Gluten free food can contain barley and wheat

Barley or wheat listed in the ingredients of your “gluten free” food or drink?

Alarmed? Confused? ANGRY?

It’s probably OK.

Barley and wheat (and rye and oats) are legally defined as gluten-containing cereals: as a group, one of the 14 declarable allergens, which must appear in ingredients when present in foods (with very few exceptions).

Coeliacs are told they need to avoid gluten-containing cereals.

They do … sort of.

To be more precise, they need to avoid the gluten in gluten-containing cereals.

Other bits of gluten-containing cereals are, in theory, safe.

The starch, for instance. (Such as the deglutenised wheat starch used in some prescription breads.)

Broken down gluten can be safe, if broken down sufficiently, such as by an enzyme used in brewing a beer ….

Daura Barley beer. GF symbol. OK.

And a tiny quantity of residual gluten can be safe, if the product contains under 20 parts per million gluten. Such as the last remnants of gluten they can’t quite filter out of a beer, or the minuscule leftover that will be in the barley malt flavouring used in pickles or stocks …

Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pot. BARLEY malt extract. GF. OK.

These other or leftover bits of gluten-containing cereals still need to be labelled and highlighted, though.

When you see barley or wheat on a product labelled gluten free, it’ll probably be one of these scenarios above.

It is probably OK.

Caveats

1/ This applies to the EU, not North America, not Australia.

2/ Some react to even minute amounts of gluten – or think they do. This may be the case – some coeliacs are highly sensitive – or they could be reacting to other non-gluten proteins in the grains, or to something else. Whatever – if you feel this is you, stay away.

3/ If you have barley allergy or wheat allergy – stay away. Note that ‘gluten free’ will not automatically be safe for you, if you do.

Remember!

If you’re new to coeliac disease, this may take time to get your head around; it’s confusing at first.

If you’re not new to coeliac disease, are an advocate or other visible member of the coeliac community, then … You have a duty to take this on board, in my humble.

Also remember!

Brands who do this are not breaking the law. In fact, they’re labelling correctly and responsibly. They do not deserve to be criticised and smeared on social media – something I see far too often. They are producing foods suitable for those on restricted diets. This comes with added difficulty and pressure – the stress of knowing that errors could make customers ill. Be nice. Being not-nice won’t encourage them to make more ‘free from’ products, will it?

In other words ….

Down.

With.

This.

Sort.

Of thing.

Please, thanks and bye.

6 Comments

  1. Sian

    Thank you for writing such a clear and concise post on this topic. I’ve also seen many tweets on this – particularly about gluten free beer – and I find reading the tweets frustrating. It’s great that social media allows us to communicate with / follow fellow gluten free people around the world but for some coeliacs (especially the newly diagnosed) it must be confusing to see companies being berated on twitter for (correctly) selling a product as gluten free when the person (incorrectly) believes it’s not as they see ”wheat’ or ‘barley’ listed within the ingredient’s list. We’re lucky in the UK/EU to have clear allergy labelling rules and 20ppm limit.

    Reply
    1. Alex G (Post author)

      Berating – exactly the right word. It really is confusing, and while the different laws in North America and Australia have clearly only added to the confusion in some cases, I think in others it would help to really take on board fact that allergy labelling laws are not there just for coeliacs, but for those with all other allergies and intolerances too.

      Reply
  2. Anna Jacobs

    I got caught twice this year by products I’d eaten for years with no ill effects changing their ingredients and not signalling this. This gives me atrial flutter and can be dangerous. I had to resort to emergency pills. Since then I read the ingredients every time. It’s a pain, I can tell you, but better safe than sorry.

    Let’s face it, manufacturers may comply with rules to help nuisances like me, but few of them understand just how crucial this can be, even when it’s not life threatening.

    Reply
    1. Alex G (Post author)

      That’s grim. I wish more brands and manufacturers would flag – very prominently – when they change ingredients. All that’s needed is something like “New Recipe” in conspicuous colouring and lettering on front of pack, and that would be a very helpful alert to the food-sensitive community. M&S used to be good about doing this – perhaps still are.

      Reply
  3. Gavin Ayling

    In terms of the debate about gluten free alcoholic drinks where there is the possibility for hydrolyzed gluten, there is debate about the safety of testing for gluten using standard tests. That said, I am extraordinarily sensitive with a nice clear symptom if I’m glutened and I have no trouble with Daura, for example. More info here: https://www.celiac.com/articles/23350/1/Common-Misunderstandings-of-Gluten-Free-Alcoholic-Beverages/Page1.html

    Reply
    1. Alex G (Post author)

      There is debate about the tests, and I hope to examine it more closely in the future.

      Reply

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