I know you’ve all seen those labels on various packaged goods that say, “May Contain Wheat.” This kind of labeling is so confusing to the average consumer – and buyer should beware.
“May Contain Wheat” can mean a few things:
- It may be mean that the product has no “gluten” ingredients but it has not been independently verified by the manufacturer.
- It may mean the product is gluten free for all intents and purposes, but the manufacturer hasn’t bothered to get its products third-party verified as GF.
- It may mean the product contains no gluten, but is produced on shared equipment that may contain gluten.
- It may mean there was some sort of possible cross contamination during the manufacturing process.
Unfortunately these confusing labels are rampant in the industry and unfortunately they are legal. In fact, they are voluntary labels set forth by each individual manufacturer. You may see labels that say, “Processed on equipment shared with wheat,” or something like “Contains no gluten ingredients.” All of this is confusing and if you have a wheat allergy or Celiac, you need to think long and hard whether you trust that brand or not.
Personally, I suggest looking for brands that say they are produced in a dedicated gluten free factory (no gluten materials are getting in there) and brands that are certified gluten free by one of these four organizations: Celiac Sprue Association, Certified NSF (NSF in circle), Gluten Intolerance Group (with the GF circled), or the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
“May Contain Wheat” is one of the many problems we have with the FDA labeling requirements for brands making a GF claim. There is no standard third party group that has to come in and check that brands are labeling with integrity. The FDA says that gluten free products must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten in order to be labeled as “gluten free.” Further, according to the FDA, foods may be labeled “gluten-free” if they are inherently gluten free; or do not contain an ingredient that is: 1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); 2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or 3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 ppm or more gluten in the food. Confusing, right?
However, consider this, foods can still be called “Gluten Free” even if they are exposed to harsh cross contamination. One of the biggest culprits of cross contamination (and you’ve been warned) are pizza joints. They make gluten free crusts, but they use the same ingredients their glutened hands used to toss wheat-full pizzas, and they cook the pizzas in the same ovens on the same racks with the same pizza cutter tools, etc. There are exceptions (like California Pizza Kitchen, whose pizza dough and process is certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group). However, Domino’s is not safe for people with wheat allergies or Celiacs AT ALL. While Domino’s is able to say it has gluten free crust, it’s only safe for people limiting their gluten intake. I’m happy to finally see Dominos add in RED on its website that this pizza is not safe for people with Celiac. But the average consumer may think a “gluten free” label means it’s safe, and it’s not.
We have come a long way in the GF labeling arena, but we still have a long way to go. Buyer beware. If you have Celiac or a wheat allergy, stick with brands that are GF certified by a third party and that you know you can trust. And eat in more often – no sense in eating at restaurants that may (or may not) put your health at risk.