Quick Dude note: For anyone who has sent me an email looking for guidance in the past few months, I am way behind on emails right now. Hundreds in my inbox. I’ll do my best to get back to you…promise.
Here are today’s celiac questions of the day:
Are non-certified oats gluten-free? Are they safe for those with celiac disease? Can a company legally label a product gluten-free if they use oats that are not certified gluten-free?
Good questions, all of them. Why am I bringing it up at this time? Let me explain:
Last week, I got a private message on Facebook from a fellow celiac. In 2015, she emailed Company X (I’ll explain this in a bit), who makes granola labeled “Gluten Free”, if the oats used in their granola were indeed gluten-free. Their response:
“No, our oats are not “certified”. In researching this question, while oats are considered free of gluten, cross contamination with other crops in the fields or other ingredients in a commercial kitchen space could occur. We do our best to keep our granola as pure as possible, and we are considering within the year to use certified organic oats. Have a happy healthy day!”
My quick reaction: They had to research the question? Seriously? They have a product labeled gluten free and they had to research the question? Ok then.
Anyway, she held on to the email and here we are in 2017 and she says nothing has changed and they are STILL being sold as gluten free. So I decided to reach out to Company X. Here’s how the conversation went down.
Me: Hi there. I hope all is well. I run a popular blog about living with celiac disease over at glutendude.com. Someone reached out to me about your products and the fact they say Gluten Free, but you are not using certified gluten-free oats. Cross-contamination in oats is a huge issue for the celiac community. Do you test your products for gluten before putting them on the shelves? Many thanks.
Them: Hello GD. No, we do not test for gluten content. Yes, oats are inherently gluten-free and cross contamination (could be) an issue. But…we do use exclusively “certified organic” oats in our product, (which only contains 4 ingredients, organic rolled oats, nuts, butter, and pure maple syrup). Over the almost four years we have been in business we have talked with many people suffering gluten intolerance at our in-store demos and simply advised them to proceed with caution or do not eat if unsure. We have had no complaints to date. Thanks for checking in with us and keep up the good work on your service to others in need.
Dude note: If something is labeled gluten free, I don’t wanna be unsure. Isn’t that why we have labeling laws? And they don’t even test for gluten?? No words. Ok…moving on.
Me: I’m going to have to send out a warning to my community. Oats ARE cross contaminated. By labeling your products gluten free and not testing is disappointing and potentially dangerous. Would you consider changing your methods to make it safe for us? Thanks.
Them: Send your warning my friend. It is your mission in life it seems. Can you give us info on where to have our oats tested? Thanks.
Dude note: Were the first two sentences sarcastic? Friendly? Just downright mean? I did not know how to take it. And then she’s asking me where to have their oats tested???
Me: Wow. Yeah…I’m a celiac advocate and it is my mission to help the community.
Them: As is ours, with pure food. We will check out our source, and go with certified free if it does not meet our expectations. Thanks.
And that was the end of the conversation. They said in 2015 they would look into it. 2 years later, they say the same thing. And what exactly are their expectations if they are not testing for gluten? So now let’s review my three questions and try to get some answers.
1. Are non-certified oats gluten-free?
Tricky question. The oats themselves are indeed gluten-free. But if they are grown/processed in the same facility that grows/processes other grains like wheat and barley, they are bound to be contaminated to the point they are not remotely safe. Take a look at the picture at the top of this post. Yes…that’s how contaminated oats are.
2. Are they safe for those with celiac disease?
Based on the answer to question 1…no, not unless they are certified gluten-free, which means they are grown/processed in fields that ONLY grow/process oats so there is no risk of cross-contamination.
Dude note: Please see the update below. I just found out that “Certified Gluten-Free” on oats doesn’t mean a damn thing. Just wonderful.
3. Can a company legally label a product gluten-free if they use oats that are not certified gluten-free?
According to the FDA, “any grain other than the gluten-containing grains of wheat, rye, barley, or their crossbred hybrids like triticale can be labeled gluten-free, if the presence of any unavoidable gluten due to cross-contact situations is less than 20 ppm.”
Since Company X is not even testing for gluten, I’d say the answer is a big no.
And this is our dilemma folks. As a celiac, we must be able to trust the “gluten free” label. But companies can do whatever the f*ck they want to do. Company X has been labeling their granola gluten-free for over 2 years without testing their product and they will continue to do so, unless we can get lucky and prove their bars are not safe.
And this is why I’ve been calling them Company X. While I totally disprove of how they are doing things, I decided not to publicly call them out until I had some solid data to see if their granola falls under or over 20ppm. So I am going to reach out to the Gluten-Free Watchdog and see if she can do some testing for me. And if anyone has the Nima Sensor and wants to give it a test, let me know and I’ll tell you what the product is.
Of course, testing one batch of granola is not definitive if the test comes back under 20ppm as one bag could be safe and another one not safe. But if it comes back over 20ppm, we’ll know for sure and that’s when I’ll notify who Company X is.
Isn’t having celiac disease fun?!
Two updates written after the above post:
Update 1: It turns out I was not correct in saying “they are certified gluten-free, which means they are grown/processed in fields that ONLY grows/process oats so there is no risk of cross-contamination.” That is what the companies who use mainstream/sorted oats often want their customers to believe, but it is simply not true.
>>> Please, please see Shirley Braden’s comment below for some VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION.
Update 2: Ok…I’ve decided to share the name of the company that is misleading the celiac community with their oats. Company X is Beyond Granola from G-Nola. Not a national brand (yet) but available in too many stores to ignore. Why did I out them? 1) A lot of people asked me to and I need to protect the community. 2) If one person gets unnecessarily sick, it’s one too many. 3) Their original response to me was downright snotty. 4) They don’t test their product for gluten. Ever. 5) Maybe they’ll change their methods or at least their packaging (not holding my breath.)