A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis of over 400 foods on the market shows that many products that should naturally be gluten-free – products that do not contain wheat, barley, or rye – are contaminated with gluten. This raises concerns for people with celiac disease, who must avoid gluten.
Of 461 products the FDA purchased for its analysis, 98.9 percent of products labeled gluten-free did meet the legal definition of gluten-free: they contained less than 20 ppm of gluten, according to Nutritional Outlook magazine. But 19.4 percent of products withoutthe label surpassed the 20-ppm threshold, even though they did not list any gluten-containing ingredients. And about half of these contaminated products contained more than 100 ppm of gluten. The FDA study is to appear in the journal Food Chemistry.
Effective product labeling is crucial for people with celiac disease, a condition that damages the villi, structures in the small intestine that absorb nutrients necessary for health and growth. People with celiac disease experience digestive problems and other symptoms including anemia, loss of bone density (osteoporosis), skin rash, headaches and fatigue, and joint pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. The treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet.
Depending on how a product is manufactured, foods not containing any gluten ingredients may come into contact with gluten from shared preparation surfaces or machinery, gluten particles in the air, or other causes, Nutritional Outlook reports. Under such circumstances, the manufacturer can package the products with a warning label such as “manufactured in a facility that also uses wheat” or “made on equipment shared with wheat.” In the FDA study, half of the foods contaminated with gluten at levels above 20 ppm did not carry warning labels. The manufacturers may have been unaware of the gluten contamination or simply did not want to use warning labels. According to the FDA study, breakfast cereals were the most likely to have gluten contamination. Many cereals contain oats, which do not naturally contain gluten but are often processed in plants that process wheat.