Allergen Statements–What Do They Mean to You? - Celiac Disease
Jan 14 2011

Allergen Statements–What Do They Mean to You?

As I was writing about Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s new line of nutrition/protein bars, I began to think about allergen warning statements and what they really mean.  Do they mean the same thing to everyone? I am sure you know the statements that I am talking about.  They seem to vary depending on company.

There are a few statements that stick out in my mind:  “processed in a facility that uses wheat & egg” or “made on equipment shared with wheat, milk & egg” or “may contain wheat & egg” or “no gluten ingredients”.   When I see those four statements I interpret them in a couple of different ways.  The statements “processed in a facility that uses wheat…” and “made on equipment shared with wheat…” mean that wheat (gluten) is present in the facility and that cross-contamination could occur.  Will it?  Many factors are at play, so there are no absolutes here.  That being said, Jon and I do eat foods that are labeled in that way.  The same goes for “no gluten ingredients”.  What I interpret that statement to mean is that the manufacturer doesn’t add any ingredients that contain gluten, but the food is not produced in a gluten-free facility.  They are not going as far as the previous statements to say that wheat (gluten) is present in the same facility, but they are not saying it isn’t either.  Now, hand me a food that says “may contain wheat….” and I won’t touch it!  To me, that statement says that it is likely that the product contains wheat, and that is not something I am willing to chance – given my reaction to gluten.  There is an exception to this last “rule” for me.   If I call the company and get a good explanation of their practices, it is possible that there is no higher of a risk eating this “may contain wheat…” food item than a food that is made in a facility that produces other products that contain wheat.  The key is communicating with the manufacturer.

I know some people  who follow the gluten-free diet will only eat certified gluten-free foods.  It all depends on your beliefs, level of sensitivity, and your level of confidence in the manufacturer.  There is nothing wrong with following the gluten-free diet this way.  Eating only whole foods and those that are certified gluten-free should ensure that there is no hidden gluten in your diet.  This approach is useful in Celiacs who don’t show improvement on the gluten-free diet after a period of time or in those who start to feel bad again.  The more “processed” foods that are consumed that are not certified gluten-free, the higher the risk of cross-contamination or accidental ingestion.

What do allergen statements mean to you?  Do you eat food that is only certified gluten-free?

Article Written by:

Kyle Eslick is the founder of Gluten Free Media, as well as the creator of the popular Celiac Support Groups page. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+!


  1. Kim, I also eat a few foods that have some of these warning statements, but I also seek out reviews of others’ experiences. Also, the thing we need to remember is that these warning statements are totally up to the discretion of the manufacturer. Per my understanding, there is no FDA policing of these statements. In fact when the FDA sought input on the proposed FALCPA and future allergen labeling, the folks from FAAN shared a study about peanuts. It showed that products that actually contained peanuts had ALL of the different warning labels, from “processed in a facility that contains peanuts” to “processed on shared equipment” to “may contain peanuts.” You can read more here: . Obviously, this is in regard to peanuts, which are not a concern to those of us who need to eat gluten free (unless we’re also peanut free), but it clearly indicates that what we think a warning label means and what it actually means are not the same thing. In fact, one could ask if it really means anything at all? This is another reason that I prefer cooking with real food that’s naturally gluten free. And, for most of my non-whole food, I’ll go with the GFCO-certified products.

    This is an important discussion, Kim, and I thank you for broaching it, but I think it’s full of misconceptions.


    • Shirley,

      I hate that it is all so confusing! When I feel overwhelmed, I do stick mainly to whole foods, as I also have tried to teach Jon to do. As he gets older, he spends more time with his buddies and must navigate the food offerings at their houses or on his own at a restaurant.

      I think it is important to keep revisiting, as changes are made to these statements all the time by the manufacturer.


    • Morgan says:

      I have thins sour cream and chives chips and it say may contain TRACES of wheat now I have ceoliac and I’m 13 but I don’t want to miss out on anything so would I be able to have these chips?

  2. Barb says:

    I cook from scratch using naturally gluten free ingredients. I also bake from scratch using gluten free products. I will buy products that are processed in a facility that processes wheat depending on the product and what the company tells me. I’m pretty sensitive so I am very careful since my reactions include neurological ones.

  3. PinchingAbe says:

    I’m allergic to wheat and not celiac (that I know of!) However, I interpret a lot of these labels as CYA because we live in such a sue-happy society now. It’s better to say you might have some than to not disclose it. I see this language on a lot of products that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being anywhere near wheat. Wheat is one of the big 8 of food allergens, so I’m sure they are just being extra cautious.

    It would cost a fortune to have a dedicated facility and I’m better a lot of food companies just can’t afford it. GF is kind of a niche market too. It might be a gamble. A lot of companies that do offer GF items have been doing business for many years. They have their recipes down pat.

    May contain wheat – I won’t touch. Though I’m probably ok with eating stuff that might have been on the same conveyor belt.

  4. Renee says:


    Thanks for broaching the topic. I have actually been thinking about posting something similar. I do not eat only things that are certified gluten free. Part of the reason is habit. I have been doing this for almost 15 years now and the manufacturer’s never used to include such statements. As well, for many years, manufacturer’s would tell you if you called them, to read the ingredients, that it was the best source of information. So those have become my habits. And now you can’t really understand, from those additional statements, what they’re really trying to tell you. But I agree with you, if it says “may contain” I put it down. I hope they get these statements defined soon so that they actually mean something to us.

    As well, I do cook from scratch most of the time but I also chose to eat things at other people’s homes, at restaurants, etc., so I come across these statements from time to time. Frustrating. But one day…


  5. Tiffany Janes says:

    Kim – Great post! I agree that allergen statements can be more than confusing at times. I once read a jar of peanuts that said “may contain peanuts”. I should hope a jar of peanuts contains peanuts. It’s ridiculous! I also have talked to smaller companies that say they include allergen statements based on legal advice even though they know the item they are labeling does not contain the allergen they’re warning people about. There is definitely a lot of CYA statements going on as mentioned above. When something says “may contain wheat” I decide how much I want to try the item. If it’s something I’m really interested in, I call the company and inquire about how the item is made. That is how I found out that the FRESH gf pasta from RP’s Pasta is indeed gluten-free. Their old allergen statement said “may contain traces of wheat”. Knowing the items are gluten-free, the company recently changed the statement to say “made in a facility that processes wheat”. We eat the pasta all the time and every package we’ve purchased has been absolutely safe!

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