My journey to living gluten-free started 6 years ago after figuring out it was one of the main contributors to auto-immune responses I was having, showing itself by way of shingles, solar dermatitis, nerve sensitivity, and headaches. What was a bit difficult at first turned out to be the thing that ignited my love for cooking and exploring the world of real food, including this blog.
Navigating food allergies and intolerances can be confusing, especially gluten. There are numerous grains that may look and sound gluten-free (like couscous or farro), hidden sources (like soy sauce), and the big one: cross-contamination (in the field, transportation, or processing) that affects naturally gluten-free foods, such as oats. Additionally, it can be infuriating that some like to think eating gluten-free is just a fad, when in actuality it’s as serious of a food allergy as any other.
Last week I was invited to Quaker headquarters in Chicago, who has been milling oats for nearly 140 years, to learn about their process for making gluten-free oats, in both Quick 1-Minute Oats (18 ounce canister) and Instant Quaker Oatmeal (individual packets).
I took home an oatucation, gaining lots of knowledge about this mighty little grain, but more importantly, confidence about the measures Quaker has taken to ensure their oats are truly gluten-free (measuring less than 20ppm by FDA standards), and delicious.
Although this might be a little in-depth, my hope is to be a resource for you so you can be reassured as you look at that canister of Quaker Gluten-Free Oats in the store and know they’re safe. This mighty little grain is one that provides our bodies with fiber, and carbohydrates for energy, and it’s so exciting that more people are going to be able to share a meal together because of it.
—Let’s start with the growing of the oats. Quaker sources its oats from trusted farmers across North America. As I mentioned earlier, inherently oats are gluten-free, however, they could have come in contact with wheat, rye, or barley because they were grown in a field that previously housed these crops, there were particles of them in the air, or maybe some residual grains were left in the truck transporting the oats. And if not kept separated while processing, contamination possibilities strike again.
Reassurance Fact #1: Buying Gluten-Free Oats from Purity Oat Companies Wasn’t Good Enough
You may be asking yourself, “Why wouldn’t Quaker just purchase clean oats from some of the purity houses that sell them, all of which have 3rd party gluten-free certification?” Well, they tried that – but guess what? Several of the sample batches they tried did not meet the threshold of less than 20ppm. They also didn’t meet the taste and texture standards Quaker desires.
I was shocked, and a little worried because as consumers, we trust gluten-free certification seals like those given by GFCO and NFCA. But that’s the thing – they’re 3rd party, and not regulated by any stipulations other than their own.
—The oats they’ve sourced land at the Quaker mill and go to a dedicated gluten-free cleaning house, at which point the innovative sorting & testing process begins. Approximately every hour of production, a sample is taken – which equals 3,000 samples (40 grams each) at the groat level (meaning the oat has been removed from the husk) per lot. Which brings me to my next point…..
Reassurance Fact #2: When Quaker began trying to crack the code on this sorting process, they found what makes things so difficult is that oats fall victim to kernel based contamination, meaning stray gluten-containing grains or residue is not evenly distributed, instead being hidden in pockets. So when you are taking samples from a truckload (about 500,000 pounds of oats), the area you test might be free of gluten-containing grains, but you may have missed the area that has a few stray ones hiding, contaminating the entire lot.
—Because of this, they changed their way of analyzing (with mechanical and infrared technology), milling, and processing in order to ensure truly gluten-free oats. If any of the single test samples does not meet Quaker standards, the entire lot is rejected and used for other Quaker products that are not labeled gluten-free (YAY for no waste!). For a more in-depth explanation, read this.
Reassurance Fact #3: Dedicated Storage, Cutting, and Flaking
Once the groats have ‘passed’ the inspection system, they move into the remaining production phases of cutting, flaking, and finally packaging, . After inspection the oats go through a kiln to stabilize the groat and are then turned into flakes (all happening with dedicated equipment). The packaging lines are shared, however thoroughly inspected with food safety protocols during and after cleaning to ensure any oats packaged there remain uncontaminated.
During the entire process, there are multiple checkpoints to ensure purity.
What may seem like a long journey, a lot of explanation, and years of dedication by Quaker is all in the name of trust and care, so that everyone can enjoy oats. Yes, I was paid to go and learn about the process, and to be honest I was a little skeptical knowing what happened in the industry this past year.
But their transparency and thoroughness was one that solidified how much they care about the needs of their consumers. They understand that traditional quality control methods just don’t work for gluten testing in oats. Instead, they treat the processing of gluten-free oats as a food safety issue, which requires a different way of thinking and significantly better control systems.
Although Quaker is a large company, their passion for bringing safe, gluten-free oats in their true form to our tables was definitely evident. It’s a great thing for all of us, and reasons like….
Thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ll be making something oatalicious soon. I’ll be sharing a recipe next month, so stay tuned. Xo!
Disclosure: I was compensated by Pepsi Co, the owner of Quaker Oats for the visit to their facilities and this post. All opinions are my own, so that I can share the good news and facts with you.
