Should You Eat Gluten-Free Foods From a Shared Facility or Equipment?

Some may contain tiny amounts of gluten

person reading label on can in grocery store

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If you follow the gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or​ non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may need to be cautious with foods made in the same facility as wheat-containing or gluten-containing foods, or with foods made ​on the same equipment or foods that say "may contain traces of wheat."

Although some of these foods may qualify legally as "gluten-free," they still may contain tiny amounts of gluten, potentially enough to make you sick. Food labeling laws in the United States are tricky, and ultimately leave it up to the consumer to decide if she wants to take the risk. Here's some more information to help you decide if this is a risk you should take.

Gluten Label Disclosures Voluntary

By law, food manufacturers must disclose if a given product contains wheat. However, they are not required to tell you if there's gluten in their product, nor are they required to disclose whether that product is made in the same facility or on the same equipment as wheat-containing or gluten-containing products.

In addition, wheat-free does not mean gluten-free, since foods free of wheat can still include gluten proteins from barley and/or rye (most frequently barley).

As a courtesy to allergic consumers, many companies do place statements on their labels saying a food is "made in the same facility as wheat-containing foods," "made on shared equipment with wheat-containing foods," or "may contain traces of wheat" (which usually means the food is made on shared equipment).

It's rarer in the U.S., but not unheard of, to find such statements regarding gluten in foods (food labeling rules in Canada and other countries differ).

Therefore, while the presence of one of these statements on a label indicates the need for caution, the absence of such a statement doesn't mean you're home-free and can consume the food with impunity.

Generally speaking, foods made in a shared facility likely will be less risky than foods made on shared equipment, or those stating "may contain traces of wheat."

With shared equipment, most manufacturers will clean their equipment between different products, especially if they're moving from a product with an allergen (i.e., wheat) to one that doesn't contain the allergen.

Cleaning protocols differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, and some take great care with this cleaning process. However, food processing equipment is notoriously difficult to clean unless the manufacturer actually dismantles it completely between runs (and you can assume most manufacturers won't do that).

What to Consider

You may be able to consume any or most of these products without a reaction or possibly with just a slight reaction.

In fact, some people with celiac disease have what's called silent celiac disease, meaning they don't react at all, even when they eat all the gluten they want.

However, most with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity react when they consume gluten. Some people find their bodies rebel even if we eat foods containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten, the legal definition of "gluten-free."

Here's what to consider before consuming a product with a "made on shared equipment/in the same facility/may contain traces of" statement for wheat:

  • If you can eat gluten: If you're not particularly sensitive to gluten (for example, if you have no problem eating foods with no obvious gluten ingredients), you probably can eat foods made both on shared equipment and in shared facilities without experiencing a reaction.
  • When you tend to react: If you find yourself sometimes reacting when you take chances with new products or a new restaurant, you might want to steer clear of foods made on shared equipment, but you may find through trial and error that you can eat some foods made in shared facilities, especially if they're certified gluten-free (gluten-free certification programs dictate the steps companies must take to avoid gluten cross-contamination between products).
  • How sensitive you are: If you know you're very sensitive to trace gluten (for example, if you avoid most processed foods because you usually react), then you'll probably react to these products, too.
  • Prefer to avoid gluten: If you want to avoid all possible gluten whether you react or not (as some people do to protect their health), then you obviously should skip products with these statements, as well.

Your decision will depend on your level of sensitivity to trace gluten and your desire to stay as gluten-free as possible. Ultimately, products with "made in a shared facility" and "made on shared equipment" statements might wind up being safe additions to your diet, or they might not — it's up to you to make that call, possibly based on some experimentation and your body's reaction.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA).

  2. Celiac Disease Foundation. Symptoms of Celiac Disease.

  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Gluten and Food Labeling.

Additional Reading

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.