Feature

Cereal killer

A coeliac diesease expert from The University of Western Australia is calling for the regular publication of laboratory test results of gluten free food products, after studies detected gluten in seven out of 256 popular Australian made foods labelled “gluten free”.

UWA Professor Geoffrey Forbes said the study also detected gluten in 14 per cent of imported gluten free foods, which had the potential to reduce safety assurance levels within the coeliac community. 

“There is no oversight of food testing being done by industry,” Professor Forbes said. 

“So, if the consumer purchasing gluten free foods wants to know what testing is used or what level of gluten the laboratory is testing or how frequently it’s done or could contamination occur, that assurance can’t be provided.”

Head of coeliac research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Dr Jason Tye-Din said while the majority of gluten free foods tested had no detectable gluten, the research suggests some manufacturers need to review their processes to ensure products meet Australian standards.

“More frequent testing will improve detection and allow companies to take steps to identify and address the underlying cause,” Dr Tye-Din said. 

“Ultimately, our hope is to reduce the risk of gluten exposure to people with coeliac disease.”

Professor Forbes said while the levels of gluten detected in the studies were relatively small, the cumulative effect of tiny traces of gluten within a coeliac disease patient’s diet caused by contamination could cause major health consequences. 

 “There may be cross contamination from within one’s kitchen or within a restaurant that one has gone to,” he said. 

“Then there is a second type of contamination that can occur, with foods that are considered to be gluten free by listed ingredients, so it doesn’t say gluten free on the package, but on the nutrient information panel it doesn’t state wheat, oats, rye or barley.

“Therefore, the lowest amount of additional gluten that is reasonable and practically achievable should be available to patients with coeliac disease.”

Professor Forbes said the publication of test results of gluten free products could assist medical practitioners with the monitoring and treatment of coeliac disease patients. 

“Medical practitioners and dietitians caring for those patients can then go back onto a website and they get an inkling as to why the patient is not getting better on the prescribed diet,” he said. 

“Then they have an opportunity to attain assurance about some foods and maybe not so much assurance of others. 

“If testing is being done, then it should be relatively simple to tell people what the results of those tests are.”

Coeliac friendly food. Video: Caitlyn Watts.