Label reading: Jan ’09

Happy New Year!

One of the most common questions I hear as a dietitian from people with Celiac Disease or allergies is about the “made in a factory containing wheat” or “made on lines shared with wheat” disclaimer statements on packaged goods.  The confusion is completely understandable, because at this point, those statements are not regulated or defined by the FDA.  These are also voluntary statements.  If you don’t see them, there are no assurances that a factory does not also produce products with wheat.

Even worse, the Chicago Tribune did two great articles in November on allergy labeling.  They looked at products from Wellshire Farms specifically labeled gluten free, and did independent testing.  Different products came back with levels ranging from 116 ppm to 2,200 ppm (current research suggests that 20 ppm may be the maximum safe limit).  Unfortunately, this can happen because even the term “gluten free” is not yet regulated, although the FDA has proposed a standard for products labeled gluten free.

So where does that leave us? First, as a group,  the Celiac and allergy community has a lot of influence, through our voices and collective buying power. The FDA has a comment period specifically on these statements.  More information is here and comments are welcome through January 14th, 2009.

It is possible to find companies that use testing methods or have dedicated wheat free facilities, and organizations such as the Gluten Intolerance Group have certification programs. Celiac Sprue Association also has a list of companies with safe products.   Some places, like Allergy Grocer, give a lot of information about how each product is manufactured.

Remember, you can always call companies and ask questions about how products are manufactured, and decide how comfortable you feel with the answers you receive. Experts suggest that with good manufacturing practices, many products are safe even if they are manufactured on shared lines.  Also, many people eating conventionally manufactured foods have healed intestines and normalized blood levels, which is really the overall goal.  If you still have discomfort or elevated blood levels, your doctor may well recommend that you cut out all products that are made on shared lines until your intestines heal.

The moral of the story is that there isn’t a clear cut answer based on current labels as to what may or may not contain cross contamination.  Using common sense is always a good idea–there’s likely more risk when buying flour and baked products.  It’s also good to keep all of it in perspective.  Any time you eat at a restaurant, there is a considerable risk of cross contamination as well and potentially fewer precautions taken than in most factories.

Upcoming classes

Gluten Free and Healthy

Feb 7th, 2009 11:00-1:00

For more information or to register, please see

*Different GF whole grains and flours and how to use them
*Many GF ways to get fiber
*Easy ways to make meals and baked goods healthier
*And much more!

This class is 2 hours, and we will be making a tasty quinoa dish.
Location: 3345 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA

Each class is $25 per person, or bring a friend for 2 people for $40. There will be tasty goodies and prizes!

Gluten free Healthy Recipe Contest:

Details on the ’09 contest coming soon!

Harris Whole Health offers individual sessions, family sessions and group classes to help people eat healthier and feel better! Whether you are dealing with Celiac Disease, food allergies, picky eaters, children on the Autistic spectrum, chronic illness, or if you just want to feel and look better, Cheryl can help you achieve your goals. For an appointment with Cheryl Harris, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, please click here or call 571-271-8742.