Australian study finds gluten in some ‘gluten-free’ manufactured food

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New Australian research has found that some companies manufacturing gluten-free foods might need to test their products more frequently, after some samples were found to contain gluten.

Journal/conference: MJA

Organisation/s: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI)

Funder: The study was supported by Coeliac Australia and the Victorian and Australian Governments.

Media Release

From: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI)

At a glance

  • An Australian study has found gluten in just under three per cent of 256 ‘gluten-free’ manufactured foods tested.
  • Findings show better processes could be put in place in the interests of patients who require a gluten-free diet.
  • Recommendations have been made to manufacturers for improved testing and regulation in factories.

While the majority of gluten-free foods in Australia have no detectable gluten, the research shows better processes could be put in place in the interests of patients who are trying their best to adhere to a strictly gluten-free diet.

The new study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, was conducted by a team led by Dr Jason Tye-Din, head of coeliac research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and gastroenterology consultant at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

The study tested 256 of commonly purchased manufactured foods labelled as ‘gluten-free’ at the National Measurement Institute in Melbourne. If gluten was detected and confirmed with a follow up test, then a fresh sample was purchased and analysed to assess if the contamination was isolated or affecting multiple batches. The findings revealed that one in 40 foods labelled as ‘gluten-free’ did not comply with the national standard of ‘no detectable gluten’.

Gluten-free an important treatment

Dr Tye-Din said the results were important for coeliac patients whose health depended on a strict gluten-free diet.

“Patients with coeliac disease require a strict gluten-free diet for their treatment and should be able to trust that food labelled as ‘gluten-free’ is what it says it is.

“While it was pleasing to see that the majority of samples had no detectable gluten, the fact that gluten was detected in some samples tells us better processes could be put in place in the interests of people who require a gluten-free diet.

“For instance, the study found a ‘gluten-free’ pasta which contained more than 3 mg of gluten in a standard single serve. This is a minimal amount but could have a harmful impact on patients with coeliac disease if consumed frequently,” Dr Tye-Din said.

Seven samples from six manufacturers contained gluten at levels of up to 49 ppm when, according to the national food standard, they should not have any detectable gluten. Notably, five out of the seven contaminated foods still contained gluten in a different batch, suggesting the issue was more than an isolated event.

Recommendations for improved regulation

Dr Tye-Din said the researchers had notified all the manufacturers of products containing detectable gluten and made recommendations.

“More frequent testing will improve detection and allow companies to take steps to identify and address the underlying cause. Ultimately, this will reduce the risk of gluten exposure to people with coeliac disease.

“In addition, many of the items that failed the test were produced in dedicated gluten-free factories, so gluten contamination of externally sourced ingredients may be a factor and should be carefully examined,” Dr Tye-Din said.

The study follows on from an earlier investigation that revealed one in 11 samples of ‘gluten-free’ foods sold at Melbourne restaurants and cafes were contaminated with gluten. The testing was conducted at 127 food businesses across the municipality.

The study was supported by Coeliac Australia and the Victorian and Australian Governments.

Attachments:

  • Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
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