Simply put, mono- and diglycerides are fats. They are made from oil,usually soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, or palm oil, act as emulsifiers (provide a consistent texture and prevent separation), and are used in most baked products to keep them from getting stale. In ice cream and other processed foods, including margarine, instant potatoes, and chewing gum, they serve as stabilizers, which give foods body and improve consistency
Mono and diglycerides themselves do not contain gluten. There is nothing approaching gluten that is present inmono and diglycerides, said Larry Skogerson, vice president and technicaldirector for American Ingredients, one of the largest producers of mono and diglycerides in the country. His company, as well as Archer Daniels Midland and Danisco Cultor - the largest maker in the US, are all located in Kansas City,leading one representative to joke that it is the mono and diglyceride capital of the world.
Skogersen said mono anddiglycerides are produced from glycerin and oil, which are heated to very high temperatures to allow the fat molecules to rearrange with the glycerin. There are no proteins, no allergens of any kind, Skogersen said. Neil Widlak, director of fats and oils research for ADM,agreed that the production of mono and diglycerides does not include any ingredient or process that would involve gluten. Ram Chau Dhari, senior executive vice president of research and development for Foritech Inc., a New Jersey company, summed up the likelihood that mono and diglycerides contain gluten this way: not possible at all.
But mono and diglycerides are almost always on lists of questionable foods for celiacs because of the possibility that wheat might be used with them as a carrier. Claire Regan,director of public affairs for Kraft Foods, Inc., said a carrier ingredient is sometimes added to foods along with additives like mono and diglycerides to make them perform they way they are supposed to in the food.
Under FDA regulations, a carrier used with mono and diglycerides in this manner would fall into the incidental additive category. Additives are considered incidental when they are present in insignificant amounts and have no technical or functional effect on the final food product. FDA regulations, which generally require that all ingredients of a food be listed on the label, do allow certain incidental additives to be left off the label.
However, recent concern about allergens has led the FDA to warn food manufacturers that it does not consider the eight most common food allergens (eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish,soy, tree nuts such as almonds or cashews, and wheat) eligible for this labeling exemption. The FDA first clarified the exemption in 1996 in response to a growing number of reports of allergic reactions from foods that accordingto their label should have been allergen free. Now, the FDA has updated that clarification in a compliance policy guide for the food industry that says incidental additives containing common food allergens have never been considered eligible for the exemption. The Food Allergy Issues Alliance, a group of food trade associations and consumer interest groups, in May issued labeling guidelines that say incidental additives should be on the label. For celiacs this means that if wheat is used as a carrier for mono and diglycerides, it has to be declared on the label.
Wheat would be listed on thelabel of any Kraft Food that used it as a carrier, Regan said. In fact, she said Kraft lists all gluten-containing ingredients on its labels, including those used as incidental additives, even if they are not among the eight most common allergens. That means oats, barley or rye would also show up on the label if they were ever used as an additive by Kraft.
Meanwhile, General Mills does not use any carrier with mono and diglycerides in its products, according to Kevin Farnum, director of food safety. He said a carrier would be used to help mono and diglycerides spread consistently in a food. General Mills uses a bead form of mono and diglycerides that mixes easily and does not need a carrier to work, Farnum said. All this would seem to indicate that celiacs can remove mono and diglycerides from any suspicious or questionable food lists and still feel safe.
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