If you follow the gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may need to be cautious with foods made in the same facility as wheat-containing or gluten-containing foods, or with foods made on the same equipment or foods that say “may contain traces of wheat.”
Although some of these foods may qualify legally as “gluten-free,” they still may contain tiny amounts of gluten… potentially enough to make you sick. Food labeling laws in the United States are tricky, and ultimately leave it up to the consumer to decide if she wants to take the risk. Here’s some more information to help you decide if this is a risk you should take.
Gluten Label Disclosures Voluntary
By law, food manufacturers must disclose if a given product contains wheat. However, they are not required to tell you if there’s gluten in their product, nor are they required to disclose whether that product is made in the same facility or on the same equipment as wheat-containing or gluten-containing products.
In addition, wheat-free does not mean gluten-free, since foods free of wheat can still include gluten proteins from barley and/or rye (most frequently barley).
As a courtesy to allergic consumers, many companies do place statements on their labels saying a food is “made in the same facility as wheat-containing foods,” “made on shared equipment with wheat-containing foods,” or “may contain traces of wheat” (which usually means the food is made on shared equipment). It’s rarer in the U.S., but not unheard of, to find such statements regarding gluten in foods (food labeling rules in Canada and other countries differ).
Therefore, while the presence of one of these statements on a label indicates the need for caution, the absence of such a statement doesn’t mean you’re home-free and can consume the food with impunity.
Generally speaking, foods made in a shared facility likely will be less risky than foods made on shared equipment (or those stating “may contain traces of wheat”).
With shared equipment, most manufacturers will clean their equipment between different products, especially if they’re moving from a product with an allergen (i.e., wheat) to one that doesn’t contain the allergen. Cleaning protocols differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, and some take great care with this cleaning process. However, food processing equipment is notoriously difficult to clean unless the manufacturer actually dismantles it completely between runs (and you can assume most manufacturers won’t do that).
A Word from Tips For Healthy Living
You may be able to consume any or most of these products without a reaction, or possibly with just a small reaction.
In fact, some people with celiac disease have what’s called silent celiac disease, meaning they don’t react at all, even when they eat all the gluten they want.
However, most with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity do react when we consume gluten. Some find their bodies rebel even if we eat foods containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten, the legal definition of “gluten-free.”
Should you eat a product with a “made on shared equipment/in the same facility/may contain traces of” statement for wheat?
- If you’re not particularly sensitive to gluten (for example, if you have no problem eating foods with no obvious gluten ingredients), you probably can eat foods made both on shared equipment and in shared facilities without experiencing a reaction.
- If you find yourself reacting sometimes when you take chances with new products or a new restaurant, you might want to steer clear of foods made on shared equipment, but you may find through trial and error that you can eat some foods made in shared facilities, especially if they’re certified gluten-free (gluten-free certification programs dictate the steps companies must take to avoid gluten cross-contamination between products).
- If you know you’re very sensitive to trace gluten (for example, if you avoid most processed foods because you usually react), then you’ll probably react to these products, too … but of course, you likely already knew that.
- If you want to avoid all possible gluten whether you react or not (as some people do to protect their health), then you obviously should skip products with these statements, as well.
Honestly, your decision is going to depend on two things: 1) your level of sensitivity to trace gluten, and 2) your desire to stay as gluten-free as possible. Ultimately, products with “made in a shared facility” and “made on shared equipment” statements might wind up being safe additions to your diet, or they might not — it’s up to you to make that call, possibly based on some experimentation and on your body’s reaction.