Kraft’s gluten-free mac and cheese is a popular option for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. With its recognizable brand name and convenience, this gluten-free alternative seems like an easy swap for the original. But is it truly safe for those with celiac disease? Here we’ll take a close look at the ingredients and manufacturing process to determine if Kraft’s gluten-free mac and cheese is celiac friendly.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system attacks and damages the small intestine’s villi – the tiny, finger-like projections that absorb nutrients from food. This damage over time can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, malnutrition, anemia and more. The only treatment for celiac disease is strictly following a lifelong gluten-free diet, avoiding any foods or cross-contamination with gluten. Even tiny amounts of gluten can cause issues.
Is Kraft’s Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese Truly Gluten-Free?
When reviewing the ingredients list on Kraft’s gluten-free mac and cheese, it appears to be free of any gluten-containing ingredients. The pasta is made from corn and rice flour, and the cheese sauce contains ingredients like potatoes, milk and cheese, none of which contain gluten. Kraft clearly labels the product as gluten-free. But when it comes to celiac disease, we have to dig deeper than the ingredients list.
Cross-contamination is a key concern when it comes to celiac. Even a tiny amount of gluten exposure can trigger symptoms and damage. So a gluten-free product manufactured on shared equipment with gluten-containing products can pick up trace amounts of gluten. According to Kraft’s website, their gluten-free products are not produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. This means there is risk for cross-contamination with their gluten-free mac and cheese.
Testing for Gluten
The FDA allows products labeled “gluten-free” to contain up to 20 parts per million of gluten. This threshold accounts for the possibility of trace contamination, but even these small amounts may not be safe for some with celiac disease. To truly determine if a product is gluten-free enough for celiac, experts recommend added testing:
PCR testing can detect as little as 5-10 parts per million of gluten. So a PCR test result of less than 20 ppm indicates a product is very low in gluten. Some companies providing PCR test results for their products include blogs and websites reviewing gluten-free items. PCR test results under 10 ppm suggest a celiac-safe product.
Mass Spectrometry Testing
This type of testing can detect down to 1 part per million gluten content. So a result lower than 5 ppm indicates the product is extremely low in gluten and suitable for celiac. Very few large manufacturers perform mass spec testing. But some smaller niche brands providing these results include partnerships with labs. Reviews for gluten-free products sometimes report on mass spectrometry test findings.
ELISA Antibody Testing
ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. This test uses antibodies that attach to gluten proteins. It can accurately detect down to 5-10 parts per million. So ELISA results under 10 ppm indicate a celiac-friendly amount of gluten. ELISA results are more common with gluten-free brands. Consumer review sites sometimes reference ELISA results.
Does Kraft Provide Gluten-Free Testing Results?
Unfortunately Kraft does not provide any product testing reports or results for their gluten-free items. Their website and product FAQs state their manufacturing process cannot guarantee the mac and cheese is 100% gluten-free. The lack of product testing results and disclaimer about potential gluten exposure would signify their gluten-free mac and cheese is likely not suitable for a celiac disease diet. Those with celiac should use extreme caution consuming this product.
Why Doesn’t Kraft Test Their Products?
There are likely a few reasons why Kraft does not spend the extra resources to test their gluten-free products:
- Added cost – Gluten testing adds expense to manufacturing
- Mass market – Kraft makes products for the general population, not niche diet needs
- No regulatory requirement – The FDA labeling laws don’t mandate testing for a “gluten-free” claim
For a major brand like Kraft producing food on a massive scale, the time and expenses associated with product testing don’t make financial sense. Their disclaimer relieves responsibility for celiac-safe standards.
What About Other Gluten-Free Certifications?
Sometimes a product will display a symbol for a 3rd party gluten-free certification program. This indicates the product has been tested to standards beyond the FDA requirements. However, Kraft’s gluten-free mac and cheese box does not contain any of these added certifications. Some well-recognized gluten-free certification programs include:
- Certified Gluten-Free by GFCO – requires less than 10 ppm of gluten
- Gluten-Free Certification by NSF – under 10 ppm of gluten
- Gluten-Free Certified by GIG – below 5 ppm of gluten
The lack of any 3rd party gluten-free certifications further puts into question whether Kraft’s product would truly be celiac-safe.
What Are the Alternatives?
