updated 04/20/17 - Add Healio article "Oats appear safe for patients with celiac disease" .
updated 04/11/17 - Add GIG's Purity Protocol definition.
updated 03/02/17 - Added Trader Joes GF Rolled Oats to Purity Protocol Heros
updated 01/25/17 - Added Gluten-Free Watchdog's Updated Position Statement on Oats
updated 01/05/17 - Add more Gluten-Free Watchdog links
updated 10/28/16 - Added video and Dietitians in Gluten Intolerance Diseases (DIGID) Oats handout
updated 06/08/16 - Added Bakery on Main to Purity Protocol Rebels
updated 05/18/16 - Added GFW oat product analysis.
More on that later, but first a little background information on said ingredient of discussion.
Oats have been controversial for over 20 years. Are they acceptable on a GF diet or not?
Many in the gluten-free community would beg to differ with that recommendation because they react to gluten-free oats as well. Those in the grain-free/low-carb community offer convincing evidence that supports their lifestyle too.
Regular followup testing is also advised to make sure intestinal damage is not occurring. For those newly diagnosed, it’s suggested to restrict the use of oats for up to one year.
Also be aware that some celiacs react to the protein found in oats [known as avenin] just as they react to the proteins in wheat, barley, rye.
If you know they cause you discomfort, do not eat them.
The experts who recommend oats, all agree that only pure, uncontaminated gluten-free oats be used - no commercial oats allowed.
Why? Cross contamination with gluten [wheat, barley, rye].
A 2004 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals "regular" oats should not be considered safe for those requiring a gluten-free diet. Four different lots from three different companies found gluten content ranging from less than 3 parts per million to 1807 parts per million. Gluten Contamination of Commercial Oat Products in the United States by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD
Update January 5th, 2017 - Tricia, founder of Gluten-Free Watchdog, shares another article from PepsiCo (owners of Quaker Oats brand) about testing oats.
PepsiCo scientists recently published a second article in the scientific peer-reviewed literature on the difficulties associated with testing oats for gluten contamination. This article entitled “Kernel-based gluten contamination of gluten-free oatmeal complicates gluten assessment as it causes binary-like test outcomes” compliments their first article entitled, “Gluten-containing grains skew gluten assessment in oats due to sample grind non-homogeneity.”Bottom Line. Based on the findings of the research by scientists from PepsiCo, Gluten Free Watchdog calls on ALL suppliers and manufacturers of gluten-free oats whether purity protocol or mechanically/optically sorted, and their certifying bodies to reevaluate their testing methodology and requirements for certification, respectively.
Recommendation. The situation with oats continues to evolve. As mentioned above, Gluten Free Watchdog’s position statement on oats will be updated in the near future. In the meantime, my advice is:
Choose your oat products based on your comfort level with regard to the level of information provided to you by manufacturers. You may want to consider the following:
Do they disclose their testing protocols?
Do they disclose the assay they use to test oats for gluten contamination?
If a manufacturer refuses to answer any of these questions or responds by saying the information is proprietary, the advice of Gluten Free Watchdog is to move on to another company.
Read More: http://bit.ly/2iePfrv
Quaker's first article on oat testing: http://bit.ly/2hX1JpU
Update May 18th, 2016 - Mining through five years of testing, Gluten-Free Watchdog finds oat products are at higher risk of gluten contamination compared to gluten-free labeled foods as a whole. 35 products containing oats as first or second ingredient were tested. Analysis shows:
- 28 of 35 (80%) of oat products tested below 5 parts per million of gluten.
- 5 of 35 (14%) of oat products contained 20 ppm of gluten or more.
- 2 or 35 (6%) of oat products contained more than 5 ppm but less than 20 ppm of gluten.
- Approximately 5% of all gluten-free labeled foods tested at or above 20 ppm of gluten vs 14% of oat products.
Update October 28th, 2016 - Dietitians in Gluten Intolerance Diseases (DIGID) held a breakfast meeting at this year's Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). Topic: Oats.
This event was sponsored by purity protocol oats producer, GF Harvest Oats. GF Harvest Oats owner, Seaton Smith was the keynote speaker. A mechanically & optically sorted oats supplier was also asked to participate, but declined to speak. Tricia Thompson, RD, MS of Gluten-Free Watchdog volunteered to present information about sorted oats.
Tricia was kind enough for create a video to accompany the DIGID oats meeting handout. Please have the handout open while watching the video.
- Basic definitions.
- Background information on gluten contamination levels found within commercial oats.
- Gluten content testing results of oats.
- Testing protocols of millers of mechanically sorted oats (Quaker, General Mills/Cheerios, Grain Millers, La Crosse Milling).
- A PepsiCo Inc./Quaker Foods and Snacks (QFS) study on testing oats for gluten content. This important study reveals the difficulties in testing grains for gluten. Bottom line: Final product testing for oats must be extensive! For an easy-to-understand write up on this study (and links to actual study), please check out "Must Read Study Courtesy of Quaker on Testing Oats for Gluten" by Tricia Thompson, RD
OK - back to the issue at hand…
Shortly after Cheerios announced their recall of 1.8 million boxes due to gluten contamination, Quaker Oats announced they will now be offering “gluten-free" oat products.
