that forty-eight (61.5%) of the 78 samples labeled gluten-free contained less than 10ppm (10 mg/kg) gluten. Another 14 (17.9%) of the 78 samples contained less than 20ppm (20mg/kg) gluten, in accordance with the guidelines established by the Codex Alimentarius for gluten-free labeling.

    However, 16 samples, over 20%, contained gluten levels above 20 mg/kg, ranging from 20.3 to as high as 60.3 mg/kg. Breakfast cereal was the main culprit, with five of eight breakfast cereal samples showing gluten contents above 20ppm (20 mg/kg).

    The study does not name specific brands tested, nor do they indicate whether tested brands are themselves monitored by independent labs. Still, the results, while generally encouraging, show that more progress is needed to make sure that all products labeled as “gluten-free” meet the FDA guidelines. Until that time, it’s a matter of “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” for consumers of gluten-free foods.


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    The article that you used to write your article doesn't help us celiacs much if they don't tell us which brands were tested and give us their scores. It actually makes it worse, because now we are left to worry that SOME brands can hurt us, but they won't tell us which ones even though they know!

    If they are giving us food containing 3 times the gluten that they say, then why not share your info?

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    Thanks for this article. Not a shock, but disturbing none the less. It would be helpful to know which of the products tested were labeled with the "certified gluten free" label/symbol versus just labeled as "gluten free" or just "contains no gluten ingredients". I'm always on the lookout for items that say they were manufactured in a facility that also processes items containing wheat. But I know that doesn't necessarily rule out facilities that process oats, barley, rye, spelt, etc. Label reading is the best thing we can do and we have to out so much trust. I wish there would be a simple, inexpensive home test to test foods ourselves (in addition to proper labeling). Maybe some day.

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    If a gluten FREE product "contains less than 20 ppm" of gluten then how is it "gluten FREE"?? A person with celiac disease is INTOLERANT of ANY gluten no matter the measure of ppms!! I am a celiac patient and I have recently tried some "Gluten Free" crackers. It was after I felt a little rumbly in my tummy (signs of a gluten attack) I read the ingredients on the side panel of the box. It was much to my surprise that it contained less than 20 ppms of gluten!! WHAT??!!! PLUS, it was manufactured on equipment that also processes WHEAT!! So it's not gluten FREE is it?? I am appalled that the FDA will allow for a company to label a product "GLUTEN FREE" when in fact it is NOT!! Needless to say, I became ill after consuming the "gluten free" crackers. Thanks a lot FDA and thanks to the company (I won't name them) for selling me a "gluten free" cracker and charging me as such!! This has to be stopped!!

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    I've had gluten reactions to rice cakes labeled gluten free. I found out from the company, that all of their rice cakes are processed on the same lines. Some of the varieties contain ingredients derived from food crops that are likely to be cross-contaminated during growing, harvest, storage, processing, etc. My complaints to the company were ignored.

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    Guest Linda Vanderhyde

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    Very helpful. I've been having gluten issues lately and couldn't figure out why. Perhaps it was the Chex mix. I never would have thought of it because I made the mix myself with supposedly gluten-free cereal.

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    I have suffered celiac for years. I missed my pizza, bread and pasta. But now I can have the real stuff. Sourdough bread (the starter fermented over 3 days) White flour from Italy and pasta from Italy. I can eat all this with no ill effect. Yeah!!! The longer the fermentation the less gluten in the sourdough. So give it a try, and good luck

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    Kilogram? Who eats a kilogram of anything, at least at one sitting. Gluten per 100 grams is realistic, as that is 3 ½ ounces, a reasonable serving.

    Let's turn this into beer, say Omission, a gluten-reduced beer through enzyme process. At 20 parts per million for a 355 milliliter bottle of the stuff, one would be ingesting 7 milligrams of gluten. Omission posts its test results for every batch, and it's been significantly below this when I've looked, but still, I got sick about three slugs into the second bottle.

    Check my arithmetic, please.

    For any 3 ⅓ oz serving of supposedly gluten-free comestible, one may be getting a 7 milligram dose of gluten, big enough to send you to the toilet.

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    I have suffered celiac for years. I missed my pizza, bread and pasta. But now I can have the real stuff. Sourdough bread (the starter fermented over 3 days) White flour from Italy and pasta from Italy. I can eat all this with no ill effect. Yeah!!! The longer the fermentation the less gluten in the sourdough. So give it a try, and good luck

    I would not recommend that anyone knowingly eat such a product when there are so many alternatives available.

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    The article that you used to write your article doesn't help us celiacs much if they don't tell us which brands were tested and give us their scores. It actually makes it worse, because now we are left to worry that SOME brands can hurt us, but they won't tell us which ones even though they know!

    If they are giving us food containing 3 times the gluten that they say, then why not share your info?

    Yes, naming brands would certainly be helpful for people with celiac disease. However, the researchers likely omitted that information to avoid potential legal issues with the companies whose products they tested.

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    If a gluten FREE product "contains less than 20 ppm" of gluten then how is it "gluten FREE"?? A person with celiac disease is INTOLERANT of ANY gluten no matter the measure of ppms!! I am a celiac patient and I have recently tried some "Gluten Free" crackers. It was after I felt a little rumbly in my tummy (signs of a gluten attack) I read the ingredients on the side panel of the box. It was much to my surprise that it contained less than 20 ppms of gluten!! WHAT??!!! PLUS, it was manufactured on equipment that also processes WHEAT!! So it's not gluten FREE is it?? I am appalled that the FDA will allow for a company to label a product "GLUTEN FREE" when in fact it is NOT!! Needless to say, I became ill after consuming the "gluten free" crackers. Thanks a lot FDA and thanks to the company (I won't name them) for selling me a "gluten free" cracker and charging me as such!! This has to be stopped!!

    The fact is that the vast majority of people with celiac disease do not react to gluten levels below 20ppm. Also, the test currently used to test products are not sensitive enough to give accurate results below 20ppm, and they become less accurate the closer to zero they get. Taken together, these are a significant part of why the standard is set at 20ppm. Lastly, the FDA standard is the same as the European standard.

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    I agree with the above comments about not telling us what cereal!

    I know I have bought Walmart's gluten free version of Hamburger Helper and it gave me a gluten reaction.

    Interestingly, Wegman's pulled some of their gluten free products after the FDA standard came out.

    I don't think the FDA standard has helped those of use with celiac!

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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