Biodegradable Utensils

Do the new biodegradable utensils ever contain gluten? I thought they were made of cornstarch, but saw a sign at our local health food store saying they are made of corn and wheat. Since they are becoming quite common and sometimes start to melt in hot meals, I thought I’d better double check.

All of the biodegradable companies we looked into or contacted sell utensils made from corn or potato starch. Kyle Jodice of Let’s Go Green said the company’s utensils are made from corn and potato and would pose no threat to gluten- free consumers. Knives, forks and spoons sold by Vegware US are also made from these gluten-free starches, according to company representative Andy McKnight. McKnight also noted that the starch used in the utensils would not be ingested by someone using them. Vegware uses a thermoplastic resin, called Plastarch or PSM, that can withstand heat over 200 degrees Fahrenheit so they don’t melt in hot foods. Another company makes utensils it calls SpudWare™ from potato starch. But I did find cups made with wheat starch. Vegware’s cold drink cups are made from polylactic acid, a bioplastic that is made from corn and other starch, including wheat. McKnight said the bioplastic is chemically bonded and does not break down to its original components. The company’s hot cups use a bioplastic made only from corn. Biodegradable plates and bowls are usually made from sugar cane fiber, also called bagasse. Representatives of the biodegradable industry say the use of wheat starch in products has not drawn much attention. Steven Nojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, said studies show that the products are broken down by microbes that use it for food and that nothing in the process hurts the environment. Tests have also shown that people drinking from biodegradable and compostable cups do not notice any difference in taste. But Nojo said he did not know anything specifically about allergies or gluten or whether they would realistically pose any risk. “The best thing to do is to be as vigilant as possible,” he said. “If you know the utensils have wheat, ask for a stainless steel fork or spoon.” Although wheat is not used in utensils very often, it is difficult to tell when it is because they rarely have ingredient labels. I could not find any studies on the actual amount of gluten in the products or the likelihood that any would be ingested. Use of biodegradable utensils has been growing, particularly on college campuses going green. From a practical standpoint, the danger from biodegradable utensils seems minimal since most are made from gluten- free starch and it’s unlikely you would consume any significant amount even from those made with wheat starch. But we are continuing to look into this question and will update you as we find out more.

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