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The Safe and Confident Manufacture of Gluten-Free Foods

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 edition of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity. 10/30/2009 - The major concern in producing gluten and allergen-free foods is always that of cross contamination. In my view, the only safe way to produce gluten-free meals and products is in a rigorously controlled and totally gluten-free environment where all ingredients are strictly gluten-free and all benches, utensils and equipment, etc. are dedicated and remain in a totally gluten-free condition at all times. It must always be remembered that gluten-free should mean “ totally and absolutely gluten-free,” and that there should always be an uncompromising zero tolerance for any form of gluten contamination, no matter how slight.

In my view the same approach should be adopted for anaphylaxis inducing ingredients like peanuts, eggs, sesame seeds, shellfish and crustaceans: that it is best to exclude them entirely to eliminate the risk of accidental contamination. Any other approach requires extremely alert and well informed operators in combination with elaborate cleaning and testing protocols; all of which are prone to mistakes and failure.

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It is my view, that many people are too cavalier in their approach to the matter of gluten contamination, taking the attitude that “a little won’t hurt.” Many manufacturers, particularly restaurants, small bakers and pizza makers etc., for example, are often asked about making gluten-free products and see this as a means of expanding their businesses. Something many of them attempt without properly trained staff and without fully understanding the implications and risks of undertaking such a project. However, there are also many worthy exceptions to this comment: the difficulty is in finding them.

In flour and bakery situations gluten is always present and is often used as an ingredient. Typical suburban bakeries tend to have flour and hence gluten everywhere. Flour and gluten are insidious and can float in the air for many hours after use and can be dislodged by banging doors and draughts. Benches, tins, trays, dough rollers, dough dividers, bread slicers, utensils, belt ovens etc., are often contaminated with gluten and many of these items are difficult to clean thoroughly. Bakeries are inherently difficult to keep clean and maintain in a gluten-free state.

Deep fryers are also fraught with difficulty. For example, potato chips which are gluten-free by definition, can easily be contaminated with gluten from the gluten residues left in the deep fryer by cooking such products as crumbed calamari, veal schnitzel, chicken schnitzel, spring rolls, battered fish and the like in the same deep fryer. The only way to produce gluten-free potato chips is by having and maintaining an exclusively gluten-free deep fryer where only gluten-free batters and crumbs etc., are used. Extreme care must also be taken with bench surfaces and all utensils, aprons, towels etc., used and in washing hands.

Other contentious areas are colorings, flavorings, salad dressings, thickeners, gravies, sauces, for both savory and dessert applications, as these often introduce gluten contamination to otherwise gluten-free meals and foods. If already applied to a meal these can never be fully removed by attempting to scrape them off. The meal should always be totally replaced with a sauce or whatever free meal or course.

In my view, the consumer’s safety and well being should always be paramount: the consumer should not be imposed upon and they should be given an informed choice as to what they consume at any time. This is the basis upon which we run our business. Avoidance of all the above problems requires well trained and aware staff working under well informed and aware management in a clean and well controlled environment. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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11 Responses:

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said this on
30 Oct 2009 3:41:24 PM PST
Reminds me of the time an idiot waitress at Outback Steakhouse tried to tell me all their flour was gluten-free. Amazed I said, "Oh, you use only rice flour?" "No, it's wheat flour," she replied.

Paul Smith
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said this on
12 Nov 2009 10:33:13 PM PST
Hi Hallie

Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, such ignorance and lack of awareness of the implications on the part of many people handling, preparing and serving food is one of the greatest problems facing the world today. Sadly, there are also many medicos and nurses who still hold the view that a “little” won’t hurt you. This is why I intend to continue blogging to get the message out there.

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said this on
02 Nov 2009 5:05:12 PM PST
Hi Paul,

Recently I have discovered (and was validated by articles which I read on the internet) that when organic chickens are fed grains - and mostly they are - then if a person is gluten intolerant, eating these chickens can actually make them sick. I discovered this because our local stores ran out of the organic chicken for a couple of weeks and I have never felt better. When I did research I discovered that celiacs and gluten intolerant individuals often get adversely affected by eating poultry and their eggs which was fed grains.

The other thing I discovered is that many people unbeknownst to themselves are allergic to lectins in the food. This is certainly the case with me. People would tell me that they were celiacs and I would t think to myself , If only because my body also doesn't tolerate any of the alternatives. When I read the lectin story, it all fell into place.
Would you have any comments on the lectins?

Thank you for your article, it also sheds much light on the gluten debate.

ps. I haven't been able to visit your website as the link doesn't seem to be working.

