Reading Labels Part 3

In part 1, Is It Gluten Free?  Reading Labels, I talked about what to look for on a label.  In part 2, I discussed “contains” statements and the process of reading a label.

Today I would like to address the issue of cross contamination and how that might show up on a label in the United States.

dad-in-grocery-store 1.  Cross Contamination is a Real Issue

Many people who have problems with gluten, whether because of celiac disease or something else, react to very small amounts of gluten.  Even though the ingredients used in a food are gluten free, that does not mean that the product is free of gluten.  Cross contamination can cause a food to have unsafe levels of gluten.

Cross contamination can result from individual ingredients being contaminated, often before they get to the manufacturer of the food product.  Sometimes companies will not say that their product is gluten free because they cannot verify that the ingredients coming from outside suppliers are gluten free.

Cross contamination can result from the processing of the food, including it’s various stages.

2.  Label Warning Statements

Manufacturers are not required to put statements on labels regarding cross contamination.  Many companies do so voluntarily, usually with regard to the top eight allergens.  However, there is no standard for what those statements mean.

The two most common types of statements are something like, “manufactured in a facility that processes….” or “manufactured on equipment that processes….”

You might think that something processed on the same equipment as wheat is likely to have more cross contamination than something processed in the same facility as products containing wheat.  That’s not necessarily true.

Being processed in the same facility as wheat could mean that it is also processed on the same equipment.  Remember, there are no regulations.

In addition, some products may be  more likely to cause cross contamination than others.  A facility that has flour (or other fine, dry ingredient) flying around is likely to have a high degree of contamination, even if processed on separate equipment.  Wetter products may keep the gluten more contained and make it easier to clean equipment.   Therefore, the risk of contamination could depend on the type of gluten containing products that are being processed.  This, however, is purely my own speculation.

You can watch this Kinnikinnick video on the importance of dedicated gluten-free facilities and equipment to see just how difficult it is to clean equipment.

3.  How I Use Warning Statements

If a product states that it is processed in the same facility or on the same equipment as products containing wheat, I don’t buy it, unless it has been certified and tested to less than 10 parts per million.

If a warning statement does not include wheat, I generally assume that it was not produced with wheat containing products.  It is possible that wheat was simply not listed, but since they are going to the trouble to put the warning statement on the label, I figure they would likely include wheat if it was there.  That’s my thinking, but you have to make your own decision on that.

An example would be nuts.  Many nuts (particularly store brands) have warning statements that include wheat.  Some have warning statements that include peanuts and tree nuts, but not wheat.  I go with the one that has a statement but doesn’t include wheat.

lady-on-phone 4.  Contact the Manufacturer

When in doubt, call.  Warning statements can mean different things and so can no warning statement at all.  There is usually a phone number on the package, and companies are now used to dealing with questions about gluten.

5.  The Importance of Gluten-Free Labeling

This whole series on labeling underscores the importance of having gluten-free labeling regulations.

Jules of Jules Gluten Free and John Forberger founded to draw attention to the FDA’s inaction in finalizing standards for gluten-free labeling.  You can help support their efforts by signing the petition and/or donating.

Jules commented on part 2 of this series.  Her entire comment is worth reading, and in her comment she states,

“SO, the real problem we face reading labels is that there is no provision for testing amounts of gluten to determine if “gluten-free” can be put on the label. Thus, we have a situation where a manufacturer looks at its product, says to himself, “I didn’t put any gluten into the product as an ingredient, so I’m going to label it Gluten Free,” when he has no idea if it’s been contaminated. Consumers then see the “GF” designation and stop reading. Since contamination has the potential to render a product quite full of gluten, consumers are left in the dark about true food product safety – the real risk coming from with cross-contamination, not because ingredients are included on a label.”

While reading labels is much easier than it was years ago, we still have a ways to go.  Remember to be diligent and always read labels!

This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.


  1. says

    Thanks for a short, orderly summary of the complicated issues of reading labels for gluten-free eating. Having a defined standard from the FDA would help a lot with my shopping experience! Not to mention that an FDA standard would help my family members who occasionally want to buy something for me, but haven’t spent years learning the intricacies of reading labels to discern if gluten included.

  2. says

    Thanks for this! My doctor just recently suggested I go gluten-free for some autoimmune and fatigue issues, and I had no idea where to start! This gives me a great idea of what to look for (and avoid!).

  3. Penny says

    Thanks for this. I find reading the labels so confusing. I just don’t buy it. But soy is an issue is it not. Manufactured in the USA is wheat free but not from other countries. So how can you tell where the soy sauce is made. Thx

    • says

      Soybeans are gluten free, but soy can be combined with gluten containing ingredients. That’s the case with soy sauce. It’s not the soy that’s a problem, it’s wheat in the soy sauce. You can tell if it’s gf by reading the label. At the health food store you can find wheat free tamari, which is the same as soy sauce.

  4. Nicole says

    I am always very confused regarding the ingredient whey. I’ve read that it is gluten free and, I have also read that whey isn’t GF… Any suggestions??

      • Nicole says

        Right, I am aware of that… But, for example, I just realized the ice cream I had been eating from Fresh Market isn’t gluten free because of the whey. It can be very confusing. I guess it all goes back to not purchasing anything unless marked GF.

        • says

          Pure whey is gluten free. If it’s a whey protein that contains peptide bound glutamine derived from wheat protein, then the label must state wheat and it is not gluten free. That’s very unusual in ice cream, but if you see whey and no mention of wheat, then it is safe.

  5. Tara says

    Thank you for low-down nitty gritty on the confusing world of GF labeling!! With my son being recently diagnosed, this is a great help in clearing up the obscure questions such as malt.

  6. Kylee says

    Thank you so much for this wonderfully informative 3-part series. I have been terrible at understanding the whole gluten-free labelling, and this has helped me understand why gluten-free products still make me feel quite unwell. I had thought I was highly sensitive, and it seems I am. I didn’t realise until recently how little gluten is needed to actually make someone with a very high sensitivity feel very unwell. Made notes for my next grocery trip. Thanks from Australia.

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