We all do our best at reading labels to make sure the food we eat is gluten free. But if you’re looking for another resource to help, GlutenFreeWatchdog.org is it. I like to equate Gluten Free Watchdog to a gluten free version of Consumer Reports. It does the detailed investigating for you by testing products and letting you know whether they really are gluten free.
In September, I met owner and founder Tricia Thompson, MS, RD in person and she was really great to chat with. Ever since then, I wanted to talk to her about her work at Gluten Free Watchdog which launched in April of 2011. We finally got the chance this week.
Testing for Gluten in Gluten Free Products
In a nutshell, “Gluten Free Watchdog is primarily a food testing site,” Thompson explained. We test foods that are labeled gluten free for gluten contamination. In July of this year, we also started testing foods that appear to be free of gluten-based ingredients [but not labeled gluten free].” Then, when the results come in, they are reported to us.
In more detail, they purchase products, which are shipped –unopened– to Bia Diagnostics, a food-testing facility in Burlington Vermont. They use the R5 ELISA test to find out the amount of gluten contamination. Click here to get more specifics on the procedure and testing. Two sample reports on the website tested Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix and Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour. You can see both products tested below 5 ppm and what the reports look like.
Doing all of the research and investigation is a lot of work. So why does Thompson do it? “It is very important that the gluten free community has access to top-of-the-line food testing data. Before this site was started, we really did not know how foods labeled gluten-free would test.”
And the greater public knows even a more now too. Just this week we learned Thompson and Thomas Grace of Bia Diagnostics published research in the October 2013 issue of Practical Gastroenterology which summarized 2 years of testing of gluten free products.
What it found was that 97.5% of the extractions (samples) tested were below 20 ppm of gluten. Click here to read the article on this research. When I asked her about what has been the most surprising she said, “I am surprised by the test results as a whole. When testing started, I expected to see more results in the range of 5-<20 parts per million of gluten.” But that is not the case. Thompson says manufacturers are doing gluten free correctly with “most products testing below 5 parts per million.”
“I have been surprised and disappointed by some of the results we are seeing with spices,” Thompson said. Which I thought was surprising. Pure spices should be fine right? Especially if they are labeled gluten free right? Well she had one spice that tested over 20 ppm.
If a product goes over 20 ppm, the manufacturer is contacted with the results and then the product is retested one year later. She says in two years, all but one tested below 20 ppm during the retest. Gluten Free Watchdog ultimately filed a complaint with the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator regarding the one product that kept testing over 20 ppm.
Gluten Free Watchdog is a subscription service. $4.99 monthly fee gets you two food testing reports each week with the exact test results that are found in the lab. Plus you have access to test results from the last two years. You can subscribe any time by clicking here.
Full disclosure I have a subscription to Gluten Free Watchdog which I am paying for. I think it is important to not only have good knowledge of what is going on with our food, when a gluten free diet is so important to our health. But I also want to support this unique testing. Let’s be honest, if GFW doesn’t do it, who will?