Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, driven by a rise in gluten intolerance and celiac disease diagnoses as well as a general interest in eliminating gluten from one’s diet. For those who follow a gluten-free diet, finding convenient and tasty gluten-free breakfast options can be challenging. One breakfast staple that has traditionally been a safe option is oatmeal, as plain oats themselves are naturally gluten-free. However, many pre-packaged instant oatmeal products contain additional ingredients that are not gluten-free. This has led some who follow gluten-free diets to wonder if certain brands, like Quaker oatmeal, still offer gluten-free oatmeal options.
Quaker Oats and Gluten
Quaker Oats is one of the largest producers of oatmeal in the United States. Their instant oatmeal products in the distinctive cylinders are a staple breakfast item for many households. Quaker offers a range of flavored and unflavored instant oatmeal options as well as old-fashioned and steel cut oats.
For many years, Quaker has produced select products that are labeled as gluten-free. These include their plain instant oats, quick oats, and old-fashioned oats. However, other flavored varieties that contain additional ingredients like fruit, nuts, and artificial flavors and colors may contain sources of gluten like wheat-based ingredients, barley malt extract, and modified food starch.
So while some core Quaker oatmeal products are gluten-free, many flavored varieties that consumers often purchase do contain gluten based on the additional ingredients added. This can create confusion around whether Quaker oats are truly gluten-free.
Changes to Quaker Gluten-Free Offerings
In recent years, some shoppers have noted changes to the gluten-free labels and designations on Quaker oatmeal products in stores. Most concerning was that labels marking their plain instant oats as gluten-free seemed to disappear from packaging around 2015. This led to questions around whether Quaker was still maintaining gluten-free oat production protocols for products that had previously been labeled gluten-free.
There are a few factors that impacted these labeling changes:
FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule
In 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a new regulation defining what requirements must be met for a product to be labeled as “gluten-free.” Under this rule, products must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten to use a gluten-free claim on packaging.
Prior to this rule, there were no federal standards around use of terms like “gluten-free” or “no gluten” on food packages. Quaker likely had to update the wording on their oat packaging to comply with the new regulation.
Around the time the new FDA rule was implemented, Quaker also updated their gluten testing methodology. They switched from using the R5 ELISA test to using the Mendez Method. This change meant their tested gluten levels shifted slightly, though still remained below 20 ppm. This stricter testing also influenced their decision to move away from “gluten-free” wording on packaging.
In the end, Quaker opted to remove the term “gluten-free” from most packaging, even varieties that continued to test below 20 ppm gluten. This was likely a conservative decision due to the combination of a new federal regulation and updated testing methods bringing greater scrutiny to gluten labeling claims. The small presence of gluten proteins detected in products like their plain oats fell in a grey area and led to the decision to simplify by removing gluten-related language.
However, experts agree that the plain Quaker oats which tested gluten-free for years are likely still produced using the same protocols and maintain minimal gluten similar to levels prior to the labeling changes. The majority of oat products contain traces of gluten due to cross-contamination during growing and harvesting. The amounts present in Quaker’s plain oats continue to fall well below the 20 ppm federal threshold to be considered free of gluten.
Summary of Quaker Gluten-Free Changes
– 2014 – FDA implements federal gluten-free labeling rule
– 2014-2015 – Quaker begins using Mendez Method for gluten testing instead of R5 ELISA
– 2015 – Quaker removes term “gluten-free” from most packaging, however products like plain oats likely still contain minimal gluten similar to before labeling change
Are Quaker Oats Still Safe for Gluten-Free Diets?
Many consumers who follow gluten-free diets, especially those with celiac disease, reacted with concern when they noticed the disappearance of Quaker’s gluten-free labels. However, most experts on gluten-free diets confirm that Quaker’s plain rolled oats and quick oats, even without gluten-free labeling, can still be safely consumed by the vast majority of those avoiding gluten. There are a few key considerations around Quaker oats for a gluten-free diet:
Oats themselves do not contain gluten. However, they can become cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains like wheat during growing and processing. Many individuals with celiac disease can consume up to 20ppm of gluten with no issues. Most plain Quaker oats test around 5-8ppm, well below this threshold.However, there is debate around categorizing oats as “gluten-free” when they may still contain traces of gluten. The FDA labeling rule accounted for this by setting a 20ppm limit for any product labeled gluten-free, acknowledging that completely gluten-free oats are difficult to achieve commercially.
A small percentage of celiacs, roughly 5-10%, are unable to tolerate oats even at 20ppm gluten. Some sensitive individuals choose to strictly avoid all oats to be safe. For these individuals, Quaker oats labeled as gluten-free previously would still be unsuitable. For the approximately 90% who can consume oats, Quaker oats remain tolerable and safe based on continued gluten testing showing levels within the accepted range.