For celiac consumers seeking a convenient mac and cheese option, there are some alternatives considered safer than the Kraft version:
Dedicated or Certified Gluten-Free Brands
Seeking mac and cheese from a brand that exclusively makes gluten-free foods greatly reduces risk of gluten exposure. These niche brands often provide the product testing results to back the “gluten-free” claim. Some well-vetted dedicated or certified gluten-free mac and cheese brands include:
- Annie’s Gluten Free Mac and Cheese
- Glutino Gluten Free Mac and Cheese
- Birch Benders Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese
Reviews indicate these brands regularly test at under 5 ppm of gluten. Annie’s and Glutino mac and cheese have gluten-free certification seals on their packaging.
Make Homemade Mac and Cheese
Opting to make gluten-free mac and cheese from scratch allows for total control over ingredients and avoiding cross-contamination in meal prep. Corn pasta and homemade cheese sauce gives the classic comfort food in a celiac-friendly way. This lets you steer clear of questionable packaged versions.
Try Alternate Gluten-Free Brands
Subbing in a related gluten-free product is another workaround. Rice pasta with cheese sauce or Annie’s gluten-free Rice Pasta and Cheddar flavor are convenient alternatives. Checking labels of course is still essential. Caution is still needed with facilities and supply chains. But dedicated brands lead to less uncertainty about gluten content.
While convenient, Kraft’s gluten-free macaroni and cheese contains questionable gluten levels for celiac consumers. The lack of product testing data or certifications, potential for cross-contamination, and inability to guarantee being 100% gluten-free all raise red flags. Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity should exercise extreme caution or avoid this product altogether. Numerous dedicated gluten-free brands offer safer mac and cheese options with transparency about gluten levels through product testing. Making homemade gluten-free mac and cheese also empowers control over ingredients. While Kraft’s recognizable brand may seem enticing to try, their gluten-free items likely cannot be considered truly celiac-friendly. Proceed at your own risk.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Is Kraft mac and cheese gluten-free in the US?
No, regular Kraft macaroni and cheese sold in the US contains wheat-based ingredients and is not gluten-free. Only their specially marked “gluten-free” version uses alternate pastas and has a gluten-free claim. But as discussed, cross-contamination is still a high risk.
Does Kraft have a wheat-free mac and cheese?
Kraft’s gluten-free macaroni and cheese variety is also wheat-free, since it uses corn and rice pastas instead of wheat-based pasta. Some consumers use the terms “gluten-free” and “wheat-free” interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings. All wheat-free products are automatically gluten-free, but not all gluten-free foods are necessarily wheat-free too.
What are some gluten-free pasta brands?
Some well-known gluten-free pasta brands include:
- Barilla -makes gluten-free pasta
- Bionaturae – 100% gluten-free pastas
- Jovial Foods – organic gluten-free pastas
- Ronzoni – Healthy Harvest gluten-free pasta
- DeLallo – gluten-free pasta variety
When buying gluten-free pasta, checking for certification seals and manufacturing precautions is key. Some facilities exclusively make gluten-free foods or use dedicated equipment to reduce contamination risks.
Is gluten-free pasta healthy?
Gluten-free pasta can absolutely be part of a healthy diet, but it depends on the specific ingredients. Legume or bean-based pastas provide extra protein and fiber. But gluten-free also doesn’t automatically equal healthy – some gluten-free pasta brands load up on starches like rice, tapioca or potatoes that spike blood sugar. Going with certified gluten-free, higher protein or organic pasta provides more benefits. Avoiding gluten is only one factor in pasta nutrition and health.
Can celiacs eat at restaurants?
Yes, with proper precautions, those with celiac disease can safely eat at restaurants. The risk comes from cross-contamination with kitchen tools, surfaces, fryer oil and ingredients. Ordering naturally gluten-free dishes and asking about prep procedures can reduce risk. Some restaurants have dedicated gluten-free menus and protocols to address celiac diner needs. Calling ahead helps assess how gluten-free friendly a restaurant may be. While challenging, dining out with celiac is possible by asking questions and being cautious.
The Bottom Line
When you have celiac disease, eating gluten-free is a necessity. Products labeled gluten-free may seem like an easy swap, but extra care must go into verifying safety and avoiding cross-contamination. Although convenience foods like Kraft’s gluten-free mac and cheese appear harmless at first glance, the lack of transparency about manufacturing and testing makes this product questionable for celiacs. Seeking certified gluten-free brands that provide third-party testing results and following a naturally gluten-free diet are reliable ways to stay safe. While packaged gluten-free foods have a place in making the diet more approachable, celiac consumers must act as their own advocates and thoroughly vet products to keep their health a priority.