Can a product truly be gluten- free if it is made in a factory that also produces wheat products, etc?
This is an interesting question and to a certain degree the answer will always include some opinion. Food companies that make their gluten- free products in dedicated plants where no gluten containing products are made sometimes argue that this is the only way to guarantee that a food is gluten free. Companies that use dedicated equipment in plants where products that contain gluten are also made maintain they can produce gluten- free products. A dedicated machine would only be used for gluten- free foods so the possibility of cross-contamination from glutencontaining foods on the same line would not be an issue. Companies that share equipment between gluten- free and glutencontaining products say good manu - facturing practices, including thorough cleaning of equipment between runs, results in products that are gluten free. To some extent it is up to you to decide what production system makes you most comfortable. But there are a few other things to consider. For example, a company that uses a dedicated plant might not verify that all of its ingredients are gluten free. Meanwhile, a company that uses only dedicated equipment might verify that its ingredients are gluten free. Which product would be safer? It’s hard to know the answer. You can look at results of tests for gluten to determine if a product is acceptable on your gluten- free diet. If a company tests regularly using tests that are accepted by experts you can feel pretty comfortable with their gluten- free claim. Another plus would be the use of outside laboratories to verify the results. In fact, this is how the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed definition of gluten free on a label calls for verification of the gluten- free status of a food. If tests show a food contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, it can be labeled gluten free under the proposed law. Now testing is voluntary, but once the proposal becomes law any food labeled gluten free will have to be tested. Until that happens, getting information on testing can be tricky. Some companies put testing details on their labels. Others post it on their websites. The only way to get testing information from some companies is to call them. It might also be unclear what kind of tests are being used, but most specialty gluten- free companies are helpful and want you to know about the steps they take to make sure their products are safe. More mainstream companies are also using gluten- free labels and many of them are also testing their glutenfree food. The bottom line is that you have to decide what food processing factors are important to you when you purchase gluten- free items. The FDA’s proposed rules for use of the gluten free label do not require a company to use dedicated facilities or machinery so this will not change even when the rules are finalized. But the addition of a standard that all companies will have to meet should make gluten- free consumers feel more confident about the products they purchase.