Certainly I am not the only one who has noticed the double-defination of "gluten free" that seems to be emerging.
With the lack of any guidance from the government, and the explosion in people eating gluten free, food manufacturers and restaurants are coming up with their own definitions of gluten free.
This is new terriotory for a lot of us, but it seems that gluten free is being defined in two different ways - one standard is the gluten cannot exceed 20 ppm that is considered by most to be safe for celiacs, and the other more elusive standard is something more than 20 ppm that some seem to consider safe for those who are gluten free but not celiac.
Just recently, Italianissimo in Woodinville (which was one of my favorite restaurants) added a notice on their gluten free menu that the food may not be safe for celiacs. The notice on their gluten free menu states:
Items on this menu are not all 100% Gluten-Free. Everything listed here is suitable for a gluten-intolerant individual. Many dishes are entirely Gluten-Free, but please inquire first. As our entire kitchen is “scratch,” note that we can cater to those with Celiac Disease, but please notify your server first. Not all items listed here are available for individuals with Celiac Disease.
When I asked them about it, they stated right out that more people eat gluten free than are celiacs and apparently those who eat gluten free because of allergies and other intolerances are not worried about cross-contamination and the stringent 20 ppm standard. This is what they posted on their Facebook page:
We've updated our Gluten Free menu online to contain a disclaimer about Celiac Disease. Some of our Gluten Free items are perfect for Gluten Intolerant individuals (1 in 7 Americans), but people with Celiac Disease (1 in 200 Americans) should !ALWAYS! let us know of their dietary needs.
This is not to say you can't eat their, but if you are a Celiac you can't eat everything on their gluten free menu and you need to let them know that you are a celaic.
Then, yesterday, I decided to take a look at the Frito Lay page. Over five years ago when we first went gluten free, I was happy to see that Frito Lay provided a rather extensive list of products they said were gluten free. That page is now down, but I believe it included a disclaimer for cross-contamination but we honestly went ahead and ate Cheetos figuring the risk was minimal. (no - we don't eat Cheetos everyday - this was a once or twice a year treat mostly when other non-gluten kids were around.)
Frito-Lay has validated through analytical testing that the following products contain less than 20 ppm of gluten.
Please note: The information provided pertains only to products made and distributed in the U.S. Products sold in other countries under similar brands may be made using slightly different recipes and ingredients to accommodate local needs and preferences.
Last updated February 21, 2011
BAKED! LAY'S® Original Potato Crisps
BAKED! RUFFLES® Original Potato Crisps
BAKED! TOSTITOS® SCOOPS!® Tortilla Chips
FRITOS® Lightly Salted Corn Chips
FRITOS® Original Corn Chips
FRITOS® SCOOPS!® Corn Chips
LAY'S® Classic Potato Chips
LAY'S® Deli Style Potato Chips
LAY'S® Lightly Salted Potato Chips
LAY'S® Natural Sea Salt Flavored Thick Cut Potato Chips
LAY'S® STAX® Cheddar Flavored Potato Crisps
LAY'S® STAX® Mesquite Barbecue Flavored Potato Crisps
LAY'S® STAX® Original Potato Crisps
LAY'S® STAX® Salt & Vinegar Flavored Potato Crisps
LAY'S® STAX® Sour Cream & Onion Flavored Potato Crisps
LAY'S® Wavy Original Potato Chips
RUFFLES® Natural Reduced Fat Sea Salted Potato Chips
RUFFLES® Original Potato Chips
RUFFLES® Reduced Fat Original Potato Chips
TOSTITOS® SCOOPS!® Tortilla Chips
Frito Lay then provides a longer list of products which do not contain gluten ingredients but may not meet the less than 20 ppm standard:
The Frito-Lay products listed below do not contain wheat, rye, barley or oat ingredients (we include oats in this list as a precaution as oats are often commingled with gluten-containing grains).
Please note however, some of the products listed below may be manufactured on the same lines as products that contain gluten.
Although our lines are washed between batches, Frito-Lay has not tested these products for gluten content and the ingredients in these products may have come into contact with gluten-containing products prior to manufacturing. This list includes a lot of the items we have eaten over the past few years, including Cheetos.
Click on this link to the Frito Lay page to see the full list.
Are you confused yet?
Believe me I am so happy and thankful that Frito Lay has taken the initiative to test their products and provide this information. At the same time, I am kicking myself for letting my gluten free kid eat Cheetos for the last five years!
The bottom line - all this new awareness about gluten free can be a double-edged sword! I don't even know where the idea that gluten intolerant people can eat food that contains more than 20 ppm of gluten came from (other than restaurants and food manufactures who are going after a market and can't meet the more stringent standard).
This reiterates that if you are eating something that is a processed food, you cannot just read the label and think the food is safe just because it does not have any gluten ingredients. You have to call the manufacturer, send them an email or check out their website. Unfortunately, even if they say it is "gluten free" you need to ask them how they define gluten free, do they test for levels of gluten, or if there is a chance of cross-contamination?
Similarly, if you are eating at a restaurant and I guess even if you are ordering off the gluten free menu, you need to let them know that you are Celiac and that you can tolerate absolutely no cross-contamination.