Paul Smith
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said this on
12 Nov 2009 10:34:10 PM PST
Hi Mimi

Thank you for your comment. One of the really big and hot issues today is the lack of understanding of the nutritional, physiological, neurological and psychological implications of the foods we eat and the changes that surrender to a fast/convenience food culture has wrought in them. Problems that are exacerbated by the narrowing, for economic reasons, in the range and selection of foods consumed and by the fact that so many of us have abdicated from any responsibility over what we eat.

It is undoubtedly true that the flavour and nutritional quality of what we eat often reflects what the animals and plants are respectively fed on and fertilised with. Grass fed beef has a completely different flavour and texture to the sweeter, softer grain fed beef. Free range chickens have a completely different and stronger flavour than grain/lot fed chickens. Similarly with fish. From my own experience in keeping and feeding various types of poultry, it is possible to change the flavour, texture, colour and nutritional quality of their flesh and egg yolks. For example, poultry should never be fed on cabbage, onion and garlic. Partially feeding goats and sheep on full fat soy grits, for example, positively increases the quantity and quality of their butter fat as well as enhancing the quality, fineness and glossiness of their fleeces. We have also found that the soy fat enhances the coats of horses and the glossiness of poultry feathers. Interestingly, observing our poultry we found that while they liked and enjoyed the soy they ate it sparingly. They seemed to instinctively realise it was a high protein intake and they did not over indulge.

While not certain, I am prepared to believe that animals fed on wheat, oats, barley, rye, triticale and spelt may end up with gluten in their protein structures which may adversely affect the consumer. This is certainly an area that requires more investigation and comment.

Lectins are an interesting topic. They are cell agglutinating and sugar specific proteins which are present in all plants and foods. They are currently being widely researched. Like wheat, dairy, gluten, peanut, seame and soy proteins they can be allergenic and may, depending upon their source and the individual consumer’s body chemistry and blood group type, have either beneficial and/or adverse health impacts. Some lectins have been found to “bind” with various bladder, breast and laryngeal cancers. Peanut agglutinin has been found to inhibit the proliferation of cultured breast cancer cells, possibly heralding a new less intrusive form of treatment. Similarly soy agglutinin has been used experimentally for purging human bone marrow cancers. However, “bound” lectins can also mimic natural hormones to, for example, produce persistent insulin – like effects. Other lectins have been adversely implicated in various food allergy/intolerance, asthma, bacterial histamine and cancer problems. We still have much to learn.

Regarding the website. We have been working on bringing it to air in full E-commerce guise. We have also been optomising it, testing and photographing recipes and we are preparing to launch a much broader range of gluten free products. The site is coming on line and will evolve and develop considerably in the coming months.

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said this on
10 Nov 2009 9:41:30 PM PST
I only wish I could give my family only foods produced in gluten-free facilities. Unfortunately this would greatly reduce the foods available to us.

With so many celiac organizations and the FDA advocating the 20ppm tolerance for gluten, it seems likely to me that we will only see fewer and products produced in dedicated facilities.

Paul Smith
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said this on
12 Nov 2009 10:34:43 PM PST
Hi Pam

We have deliberately chosen to have a dedicated gluten free site and product range for strategic and marketing reasons. It very clearly differentiates our business. In the process, we have surrendered other lucrative work and put some noses out of joint. However, we now have many customers beating a path to our door who appreciate what we have done. We believe that over time more people will follow our example, particularly the hospitality industry which is having difficulty coping with the rising numbers of food allergy and intolerance issues. For example, we are in the process of assisting to transform a restaurant into a totally gluten free venue by providing gluten free ingredients, sauce bases, flours, dips, bread premixes and the like. Most of the customers have not noticed the difference. The proprietor’s wife and about 15 – 20 % of the customer base are coeliac and/or gluten sensitive. Dr Rodney Ford, a world authority and pediatric gastro-enterologist resident in Christchurch, New Zealand, fervently believes that within the next decade more than 30 % of the population will be on a gluten free diet due to gluten’s increasing implication in a range of chronic health issues including A.D.D., Autism, Coeliac/Celiac Disease, Depression, Eczema, Epilepsy, Gluten Sensitivity, Hyperactivity and Migraines to mention but a few. I agree with him. I believe there is an undeniable correlation between the adoption of a largely wheat/gluten based fast/convenience food culture and the increasing Coeliac/Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity, Diabetes, Thyroid, Obesity and Neurological health issues we are seeing. While there are some individuals who are extremely sensitive to the presence of gluten there are many others who are probably able to tolerate the 20 ppm. However, the jury is still out on this matter. We simply do not have enough collective clinical experience to say so authoritatively, as yet. Personally, I believe the dedicated facility is still the best way to go. We have also applied the same logic to our Kosher and Halal certifications and to dairy, egg, nut and sesame seeds: to anything capable of producing an anaphylactic or severe asthmatic response. We do not need to impose these ingredients and they can all be added by the consumer, if it is safe to so. Do not despair.

