Are Oats Gluten Free? This is a hot topic in the gluten free community. Technically, an oat does not contain gluten; however, due to the way they are farmed and processed oats consistently test high for gluten.
Why do oats test high for gluten?
It really comes down to farming practices. In most cases, farmers use the same equipment to harvest and transport all of their crops. It’s an efficient practice for them, but in doing so cross contamination is high. Recent studies show that for every 15,000 pieces of oats in an average batch, you get 100 pieces of wheat and 100 pieces of barley. This is significantly higher than the FDA’s 20 parts per million standard.
How safe are gluten free oats?
Well, the short answer to that question is it depends. Are your gluten free oats labeled gluten free, are they gluten free certified, are they grown under the purity protocol? Let’s discuss the difference.
If you purchase oats that are grown under the purity protocol, you are absolutely safe because they are grown on farms where there is nothing but oats, and the fields are dedicated to gluten free oat farming. Therefore, there is no risk of cross contamination. Most grocery stores do not carry purity protocol oats though, so they can be difficult to find. Here is a resource from Gluten Free Watch Dog that lists purity protocol oat manufacturers, though you should always double check with the manufacturer prior to purchasing.
Oats that are not grown under the purity protocol go through an optical or mechanical removal process before being labeled gluten free. While this process should remove the gluten in theory, it’s not perfect and mistakes happen. The oats are tested in large batches, which means that even if they are removed to the gluten free FDA standard, there’s no way of knowing which boxes will have the glutened oats. Some people might get the gluten containing oats, and others might be safe. It’s not until many people start reporting illness that the general public tends to get wind of cross contamination issues.
If you purchase gluten free oats that are not purity protocol and have gone through mechanical removal, be sure to look for the gluten free certified symbol, as these brands submit to regular testing and auditing by third party certification organizations, giving you an additional layer of protection. Packages without the certification do not necessarily do testing of any kind and are not required to do testing by the FDA currently.
Buying Gluten Free Oats
Finding gluten free oats can be challenging and the topic of oats can be confusing. Your best bet is to buy oats made under the purity protocol, and after that those that are certified gluten free. If you are unsure of a brand’s practices as it relates to cross contamination or oat processing, always call the manufacturer to ask. I hope that the explanations in this blog have given you enough information to be a more knowledgeable consumer that can make safer buying choices.