Like General Mills, Quaker Oats will not be using oats grown/harvested/transported using a purity protocol. They are using regular oats that will be "cleaned" via mechanical or optical sorting methods.
Quaker Oats have also opted for the optical and mechanical sorting methods (aka “proprietary”) of removing gluten grains from their oats. However, Quaker Oats reportedly have instituted better testing protocols than their competitor.
Quaker Oats describes their gluten-free oats processing and testing protocols to Gluten Free Watchdog: http://bit.ly/1OiMboT
Purity Protocol Heros
Tricia Thompson, RD, founder of Gluten Free Watch Dog started building a list of companies that produce and use purity protocol oats.
Purity Protocol Oats List includes:
Marshall Gluten-Free Milling
Montana Gluten-Free Processors
Trader Joes GF Rolled Oats
For a detail description of their policies & procedures, and their products, see Gluten-Free Watchdog's webpage:
It didn’t go unnoticed that a few popular gluten free companies are missing from the list above.
Why the fuss over Purity Protocol Oats? Again, it goes back to [the lack of] cross contamination with gluten [wheat, barley, rye].
For years, the gluten-free community have been told to only use pure, certified gluten-free oats due to the gluten contamination risks. In the past, this meant acceptable oats were produced and processed according to a purity protocol similar to the one described above.
Most recently, it's been difficult to determine the pedigree of oats used in a product. Companies do not always give clear answers when asked about the oats in their products. As some of the manufacturer's statements have shown (see below), they are using a combination of purity protocol oats and "cleaned" oats, or straight "cleaned" oats.
For a more detailed look at this aspect, please read Gluten-Free Watchdog's "Gluten-free oat production: Purity protocol versus mechanical or optical sorting: Does it matter to you?"
Purity Protocol Rebels
Below is a list companies using "cleaned" oats, according to Gluten-Free Watchdog's list.
Bakery On Main, based in East Hartford, CT
"A brand and communications marketing associate responded in part (via email on May 22, 2016), “Bakery On Main’s top priority has always been to provide great tasting products that all those with Celiac Disease can trust and know are safe. We recently decided to soon begin using the mechanically sorted oats in some of our products only due to the fact that the supplier that we will be working with has been third party certified gluten free by the GFCO.” Please contact Bakery On Main for more information."
Bob’s Red Mill, based in Milwaukie, OR
They first describe their gluten-free product protocol:
“For all of our gluten free products, we thoroughly batch test every product in our quality control laboratory upon delivery, during production and after packaging. We adhere to a standard of no more than 19 parts per million of gluten. Should a test show that a product exceeds that limit, it would be simply rejected and made unavailable for distribution to anyone. Every step in the production of our gluten free products is done in a separate gluten free packaging division complete with specialized machinery to make sure that our products maintain their purity.”
Then their oats (note, they use both purity protocol oats and optically sorted oats):
“Oats require special care to ensure that they are safely free from gluten. Bob’s Red Mill only sources from oat suppliers who are committed to practices for eliminating the presence of gluten.Our suppliers are innovative in controlling the presence of gluten by either avoiding crop rotation with gluten containing grains or using optical sorting technology to remove grain containing gluten. Regardless of our suppliers’ chosen methods for meeting our gluten free specification, we require that each lot is tested and confirmed gluten free before authorization for shipment to Bob’s Red Mill. To ensure that they stay just as gluten free as the day their seedlings sprouted from the earth, we test each batch in our quality control laboratory when they arrive from the farm, during production and once again after they are packaged in our dedicated gluten free facility.”
Nature's Path, based in Richmond, British Columbia Canada
They describe their oats:
“This is to confirm that Natures Path Foods has purchased the Country Choice brand name from Grain Millers. Grain Millers continue to be the supplier of our gluten free oats.”
Grain Millers have been mechanically separating oats since 2012, according to Gluten Free Watchdog.
Cream Hill Estates, based in LaSalle, Québec Canada
“Cream Hill Estates sources our gluten-free oats from a mill that successfully uses extensive mechanical and optical sorting to minimize the likelihood of gluten cross-contamination in their products.
The mill uses both select commodity and purity protocol oats and does frequent sampling throughout the process from arrival of the oats at the mill to finished product, and we are satisfied that cleaning, sorting, sampling and testing at the mill produce gluten-content results that are well within acceptable limits for celiac disease (CD) and wheat sensitive consumers, including CD members in our own family.
The mill provides us with test results for each lot number, an 1,800 pound tote bag, and we also do random independent third-party gluten testing of representative samples obtained by us from those totes.
Test results from the mill and from third-party testing are always less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten with the vast majority being less than 5ppm using S-ELISA and R5-ELISA test methodologies.
Our products are certified gluten-free by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO).
Our dedicated gluten-free manufacturing and packaging facility in Montreal is also free from any of the top 8 food allergens identified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the 10 priority food allergens identified by Health Canada.
As a finished food supplier to consumers and an ingredient supplier to manufacturers, we guarantee the purity of our products.”
