Health Matters

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Gluten Freedom


Shannon Townsend spent years looking for safe food to eat after her diagnosis of Celiac Disease. She had to investigate each item to make sure there was no wheat, barley, or rye contaminating her meals.

"I read a lot of labels, contacted a lot of companies, and asked them about their processing, and where they got stuff.

"Prior to last year, gluten-free was what I call the wild, wild west when it comes to claims on packages.

Dietician and gluten-free expert Rachel Begun says for many gluten-free products on store shelves, there's no guarantees. They're free of wheat contamination. But that's about to change.

"Now, we're very lucky that the FDA gluten-free labeling ruling has passed, which goes into effect in August of this year. That will truly mean that there is very, very low gluten to the point where it's safe for the majority of people who have Celiac Disease.

The new federal regulation requires that any product labeled "gluten-free" have less than 20 parts-per-million of wheat contamination. That's a tiny amount. 1/500 of the amount in any package.

"We really weren't in the position to be labeling anything at all 'gluten-free'."

Cathy Cleary co-owns West End Bakery in Asheville. The bakery makes gluten-free brownies less than 15 feet away from the wheat bread makers.

"The way we have worked around this, is to label things gluten-free, with the disclaimer that everything is made in a facility that is not gluten-free."

The bakery's cashiers also verbally warn people about the possibility of contamination when customers buy gluten-free items. Cleary says many of her customers are just cutting back on wheat consumption and don't have searious reactions to it.

"We are making that disclaimer with the assumption that people are education themselves about what their bodies can handle."

I purchased a variety of products labeled "gluten-free", including loaves of bread, cookies, a packaged brownie, banana nut bread, and crackers. Some have labels from companies that certify the products are tested, but AG Extension Dietician Cathy Hohenstein says to be safe, food producers list their address or contact information on the package so consumers can contact them about contamination concerns.

"That is appropriate if you have a question about any product, whether it's gluten-free or others to contact that company."

Gluten Freedom

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