Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What does "gluten free" really mean?

What does gluten free really mean? Is it the same everywhere you go? Probably not, I'm sorry to say. I've done lots of checking with manufacturers the last year. I have called about everything from toothpicks to eye shadow to ground beef.

When I hear an manufacturer tout something as "gluten free", I always have a few other questions rattling in my mind. If the answer is "no", then the search comes to an end quickly! However, if a company says something is gluten free they could mean one of three things:

1. There are no wheat-based ingredients.

2. There are no gluten containing ingredients.

3. There are no gluten containing ingredients AND we know there is no cross contamination (we thoroughly clean production lines or hand pack, verified ingredients as gluten free from suppliers, test for gluten, no gluten reaction complaints from anyone, gluten free facility, etc)

Well, those are three very different answers. #1 is enough for some with a wheat allergy, but clearly not enough info for celiacs. Knowing an item doesn't intentionally contain gluten is good, but it's really still not enough.

Cross contamination risk is real. A company from Canada makes gluten free oats products (which is hard to do), I think it is Only Oats. They reject anything about 5 parts per million, and the generally agreed standard has been 20 parts per million. 5 parts per million! These people are serious about no cross contamination in their products.

If you ask just one question to a company, you may not be getting the whole story. I have had some companies say that things are gluten free, but when I dug further I found that they either didn't have a clear answer about cross contamination risk, or the customer rep had no idea about their manufacturing process, said it was not in a gluten free facility, sometimes didn't seem to even know why I would care about the manufacturing process, or gave me some kind of circular answer about "checking the label" and that they "have no list" that I can check.

There are a few companies who really seem to "get it" because they have answers to those deeper questions and they give them with confidence. They don't make it hard to understand what the real scoop is. They don't just say "look on the label" when there are many long ingredient names, and who knows what they really are.

If you have beauty products that are supposedly gluten free, ask yourself - are they really?? How much do I really know about them? Did I ask more than one question? If they are not manufactured in a gluten free facility or the company doesn't seem to make painstaking efforts to ensure that there is no cross contamination, you may be purchasing at your own risk.