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said this on
11 Nov 2009 3:12:18 PM PST
I whole heartedly agree with Paul on this subject. We must continue to push the US Congress and FDA to take the strictest possible approach to use of the term "Gluten Free" on product labeling. I love Trader Joe's, but they have taken a coward's approach in adopting a "No Gluten Ingredients Used" label. This is not only deceptive, it is potentially dangerous to Celiacs who may ingest such products under the mistaken belief they are clean when they are not necessarily. Pressing for a zero tolerance approach is the only way we can assure complete safety for the Celiac community.

Paul Smith
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said this on
12 Nov 2009 10:35:25 PM PST
Hi CeliBelli

It is my belief that zero tolerance is the best and only approach and the one that we strictly adhere to. I agree that Trader Joe’s approach is an unfortunate compromise. We clearly specify on all orders that all ingredients supplied must be 100% gluten free. Despite our strict gluten free stance, we also carry out routine, random tests of ingredients and finished products as a double check against gluten contamination. Several years ago, one of our products - Vege Salt – registered 8 ppm gluten. We checked the salt and cereal ingredients: they all came up gluten free. We questioned all the herb, spice and vegetable ingredient suppliers about possible gluten contamination. Which they all denied. Aware that someone was lying we had all the vegetable type ingredients tested and found that the celery salt powder in use was approximately 50% wheat starch and contained approximately 50 ppm gluten. This was not disclosed in their specifications and Certificates of Analysis and they continued to deny it even when presented with the documentary evidence. We were extremely annoyed about the rank dishonesty and the wasted time and money. We took our business elsewhere. We bought the pure celery seed powder, we thought we had been buying, from another supplier.

Barbara Coots
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said this on
11 Nov 2009 6:36:39 PM PST
This article really hit the nail on the head. I couldn't figure out why I would get sick on the weekends. My husband and I were using the same toaster on weekends and even the dust from his crumbs would make me sick. He has become more aware that I need my own cookware, to stay well.
He bought me a bread machine. I am loving that.
Thank you for addressing cross contamination.

Paul Smith
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said this on
16 Dec 2009 5:46:58 PM PST
Hello Barbara,

I am pleased to have been able to help and highlight this issue for you. As you have found, the cross contamination issue is just as relevant on the home front as it is in a restaurant or other public place. We have a customer with a specially designed kitchen where the wife has her own pantry, toaster, butter, knives etc to avoid any risk of cross contamination. One gluten containing crumb is enough to hospitalise her. I cannot stress the importance of avoiding cross contamination too much. Most people including many of our hospitality industry workers, medicos and nurses fail to realise the importance and meaning of zero tolerance. There is a kind of unthinking attitude that “a little won’t hurt you” if not a complete lack of awareness of the consequences. Fortunately, this is slowly beginning to change. We also find that in many families the whole family adopts a gluten free diet to avert the difficulties of preparing multiple meals and cross contamination issues. We have been doing a lot of work to develop gluten free breads, sauces, batters, gravies etc that are indistinguishable from if not better tasting than the generally accepted mainstream products to facilitate this process and to generally help overcome the rising difficulties with food allergens facing the hospitality industry. These new products include our bread mix as previously mentioned, as well as a Burger pattie premix called Burger Surprise and its hot and spicy cousin aptly named Hot and Spicy Burger Surprise and last but not least two breakfast porridge items one called Vita Elm the other Soy Crunch. These products will be available around the end of January/early February from our online store If you would like I can arrange some more information for you.

katie berry
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said this on
03 Feb 2010 9:28:19 AM PST
Hooray! You are 100% correct and I REALLY, really wish our FDA and Codex understood how important this is. Who are they to inadvertently tell us that up to 20ppm is safe? When that amount certainly gets us sick! In fact, I am suffering right now from symptoms because of some Red Pepper Flakes my husband used to make our dinner on Monday that come from a spice company who calls their spices 'Gluten Free' but with the disclaimer that they have gluten in the facility AND they don't practice cross contamination prevention!!! Wow!! How irresponsible and insensitive. And we don't eat out AT ALL in our town because of the ignorance to Zero Tolerance of gluten.

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