A few weeks ago I attended a webinar on “gluten-related disorders”. The first part was pretty much a rehash of things I already knew. However, I learned some interesting things about food labelling in the second part.
I’ve noticed a few purportedly gluten-free products on the market that also state: “made in a facility that processes wheat”. Now, I’ve always advised clients with celiac disease to avoid products that have that disclaimer on the label. It turns out that these products may still be perfectly safe. However, I know that the “new” labelling laws (weren’t they released a couple of years ago now?) in Canada were meant to remove that confusion. Products are not supposed to include statements like the above and “may contain x” unless there is a reasonable risk that they may in fact contain the ingredient in question. This is because so many manufacturers were including these statements just to cover their butts in the event that a customer experienced an adverse reaction. However, it made it extremely difficult for people with allergies and celiac disease to find products that were safe for consumption. Despite their apparent inability to adherence to the labelling laws, products that are labelled “gluten-free” but that are “made in a facility that processes wheat” may truly be gluten-free (or at least within the 20 ppm that’s permissible in a gluten-free food).
The even more interesting thing that I learned is that companies proclaiming their products to be “gluten-free” don’t have to test for gluten during any stage of the manufacturing process. Yep, that’s right. Manufacturers are under no obligation to test the raw ingredients, nor the final product, for gluten-contamination before the food hits the stores. Of course, if a company is proclaiming a food to be gluten-free then it’s in their best interest not to sicken their customers and they most likely will test their product for gluten. However, there are probably some naive manufacturers (witness the product mentioned in my last post) who don’t realize the potential of cross-contamination nor the risks to their customers associated with such contamination. There are also instances of suppliers changing or corners being cut and it is entirely possible that a formerly gluten-free product may become glutenous. If you are concerned that a product labelled gluten-free may contain gluten you can contact the Gluten Free Watchdog which is basically the site of the gluten police. Unfortunately, as gluten testing is costly reports can only be viewed with a subscription ($4.99/mo). If you have celiac disease or work with a number of clients with celiac disease or wheat allergies this subscription could be life-saving.