Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gluten Free Labeling 101

I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook last night when I happened upon a status of a friend discovering Rice Krispies cereal is now carrying a gluten free version of the cereal.


Seeing there were a number of comments below this status, I curiously skimmed them, and soon found myself nearly groaning over what I was reading.  Here's one of the comments:

"Rice Krispies have always been gluten free as they're made from rice!"

I realize that some people would see "rice" in the name of the cereal and automatically think it's safe for them to eat if they're gluten-intolerant, but it's comments like these that make me cringe because this is far from true.  Though education of the general public to what gluten is has grown over the last several years, there's still a long way to go.  One major thing to always do is check the ingredients of every product you consider buying, and know what each ingredient is.  If you don't know what an ingredient is, look it up.  Be thorough.  I learned the hard way that many so-called GF products were not really GF, and I physically paid for it.  In the case of the original Rice Krispies, the ingredients listed "malt", a major no-no for it being considered GF. 

Here's another comment to think on:

"Yes, they have always been gluten free - but in order for the package to actually advertise gluten free, they are manufactured in a dedicated gluten free facility. No possible cross contamination."

Besides the obvious fact that the original Rice Krispies are not GF, this one is somewhat on the right path.  Yes, being in a dedicated GF facility helps it to get recognized as GF.  However, GF Rice Krispies are not made in a dedicated GF facility, as their labeling clearly warns on the box.

So, if it's not in a dedicated facility, how are they able to advertise that their "GF Rice Krispies" cereal is gluten free?

It's because there are mixed standards for GF food labeling.  The FDA is still hammering down a way to define "gluten free".  One FDA standard, as is the case for the GF Rice Krispies, is that it be a product with no gluten levels above 20ppm, which works for the general masses who don't have gluten intolerance but wish to eat GF to be healthier.  Some people who have a slight gluten intolerance may feel fine on this cereal as well (though it may still catch up with them down the road).  However, for people like myself with severe intolerance or Celiacs, it's less of a chance we'll be fine on it because of the risk of cross contamination and the evident fact that if you have any gluten in a product, it contains gluten, and is therefore not safe for people with Celiacs to eat.  One example would be a product like this:

A bottle of soy sauce has malt as an ingredient and states "gluten free*" on their product label.  At the bottom of the label the product states: "*tested below 20ppm for gluten."  Though the end product might test as non-detectable, the product still contains gluten and should not be labeled gluten free.

This article about this growing trend and problem of companies like Kelloggs and Betty Crocker and such jumping on the GF bandwagon is a very insightful read to the problem Celiac consumers are facing.  To quote, "While companies do their best to provide gluten-free products to the public, they often don’t understand what gluten-free actually means." (Celiac.com)  Very often the problem comes down to cross contamination, and mislabeling.

Now, of course there are naturally GF foods, such as eggs, fresh veggies and fruit, honey, and olive oil.  These types of items don't require gluten free certification.  At the same time, foods such as lentils, rice, nuts, milk, etc., that you would believe to be naturally gluten free are not always safe.   These items may contain malt, certain food coloring, caramel, or have a risk of cross contamination in facilities that also contain gluten.  I have had to pass on certain brands of rice because although their label declares rice as being naturally gluten free (which it is), if you read a bit more on their label, you find that their rice is processed in a place that also has wheat.  Such a company can even have their product tested and have it come out reading 30ppm of gluten, but still be allowed to put a "gluten free" label on their product because it is "naturally gluten free".  This is so very dangerous and frustrating to the Celiac consumer.

Meats with hormones and antibiotics or pre-flavoring (even "smoked" flavored hams can have gluten), or animals that were given feed that contained gluten, can also all pose a hazard.

I've found buying grass-fed beef from local farmers is the best and easiest route to take the questioning on the safety of the product out of the equation.  I also make the majority of my meals and goodies from scratch with products that have stood the test of time for me and therefore trust.  Having these options are nice little luxuries when you're consistently using yourself as a guinea pig for new GF products you're crossing your fingers on becoming a new addition to your pantry.

So, in summary, READ LABELS, educate yourself, and learn to cook from scratch.  Once you've started doing these things, it'll become a lot easier to know what is and isn't safe for a friend or family member with Celiacs, or yourself.  Keep checking things on here as well, as more how-to's for living gluten-free and recipes are soon to follow in future posts.  ;)


Thanks vegetarianmama for the feature!  :)

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic information! WE do need to educate ourselves!! Thanks for linking up at our Gluten Free Fridays party! I have tweeted and pinned your entry to our Gluten Free Fridays board on Pinterest! :) We had 101 awesome recipes! What a great resource we are creating!! Cindy from vegetarianmamma.com

    The winner of the Domata prize pack will be announced Thursday at the party!

    ReplyDelete

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