Gluten-Free? Read This Before Eating Pre-Packaged Meat Again

If gluten is something you avoid in your diet, you might be assuming you have nothing to worry about with the various meat products at the grocery store. As it turns out, some meats do have added gluten, according to the Food Network. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, particularly wheat, barley, and rye (via Celiac Disease Foundation). But it can lurk in a wide variety of foods, beyond basic breads and cereals. Gluten's properties make it good for helping processed food maintain its shape, so you might find it in hot dogs, bologna, sausages, and pepperoni. Some meat products are packaged in marinades that include soy sauce, which itself may contain gluten. 

Highly processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages can have wheat gluten, so it's best to check the label carefully (via Gluten-Free Living). Your best bet is to check whether the product is labeled "gluten-free," because some meat companies aren't even sure if their foods contain gluten or not. As Armour Meats told Verywell Fit, "While we may not add gluten ... to our products, we do receive ingredients from outside suppliers that may contain gluten. ... If there is no 'gluten-free' claim on our label and you want to be conservative, assume that a source of gluten may be present." 

Gluten-free eaters should be wary of the deli counter, too

Keep in mind when perusing labels that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not require allergen warnings on meat products (via Gluten Free Watchdog). Some ingredients, including starch and dextrin, might come from wheat and not be labeled as such. That said, 80 to 90 percent of food producers that must follow USDA rules do voluntarily list allergens. 

When it comes to the meats you can have sliced to order at the deli counter, one of the most common concerns for gluten-free eaters is cross-contamination, according to the Food Network. The FDA lists extensive requirements for keeping commercial slicers clean, but cross-contamination can occur as deli staff put one product after another on the slicer. Nutrition expert Emily Rubin told the Food Network she recommends tossing the first and the last slice of meat you purchase from the deli, to reduce the risk of getting a little gluten mixed in with your cold cuts. 

If you eat meat-free as well as gluten-free, you need to be on the lookout for gluten in meat substitutes. In fact, gluten is often the primary ingredient in these substitutes, given its binding properties. Wheat gluten may serve as the base for Tofurky, fake bacon, and meatless hot dogs, according to The Spruce Eats