Why Testing Matters

Anyone who lives with celiac disease or a wheat allergy knows all too well that you can’t always trust a company’s claim that a product is “naturally gluten-free.” It takes only one trip to urgent care for a consumer to become a constant skeptic.

Firebird understands how important it is for manufacturers to earn the consumers’ trust. Labels aren’t always enough, which is one reason why our testing process and quality standards are so important.

A well-publicized National Institute of Health (NIH) study tested 22 “inherently” gluten-free grains, including amaranth, buckwheat, millet, rice sorghum and quinoa, which are staples at Firebird Artisan Mills. The study also included gluten-free products like flaxseed, oats and soy. More than thirty percent of these “gluten-free” grains contained more than 20 ppm of gluten — a count that would likely trigger a response in celiac or otherwise sensitive consumers, and exclude the product from earning an FDA-approved gluten-free label under current guidelines.

Other test results were just as staggering. A sorghum flour had an average of 234 ppm of gluten. Two millet flours contained an average of 316 ppm. And one soy flour tested contained nearly 3,000 ppm. Of the seven flour products tested, four of them did not carry allergen advisory statements.

Aside from being horrifying to celiac consumers, this report was eye-opening for product manufacturers. These results pointed to a clear need for rigorous testing throughout the production cycle.

Multiple Levels of Gluten Testing

Firebird Artisan Mills runs multiple tests at three critical points in the milling process:

  • Incoming — before it enters the facility
  • In-process — as it’s being milled
  • Outgoing product — before it reaches the next destination, whether that’s the shelf or the distribution point

All incoming raw materials at Firebird must carry a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) stating gluten limits. We run ELISA R5 antibody tests when any product arrives on the lot, before we move it into production; and we reject all raw product that tests greater than 10 ppm for gluten.

If the raw product is verified <10 ppm, we proceed with milling. During milling, we test again, using the ELISA R5 kit in either the quick-test or the longer “sandwich” test, and often using both versions. Plus, we send random samples for third-party testing and verification.

Finally, before the product leaves our facility, we run more tests and produce a COA stating gluten limits.

This rigorous testing program has earned Firebird Artisan Mills certified gluten-free status by International Certification Services (ICS). ICS, which specializes in organic and gluten-free certifications, has been in place since 1979.

When you lose your consumers’ trust, you lose their business. We work hard to be the kind of company we want to do business with — and that means going the extra mile to ensure that what’s inside the box delivers exceptional quality, every time.


References: Thompson T, Lee A, Grace T. Gluten contamination of grains, seeds, and flours in the United States: A pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:937-940.  Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497786

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