Is it ok to eat a product does not state gluten free and the ingredients do not contain gluten?
In general, I recommend to only consume products that are labeled gluten-free. This does not apply to things like fresh produce, fresh seafood and poultry. all processed foods and naturally gluten-free grains and legumes need to be labeled. If they are labeled gluten-free they have to adhere to the FDA threshold of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, which is considered safe for people with celiac disease.
A study found that about 20% of foods with no gluten ingredients but not labeled gluten-free contained more than 20 ppm gluten, and 10.2% contained more than 100 ppm of gluten. In contrast only 1.1% of foods labeled gluten-free contained over 20 ppm gluten, so it is definitely a lot safer to consume foods that are labeled gluten-free.
Which foods can be labeled gluten-free?
- Foods that are naturally GF
- Foods that contain gluten grains i.e. wheat starch, but have had the gluten removed to below 20 ppm.
- Foods that do not contain more than 20 ppm of gluten
*AND any unavoidable gluten in the food due to cross-contact or migration of gluten from packaging material must be less than 20 ppm gluten.
Gluten-free certification is different from gluten-free labeling and is done by an independent third-party organization. They have to follow the same or stricter requirements than the FDA. They vary in requirements, but most do not require testing of every batch. There are several different certifiers available on the market.
In general, you should be safe eating products labeled gluten-free.
One possible exception to this rule are oats. Many sources of oats, even those labeled gluten-free, have had cross-contact with gluten. However, many manufacturers now use mechanically or optically sorted oats to render them gluten-free. Unfortunately, there is a much higher chance that some batches may end up with high levels of gluten with this method.
Do I have to worry about natural flavorings? Do they contain gluten?
If a food is labeled gluten-free you do not have to worry about natural flavorings, however if the food is not labeled gluten-free then you need to investigate further. The best way is to call the manufacturer directly and ask about natural flavorings. If they contain wheat they have to be disclosed on the label, however if they contain malt/barley or rye it does not have to be disclosed on the label, therefore it is important to contact the manufacturer and ask.