Sure products are gluten free when they don’t contain wheat, barley, and rye (to list the basics). In recent months we’ve been blessed with a few companies that have begun labeling certain products gluten-free.  For example, WalMart has been labeling its Great Value brands gluten-free products as such for years. General Mills Chex cereals is another example. We love that. But because they label certain products gluten-free does that mean other seemingly gluten-free products aren’t gluten-free or “as gluten-free” because the package doesn’t tell us?

My question today goes beyond the question of ingredients when I ask – When do you consider a product gluten-free? Are you a gluten-free label snob? I find myself questioning this of myself.

The gluten-free declaration!

Since the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 went into effect, more companies have begun voluntarily labeling their products gluten-free. But what is gluten free to each company? The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a standard right now regarding the amount of gluten that can be in food and still be considered gluten-free. Companies could be testing below 20 ppm which is the Codex Standard in Europe, or not be testing their foods at all. The fact is, in many cases we just don’t know.

Last April, I asked General Mills about how they “ensure the gluten-freeness” of their gluten-free Chex products. The company responded, “The FDA proposed regulation states that gluten-free products contain less than 20 ppm gluten. General Mills products with a gluten-free claim comply with this proposed regulation.” To comply with this, I would assume a company would need to do testing on the food, but this statement made no comment about testing.

Believe me– making the gluten-free claim and not policing it, can really hurt a company.  Remember Wellshire Farms?  The specialty food company claimed its Chicken Nuggets and some other foods were gluten-free.  Turns out -the products tested by the Chicago Tribune actually had larger than expected parts per million of gluten in them. Wellshire Farms has told me it has since fixed the problem.

Quietly gluten-free

Some companies don’t blast their gluten-free message across their packaging, but their products are still gluten-free. These are the companies we’ve all diligently called and you give them the “lot number” and they tell you whether it’s safe or not.

Emma has eaten Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles for years. Neither Fruity nor Cocoa Pebbles have any public declaration stating that they’re gluten-free but I let her eat them.  How are these products different from Kix which recently removed oats from it’s ingredients — basically making it gluten-free.  Triumph Dining discussed the fact on its blog last June:

“…the company has decided not to specifically label Kix as gluten-free nor claim it to be so, as cross-contamination is still a possibility.” – Triumph Dining’s The Essential Gluten-Free Blog

Is there a difference in the products?   If I gave the Pebbles a chance why shouldn’t Emma try Kix?

Is it a lazy issue, a trust issue or something else?

I find myself in this conundrum. Am I fickle? — Pebbles are okay, but I don’t dare try Kix.  Am I just lazy – using the gluten-free label (that’s not regulated by the government) as a crutch and just block out all other possibilities? Or have I developed a level of trust with these companies and their gluten-free claims, and maybe I’m beginning to lose my trust the others simply because they don’t label?

Clearly it’s a complicated issue and one that’s filled with many strong opinions. I know many celiacs wouldn’t go near the “Pebbles” cereals for fear of shared equipment or not knowing what is going on behind the scenes.

Is it just me?  What do you think?

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