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Defining Gluten Free

2 Comments 14 August 2010

There are at least two different ways to define “gluten free”. That’s one of the reasons why there is so much controversy.

The traditional approach states that any product that contains any amount of a product made using wheat, barley, rye, or oats is unsafe. If this definition is used, most soy sauce and vinegar is taboo. Many people who use this definition believe that a product made in a facility that processes wheat, barley, rye, or oats is unacceptable.

A modern approach is to measure the gluten in a product and define any item that meets the criteria as “gluten free”. There are many different criteria.

◊ The Codex Alimentarius, a document which provides European countries with their definition of gluten free, states that 20 parts-per -million is acceptable, even in a situation where gluten toxic items have been processed to removed the toxic elements and meet the test standards.

NOTE: This sentence was rewritten to correct an error in the original text. Read the comment below for more information.

◊ America’s Food and Drug Administration has not officially adopted standards for gluten free food in the United States will probably any product with less than 20 parts per million is acceptable.

◊ The Gluten Intolerance Group certifies food that contains less than 10 parts-per-million.

◊ The Celiac Sprue Association limits its certification to products with less than 5 parts per million.

Read my article on this subject for more information. This article also gives examples to help our understanding of the term “parts-per-million”. FYI, even the finest laboratory equipment can’t detect the complete absence of gluten.

A third alternative is to contact the producer of the product and consider their answer to your questions about the gluten free status of a product.

Here is a copy of an e-mail I received from a member of America’s gluten free community telling how she uses a combination of the second and third alternative to make her decisions.

“The Codex Alimentarius standard for gluten free foods specifies that most celiacs can tolerate below 200ppm of gluten. Some foods are prepared in such a way that the gluten protein in the wheat can no longer be recognized by the immune system; (I believe that the protein becomes denatured during the manufacturing process?). Often manufacturers will list food as gluten free if it cannot be detected by their equipment, even though some may still be present. You’d be surprised what you are able to tolerate – if I suspect that I may be able to tolerate a product I usually just give them a ring and ask what data they have on their gluten content. I rang Kikkoman who said that the gluten was altered in the manufacturing process and therefore it is highly unlikely I would experience any symptoms. Being a highly symptomatic celiac, I put this to the test, as if I even if something has been fried with a gluten-containing food or a pan is reused I will be up all night and ill for around 24 hours. True to their word, I was absolutely fine.”

Published 8/14/10   Updated 8/16/10

Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Just a quick update. Codex as adopted a newer definition of less than 20 ppm gluten for naturally GF foods and less than 100 ppm for products that have been altered to remove the gluten. These products cannot be called gluten-free but it is recommended they be called low gluten.

  2. Willard Road says:

    If you read the comment section after Alison’s article about Kikkoman’s, you will find mixed reviews at best. I know I am highly reactive to soy sauce made with wheat, and it’s not a placebo effect. I’ve gotten sick from it when I had no idea or expectation of soy sauce in a dish, later discovering that’s what it was. Getting sick is no fun, so I follow the best practice: “When in doubt, leave it out.” If the label says “wheat” and I eat the product, it’s my own stupid fault if I get sick.


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