To Eat or Not To Eat- may contains and legally gluten free products with gluten. 

This article is aimed at the UK market, where the legal threshold for gluten within a product labelled as Gluten Free is currently 20 parts per million (ppm) other countries have different thresholds. 

Three questions that are guaranteed to cause a healthy and sometimes unhealthy debate on any of the coeliac Facebook groups are

  1. Can I eat this it says gluten free but lists barley/ gluten in the ingredients?
  2. Can I eat vinegar?
  3. Can I eat this it says may contain gluten?

This post aims to answer all of them to the best of my ability.

Can I eat this it say gluten free but list barley/gluten in the ingredients?

It is possible for a product to be labelled as gluten free and still contain gluten if the level of gluten is less than 20 parts per million, which is the legal threshold. These products are considered safe to eat by coeliacs however some coeliacs report they react to gluten which is below the legal limit. Due to this other countries have lower legal thresholds. Unfortunately they is no way to know where your limit is without testing it, although I recommend you wait until your gut is fully healed first. Your limits may be lower on a damaged gut than on a healed one. 

Can I eat vinegar?

Vinegar including barley malt vinegar is considered safe to eat in the UK because the distilled process reduces the amount of gluten present in the barley to less than 20 parts per million which is considered the safe threshold for coelaics to eat in the UK.

However two points to remember are

  1. Some coeliacs report their react to gluten less than the legal limit of 20 parts per million (as explained above).
  2. If a product contains barley malt vinegar there is no incentive for the manufacturer to label the product with a may contain gluten warning if the product is made in factory that also handles other types of gluten. (Which leads me nicely to my final point)

May Contains

What does may contain gluten actually mean? 

A may contain gluten normally means that the place the product is made or grown also handles or makes products that contain gluten. Unfortunately they is no way of knowing unless you actually work at the place what the risk actually is. After all I do occasionally handle gluten in my kitchen but I’m super careful to avoid cross contamination.

In the UK there is no legal requirement to list if a product may contain any of the allergens, gluten included. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore or overlook a warning but it does mean that you could be eating a product that is made in a place full of flour clouds without knowing it. You need it carry out a risk assessment and then make your decision.

When doing a risk assessment you should consider the following 

  • Is the product marked gluten free – if it is then even with the may contain the level of gluten must be below the legal limit which is 20 parts per million. 
  • Is the product listed as suitable in the coeliac uk food directory- if it is then they have carried out the full risk assessment on your behalf and concluded it’s low risk.
  • Is the product listed as unsuitable in the coeliac uk food directory -if it is then they have carried out a full risk assessment on your behalf and concluded it’s too high risk to eat.
  • Ask the manufacturer- they will be able to provide more information about the manufacturing process. This is also useful if the product didn’t contain the warning last time you purchased it. You can ask has the manufacturing process changed? If not and you have been eating this product without ill side effects for a long period of time then it’s unlikely to cause you problems now if they have amended the label only. 
  • Ask fellow coeliacs on a Facebook group – it may be that someone has already looked in to the above points for you. Be prepared for the helpful and unhelpful comments that may follow and remember everyone reacts differently, you will learn your own level of tolerance by trial and error. 

May contains that I eat!

  • Bisto best gravy (listed as safe in the coeliac uk food directory and the manufacturer has explained that’s is low risk, the warning appeared in 2015 but the way the product was made did not change)
  • Angel delight (listed as safe in the coeliac uk food directory)

I recommend that you join coeliac uk so that you have access to the food directory, you can join here.


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