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Incredibly informative…Bravo for the in-depth oat research and report! Question for Quaker?! Will they be ‘doing’ a gluten-free ‘Old-Fashioned’ Rolled Oats product in the future? I prefer the texture/bite of this cardboard canister classic!! New, recovering discoverer and unabashed fan of your blog.
Hi Donna! I’m glad this was helpful. I did ask them about their regular Old Fashioned Oats, and it is not in their scope right now. I will say, these oats are not instant, but instead, milled thinner but still hold their shape pretty well and cook fast. Might be worth giving a try! xo
Thank you for this article. Someone at church yesterday had made a meatloaf with Quaker Oats, they made it what they considered GF. I thanked then but was afraid to try it. After reading your article I might try it and see how it does. As others have posted you have to listen to your body..
I’m so glad you found this helpful Barbara! It’s such a great change for Quaker, and I was happy to share the news. Just make sure you look for the oat canisters marked gluten-free. Have a great week!
Wow. More interesting than the oat-u-cation, to me, is your initial mentioning of shingles. I have not had it (I have thyroid issues, skin issues, digestive issues, but tested negative for celiac – but gave up gluten and absolutely look and feel better) but my husband has had shingles THREE times. Always on the right side, always on the back of his head.
The first time, the doctor took his word for it that it was a bug (spider perhaps) bite that got infected and spread. He had, himself, been treating a bug bite, and told the doctor that is what it was. He was given topical and oral antibiotics and topical “Freeze” spray for the pain. The second time, just short of a year later, he got it again and we both agreed it could not be a coincidence that he’d get bitten and react the same way in the same spot, and frankly, it was much worse. The doctor, a different one at the same clinic, took one look and diagnosed shingles, and said it was what he had the first time. Gave him an antiviral and painkillers of some sort, plus the “freeze” stuff. It was bad and took quite some time to resolve.
About six months later, he got it again, and did the same meds routine.
It seems the triggers of this were exhaustion, yard work in the heat/sun, and not wearing a hat….kind of like a breakout of herpes that can occur with a debilitating sunburn.
I have not made a shingles/gluten connection for him. I wonder if it contributed. This was, indeed, before I/we stopped consuming so much bread, pasta, etc. With my going GF, he is consuming much less gluten. I guess it has been beneficial for the both of us.
Thanks #Amanda for such a informative post. Keep it up. Now I will cook with gluten free oats regularly.
glad the information was useful for you Isabella!
who knew? such interesting information…..
What a wealth of information here! I am not gluten-intolerant per se, but I feel my best when I at least minimize my gluten intake (less lethargic and bloated, etc.), and oats are one of my favorite GF options. It’s pretty incredible how seriously Quaker takes their GF promise…it’s so important for those who literally can’t have any gluten at all! What a great company. Thanks for sharing with us, sweet friend. xoxo
Yes, I was so impressed with their work over the 4 years to get this process right. Speaks volumes about passion even within a large company. And oats are such a staple for many people, so the gf accessibility will be wonderful!
Such a great post! Good sleuthing, you! I’m transitioning into a wheat-free diet and these oats have become a lifesaver to me! <3
Such a great article. I am sending this to my friend who has a daughter with celiac disease. Though I am just mildly intolerant of gluten I always cook with gluten free oats and have always been pleased with the results.
Oh great Amy! I know there can be a lot of questions, and controversy, so I’m hoping this clears things up a bit. And it’s so nice to know that there’s an affordable and safe choice for gf oats that most people will have access to.
I think the most important thing to remember for anyone dealing with food intolerances, is that they don’t have to fit into a perfect box. They can be totally random. Personally, oats were the first food that I started to notice I was having a reaction to. After a year of eliminating and replacing foods I can say that I react to; most grains (all gluten containing and a few gluten free like rice and oats), anything in the onion/garlic family, mangos, winter squash, turmeric, all dairy, turnips, chocolate and caffeine, chicken and egg yolks. You just have to listen to your body even if logic says you should be able to eat it.
Hi Sarah! Gosh, I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error to find out what is best for my body too. You are totally right in that we are all different and have to do what makes us feel best. Sounds like you have yours figured out! I’m happy that for those of us who eat oats, we know that Quaker gf oats are gluten-free and safe. Interestingly, rice and oats were actually the first gluten-free grains that my body accepted after fighting SIBO, and they helped give me some desperately needed energy and fiber. Thanks for reading, and your input, xo.
liked your tips !
Thank you for the email reply Amanda Paa! Good information.
Super informative, Amanda. I grew up on Quaker and I’m glad to hear about how they’re taking precautions with their gluten-free line. I too went gluten-free due to dermatitis and skin issues I get from it- it’s nice to feel confident in the quality of products you’re buying so the whole family can enjoy together! Love the delicious looking photos. Thanks for reporting back!! Xo