Purity Protocol Oats
For the most sensitive individuals, several specialty suppliers offer oats grown and processed under strict purity protocols to achieve gluten levels below 5ppm. These include brands like GFCO, Glutenfreeda, and Only Oats. Quaker oats follow less stringent protocols so cannot be considered equivalent to purity protocol oats when it comes to gluten-safety.
– Quaker plain rolled and quick oats likely still test below 20ppm gluten despite labeling changes
– Up to 90% with celiac disease can safely consume oats at this level
– Absolute most sensitive individuals may still wish to avoid Quaker oats
– Purity protocol oat brands offer strictest gluten controls under 5ppm
So while Quaker oats remain a safe bet for most gluten-free diets, individuals should assess their personal tolerance and preference for oat purity when deciding if Quaker oats specifically fit their gluten-free dietary needs. Those with more acute sensitivities may opt for purity protocol oat brands that adhere to stricter gluten controls despite Quaker oats still falling below federal gluten-free standards.
Finding Quaker Gluten-Free Oats
While the plain Quaker oats likely remain at gluten levels similar to when they were labeled gluten-free, identifying them as such on grocery store shelves can be tricky with the terminology no longer on packaging. Here are some tips for spotting which Quaker oats are safest if avoiding gluten:
Look for Plain Rolled Oats
Quaker’s classic plain rolled oats come in a cardboard cylinder container. If the packaging only lists whole grain rolled oats as the ingredient without any additional flavors, fruit, nuts, etc. then these remain the safest Quaker oats from a gluten perspective.
Quick Oats Are Also an Option
Quaker Quick Oats, another plain variety sold in round cardboard containers, also do not contain any problematic ingredients beyond whole grain oats. These cook faster than rolled oats, but are equally as safe according to gluten testing.
Avoid Flavored Varieties
Flavored oatmeal packets orcups that list ingredients like “natural flavor”, dried fruit, nuts, and various spices or sweeteners may contain glutenous add-ins. Stick to unflavored oats to be 100% gluten-free when choosing Quaker products.
Is Quaker Oatmeal Really Gluten-Free: The Verdict
Here is a summary weighing the evidence around whether Quaker oats remain safely gluten-free or not:
Quaker’s Gluten Testing
Plain oat varieties from Quaker likely still test around 5-8ppm gluten despite the removal of gluten-free wording. This falls under the FDA allowance of 20ppm to be considered gluten-free.
Oats Are Not 100% Gluten-Free
Even purity protocol oat brands designed for gluten intolerance can contain up to 5ppm gluten. Truly gluten-free oats may not exist, so there is debate around any oat producer using absolute “gluten-free” labeling.
Individual Sensitivity Varies
Up to 90% with celiac disease tolerate oats at less than 20ppm. But those who are highly sensitive may require purity protocol oats below 5ppm to feel comfortable consuming oats.
Quaker Follows General Mills Protocols
Quaker’s parent company General Mills states their oats follow the same procedures whether labeled gluten-free or not. So the oat production process remains consistent.
No Major Reported Reactions
Despite concerns about the loss of gluten-free wording on packaging, there are no widespread reports of increased reactions or issues when consuming Quaker’s plain oats compared to before the labeling change.
For most following a gluten-free diet, plain Quaker rolled and quick oats can still be safely consumed and present minimal gluten risk. A small percentage of the most sensitive may wish to opt for purity protocol oats instead. But Quaker’s plain oats likely continue to test below 20ppm similar to levels prior to gluten-free label removal. In summary, most evidence supports that Quaker oats are still gluten-free for the average consumer based on continued production procedures and low gluten testing results. Those who previously tolerated Quaker oats labeled gluten-free can feel comfortable continuing to enjoy plain Quaker oats based on current data.
Table Summarizing Key Points
|Evidence Quaker Oats Are Still Gluten-Free||Evidence Questioning If Quaker Oats Are Gluten-Free|
|– Testing shows gluten levels around 5-8 ppm, below 20 ppm federal threshold||– No longer labeled gluten-free|
|– Follow same protocols according to General Mills||– Testing methodology changed around 2015|
|– No widespread reports of reactions||– Not produced under purity protocol|
|– Most experts consider safe at gluten levels present||– May not be tolerated by most sensitive celiacs|
The Bottom Line
While Quaker’s removal of gluten-free labeling on their plain oat products created consumer confusion and concern, the evidence suggests their classic rolled and quick oats remain within accepted gluten thresholds for most following gluten-free diets. Individuals should assess their personal sensitivity and preference for strict gluten protocols when deciding if Quaker oats in particular fit into their safe gluten-free food options. But Quaker plain oats appear to continue having minimal gluten similar to amounts prior to packaging changes. For the average gluten-free diet, Quaker’s core oat products can likely be enjoyed without issue based on current data regarding their production and testing. Those avoiding gluten must remain vigilant in carefully inspecting all product packaging and ingredients. But Quaker plain rolled and quick oats remain a reasonably safe breakfast choice to keep stocked in most gluten-free kitchens.