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There is so much confusing information about gluten-free oats on the Internet, and it’s hard to know what to believe and who to trust.
As a student of journalism and certified integrative nutrition coach specializing in gluten disorders, I wanted to get to bottom of this controversial topic.
My goal is to present a balanced look at the world of gluten-free oats, ultimately allowing you to decide for yourself what works for you and what you feel safe eating.
One question I get a lot, especially because I use Bob’s Red Mill products in many of my gluten-free recipes, is, “Are Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats actually gluten free?”
I will attempt to answer this question, as well as discuss how the entire gluten-free oats debate started, and why the debate rages on, even today.
Aren’t Oats Naturally Gluten Free?
Before we can understand if Bob’s Red Mills gluten-free oats are gluten-free, I’d like to share a little background information on gluten-free oats first.
While it’s true that oats are naturally gluten-free, the way they are grown make them highly susceptible to cross contamination with wheat.
Related Reading: Are Oats Gluten-Free?
Oats are typically grown in rotation with wheat on co-mingled fields used to grow wheat and oats, and the equipment used to harvest and process wheat and oats is shared, too.
This means naturally gluten-free grains of oat are co-mingled with bits of wheat throughout the manufacturing process, making them no longer free from gluten contamination.
Understanding Purity Protocol vs. Commodity Oats
There are two types of gluten-free oats commercially available on the market: Purity and commodity oats.
Purity Protocol Oats
Purity protocol oats are oats that are grown on dedicated oat fields using dedicated harvesting and packaging equipment, making them gluten-free safe from field to grocery store.
Gluten-free brands that only use purity protocol oats include:
- Enjoy Life
- Made Good Foods
- Bakery on Main
- ZEGO Foods
- Canyon Bakehouse
- GF Jules
- GF Harvest and Canyon Oats brands
- Montana Gluten Free
- 88 Acres
- Gluten Free Prairie
On the other hand, commodity oats are grown in rotation with wheat, but are optically or mechanically sorted and scrubbed to separate the oat grain from the wheat grain.
Brands that rely on commodity oats (or a mixture of commodity and purity oats) include:
- Bob’s Red Mill (combination of commodity and purity oats)
- General Mills (mechanically sifted commodity oats)
- Quaker Oats (mechanically and optically sorted commodity oats)
As you can see, large companies are using commodity oats, likely to meet larger demand for their products along with competitive pricing. Oats grown under purity protocol are grown in smaller batches. One can assume that extra TLC often comes at a higher cost to the end consumer.
Related Reading: Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free?
Can You Trust Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Oats?
Bob’s Red Mill is a brand many people in the gluten-free community know and trust because the company makes so many gluten-free products.
However, Bob’s Red Mill does not use purity protocol oats; instead relying on a combination of purity oats and optically sorted oats to meet demand for its products.
Additionally, many Bob’s Red Mill products that are labeled “gluten free” and contain oats are not certified gluten-free by a third-party testing agency.
I absolutely took pause when I learned early on in my celiac disease life that Bob’s Red Mill oats were neither purity oats nor third-party certified. How could this be? Could someone with celiac disease safely consume Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats?
It’s easy to assume no and shut down the conversation based on what I have said so far, and many people have jumped to this conclusion.
However, I have done a lot of digging into this topic, and know there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Bob’s Red Mill brand.
(1) Rigorous Testing
On its website, Bob’s Red Mill states, “Our gluten free oats are batch tested before, during, and after processing using an ELISA Gluten Assay to ensure they meet our strict standards.”
The Gluten ELISA is a quantitative test able to detect low levels of gluten in food ingredients and in prepared and processed foods and beverages.
In other words, Bob’s Red Mill batch tests its gluten-free oats upon delivery from the farmer, during production, and after packaging to ensure gluten-free purity or less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in any given batch. (20 ppm is the legal FDA limit to label a product gluten-free.)
Bob’s Red Mill confirms that all its gluten-free products are processed and packaged in a separate, dedicated gluten-free building that processes and packages nothing but gluten-free products.
You can read more about Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free practices in this article.
For confirmation of what I read online, a spokesperson for Bob’s Red Mill sent me this statement:
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 through a variety of methods, including crop rotation management plans, and the use of optical sorting technology.
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.
(A spokesperson told me they added the above statement to the Bob’s Red Mill FAQ as a result of my question.)
Additionally, before gluten-free items are released to retail, Bob’s Red Mill tests them in a dedicated gluten-free quality control facility to ensure no gluten exists in the final product.
(2) Move Towards Certification
When inspecting a Bob’s Red Mill product, you can see that certified gluten-free products have the black and white GFCO logo while products tested only by Bob’s Red Mill display the red GF logo.
A spokesperson for Bob’s Red Mill told me they will be adding more GFCO-certified products “with time as logistics allow.”
(3) The Hidden Gluten Test
I want to give you one additional proof point as to whether or not Bob’s Red Mill oats are actually gluten free.
I used my Nima Sensor to test various packages of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats over the years. In my experience, the Nima Sensor has displayed a smile each and every time (a smile means the product is free from gluten).
Related Reading: 13 Things You Need to Know about the Nima Sensor
In order to publish this article, I did another test and again, my Nima Sensor came back all smiles.
The Nima Sensor is a gluten detecting device that allows you to test food for gluten in the comforts of your own home.
Related Reading: Is the Nima Sensor Accurate?
Why the Criticism?
Critics will say that Bob’s Red Mill doesn’t go far enough in its testing for “hot spots” or the spotty presence of wheat that may be missed by even the most stringent testing measures.
I’m not sure if this is true, but what I do know is I feel safe eating Bob’s Red Mill products. I personally feel like the company goes above and beyond to create safe products for the gluten-free community.
You can, however, determine for yourself what you feel comfortable eating. I believe there is even a risk of purity protocol oats coming in contact with gluten somewhere along the line, and that is why even products with purity protocol oats need to go through similar rigorous testing throughout the manufacturing process.
Questions to Ask GF Oat Manufacturers
If you want to eat oats while following a strict gluten-free diet, ask these important questions first of any manufacturer making gluten-free claims:
- Are the oats certified gluten free by a third-party agency?
- Does the company have practices in place to keep the processing and packaging of gluten-free oats separate from other products that contain gluten?
- Does the company batch test the oats before they enter the facility and after processing with a reputable testing tool, such as ELISA?
- Is the manufacturer transparent in reporting the results of its tests?
Doing a little digging to understand how committed a company is to creating safe products for the gluten-free community can help you determine, for yourself, what you feel safe eating.
I Get It… Some People With Celiac Can’t Tolerate Oats
If you have celiac disease and cannot tolerate oats, then it doesn’t matter if the oats are commodity or purity oats… just don’t eat them.
However, just because you can’t eat them, there’s not need to bash them altogether for those who can and want to eat them. Gluten-free oats can be a great addition to a balanced, gluten-free diet, offering up plenty of heart-healthy soluble fiber.
Related Reading: Why Fiber Matters, Especially When You’re Gluten Free
Rest assured, the majority of people with celiac disease can tolerate oats just fine, including me. In fact, this study concludes that gluten-free oats can be tolerated by the vast majority of the celiac disease population.
Deciding For Yourself
Ultimately, the decision to eat oats – and whether to enjoy purity vs. commodity oats – is with you.
I hope that this article helps to shed light on the controvery over gluten-free oats, including whether or not Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats are gluten free.
My hope is, that after reading this article, you’ll have more clarity on gluten-free oats, and feel confident in your decision to eat – or not – eat them.