Quaker Oats based in Chicago, IL
Quaker Gluten-Free Oatmeal
Quaker uses traditionally grown oats that have been mechanically and optically sorted to be gluten-free.
Finished product testing (as reported to Gluten Free Watchdog and confirmed July, 2016)
A 40-gram sample is taken from each pouch or tube.
The sample is homogenized.
Two extractions are taken from the homogenized sample and tested using the Ridascreen Gliadin R5 ELISA (R7001) Mendez Method.
If any single extraction from any of the 16 pouches or tubes is above 12 ppm gluten the entire lot is discarded.
Since beginning commercial runs, three early runs were above 12 ppm gluten and these lots were destroyed. Since taking corrective action, 25 additional lots have been run. All but one extraction from finished product gluten-free oatmeal tested below 5 ppm gluten; one extraction tested just above the lower limit of quantification of 5 ppm gluten (6 ppm).
UPDATE Jan 20, 2016: In email correspondence, Quaker writes, “we have continued to implement the testing protocol we shared with you for finished product. Out of our last 50 lots produced, we have had one lot test above 12 ppm; as a result, that entire lot of finished product was destroyed. All other lots produced met or exceeded our standards and were released into market.”
Quaker Oats Gluten-Free FAQ - Answers many questions consumers might ask about their oats.
Yes, even a gluten-free certified product may use mechanically separated or optically sorted oats in their products.
Bottom line, we don’t always know what type of oats are used in the product unless we ask the food manufacturer.
The "Mainstreamification" and "Walmarting" of Gluten-Free
If you're wondering - yes, yes I do like to make up words.
The gluten-free landscape began its transformation as the gluten-free lifestyle slowly seeped into mainstream consciousness.
Those of you who have been gluten-free for any length of time, think back to when you first started your journey. How many people had even heard about gluten/celiac disease/non celiac gluten sensitivity/gluten-related disorders? Right, not very many.
Fast forward to today, gluten-free is everywhere - TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, on and on. It's even being called *gasp* "a fad diet". We, the gluten-free community have been wanting mainstream recognition for a long time. It may not be in the exact form we were hoping for, but GF is now mainstream.
The increased awareness is a double edged sword. One of the biggest examples of this is gluten-free food availability. Most of the processed gluten-free foods available today were not available ten or even five years ago. Not all of the changes to the GF food landscape have been beneficial.
Back in the day, the small "Mom & Pop" companies built their businesses with hard work and a passion for doing what's right for their gluten-free customers. In many cases, the owners and employees themselves were directly affected by a gluten-related disorder. They knew and fully understood the zen of gluten-freedom - in other words - how to do it right. These pioneers have served us well. They brought excellent products to the gluten-free party, however they were often scarce and not widely available.
Enter stage right, the 800 pound gorillas. These large companies have the means to develop and distribute products faster, farther, and cheaper. All is great, right? What seemed like a great idea at the time just might have been a wolf in sheep's clothing.
I think you probably know where this is heading. If this sound vaguely familiar to you, there's a reason. It has happened all across America. After retail giant Walmart sets up shop in a town, the economic environment is often times severely damaged, particularly in smaller towns.
Doing what an 800 pound business gorilla does (anything it wants), it forces the small business to close because it's impossible to compete against a giant with deep pockets.
We are seeing a similar scenario play out in the gluten-free arena right now. Yep, the 800 pound gorillas (and many smaller primates) are using mechanically/optically separated oats in their products. Not only is this creating a health issue for the gluten-free community, it's also creating a financial problem for the pure oat producers.
GF Harvest comments on this situation via their Facebook Page:
"We have noticed a change going through the oat market. With once having trucks heading out with 50lb bags to your favorite vendors who use oats in their product. Now we are seeing that that change because of mechanical and optical separation. The part that scares me is that newly diagnosed family or even someone who has been on a gluten free diet for a while. When they are looking at some products that might have oats that could get them sick and they won't know where they got it from, since they say "GF" or even could be certified.
We want to thank you for your support and want to let you know that we are going to readjust our focus to try and see the best place to serve our gluten free customers. You are like family to us and want to serve you the best we can."
So, is there anything we can do support GF Harvest, and other purity protocol oat companies? Of course!
Questions to ask food manufacturers…
- Ask directly if any of their gluten-free oats are mechanically or optically sorted. We know they can use a mixture.
- Ask at what point in production or pre-production they test.
- Ask how often they test.
- Ask if they test each final end product, do they test batches.
- Ask if they are using the fully validated R5 ELISA R7001 Mendez method.
Several fellow gluten-free advocates* called for a virtual Cash Mob to help our favorite gluten-free oat producer.
How do you participate in virtual Cash Mob? Simple…just click the links below and order some purity protocol oats!
*Gluten-Free Advocates for Pure Oats*
In Johanna's Kitchen -
Support a Gluten-Free Farm and Trust Your Oats
Celiac In The City -
Truly Safe Gluten-Free Oats (and helping our farmer friends)!
Gluten-Free & More.com -
A Grassroots Cash Mob in the Name of Gluten-Free Oats