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Gluten-Free Sausage, as of February 2013

What's Safe (And What's Not) for Breakfast and Dinner

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Updated February 04, 2013

Gluten-Free Sausage, as of February 2013

Which sausages are gluten-free?

Getty Images/John Slater

Looking for gluten-free sausage? It's not difficult to find breakfast or dinner sausage that doesn't include gluten ingredients (i.e., ingredients made from wheat, barley and rye) — most sausage recipes don't use gluten grains.

However, if you want to eat sausage that's tested for gluten cross-contamination or is certified gluten-free, you may have a more difficult time.

I just surveyed the market for all different types of sausage — breakfast sausage, gourmet dinner sausage, smoked sausage, Italian and Polish sausage, bratwurst and knockwurst. In doing so, I found only a handful that can guarantee they meet the minimum gluten-free standard of less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Most of the companies say they use no gluten ingredients in their sausages. However, those sausages may be made in the same facility or on shared equipment.

• Learn more: How Much Trace Gluten Is In Your Food?

Below is a comprehensive list of sausage makers in the United States, plus what they told me as of February 2013 about their gluten-free products and protocols:

  • Aidells Sausage Company. Aidells, a division of Hillshire Brands, makes gourmet dinner sausages in such flavors as Artichoke & Garlic, Chicken & Apple and Pineapple & Bacon. The company also makes breakfast sausage and sausage "minis" in several different flavors. According to a customer service representative, Aidells products will carry a "gluten-free" designation if the company considers them to be gluten-free. The Aidells allergen chart indicates that most, but not all, of the company's sausages are gluten-free (avoid the Chorizo and Spicy Mango with Jalapeno — they're not safe). Always double-check the label for that gluten-free designation before purchasing.

  • Al fresco. This all-natural company makes three varieties of fully cooked chicken breakfast sausages: Apple Maple, Country Style and Wild Blueberry, plus a wide variety of both fully-cooked and uncooked dinner sausages, including such flavors as Buffalo Style, Spicy Chipotle, Spinach and Feta and Sweet Italian. All are considered gluten-free, according to Al fresco, which does not make any products that include gluten.

  • Applegate Farms. Most of Applegate's producs — including all its sausages — are considered gluten-free, according to this list. Applegate Farms makes both breakfast and dinner sausages.

  • Armour. Armour, a division of the John Morrell Food Group, makes both raw and cooked breakfast sausage, and also makes dry Italian sausage under the Armour-Eckrich brand name. The company will disclose wheat in any of its products, and doesn't currently use rye, barley or oats in anything it makes, according to a spokesperson. The plant facilities are shared but follow strict guidelines to prevent cross-contamination.

  • Banquet Brown and Serve. This sausage is made by a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods. ConAgra has a policy of clearly identifying all gluten ingredients in its foods, and several Banquet sausage products contain no gluten ingredients. However, they are not specifically tested for gluten, and could be subject to cross-contamination at the factory. The majority of Banquet's products do contain gluten.

  • Bass Farms. Bass Farms, which bills itself as "Southern Country Sausage," makes several mild and hot varieties in both links and patties. According to a company spokesperson, everything Bass Farms produces is gluten-free.

  • Beeler's. Beeler's raises its pigs without antibiotics or growth hormones and with ample access to sunshine and socialization. The company makes one breakfast sausage and several dinner sausages, including bratwurst, Italian sausage and gourmet flavored sausages. Everything is minimally processed. According to company spokesperson Julie Beeler, "we don't make anything that isn't gluten-free. There is nothing with gluten produced anywhere near our products."

  • Bob Evans. The Bob Evans restaurant chain also makes products for sale in grocery stores, including five different roll sausage varieties. All are listed on Bob Evans' "potentially acceptable retail products — celiac sprue" list (and no, I'm not quite certain what "potentially" means in this context). The company did not provide any information on possible cross-contamination risks or on whether it tests for gluten in its products.

  • Broadbent Hams. Kentucky-based Broadbent's makes several different sausages. The company does not test for gluten, nor does it make any gluten-free claims, according to a spokesperson.

  • Farmland Foods. Farmland makes a huge variety of pork-based products, including many different breakfast and dinner sausages. It also makes breakfast sandwiches and other gluten-containing products. According to a company customer service representative, Farmland does label a few products gluten-free. "If that claim is not present on the package, we are not making such a claim," she says, in part because ingredients from outside suppliers might contain gluten. Wheat (one of the top eight allergens) will always be listed in the ingredients statement, she says, adding, "modified food starch in our products is corn or potato-based. Also, dextrose in our products is corn-based."

  • Hatfield. Pennsylvania-based Hatfield makes breakfast sausage and dinner sausage in several different flavors. The company maintains a listing of gluten-free products, and the sausage products are on it. However, the products are not tested for cross-contamination, and some of them are produced on shared equipment that's cleaned between product runs, a customer service rep tells me.

  • Hebrew National. Hebrew National is best known for its hot dogs (see the gluten-free hot dog list for the details), but it does make beef breakfast sausage. Since Hebrew National is owned by ConAgra Foods, it will clearly label any gluten-containing ingredients, but it does not test for gluten in its products, nor does it label them gluten-free.

  • Hillshire Farm. As you might guess, Hillshire Farm is owned by Hillshire Brands. The company makes nearly 100 different products, nearly half of which are sausage varieties. At this time, Hillshire Farm does not test for gluten and does not make any gluten-free claims, although Hillshire Brands is in the process of conducting testing and developing a gluten-free product list, a spokesperson says.

  • Jimmy Dean. Another Hillshire Brands company, Jimmy Dean sausages are not currently tested for gluten and are not considered gluten-free, according to a spokesperson.

  • Jones Dairy Farm. This was my family's go-to breakfast sausage brand when I was growing up, and I was really pleased to see it's actually certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). That means it's gluten-free to less than 10 parts per million, or GF-10, levels. Jones makes many different types of sausages with, as the company says, "only five ingredients: pork, water, salt, spices and sugar." The company also has provided support for the Celiac Disease Foundation and the Celiac Sprue Association. Be aware that Jones does make a few products that are not gluten-free, so always double-check the label for that "GF" symbol.

  • Neese's Country Sausage. According to a Neese spokesperson, all of the company's retail sausage products are free from gluten ingredients, and they do not contain any MSG, nitrates/nitrites or preservatives. "Our sausage products are manufactured in the same plant as some of our other products that do contain wheat gluten, but are separated by multiple curtains and rooms," the spokesperson says.

  • Niman Ranch. Gourmet meat producer Niman Ranch specializes in sustainable, humanely-raised pork and other products. The company says everything it makes is considered gluten-free, including its bratwurst and other sausages.

  • Owens. These are produced by Bob Evans. As with Bob Evans-labeled products, all sausage products are considered "potentially acceptable" for people with "celiac sprue."

  • Smithfield. Known mainly for its hams, Smithfield also makes a few different breakfast and dinner sausage products. According to the company, "link and loop sausage do not contain MSG and are gluten-free." A company spokesperson adds that Smithfield has eliminated the use of gluten ingredients and other allergens at most of its plants, and uses a strict allergen control program to prevent cross-contamination in the few instances where allergenic ingredients are used. The company says it will call out any gluten ingredients on its product labels.

  • Tennessee Pride. This brand, another division of ConAgra Foods, does not maintain a list of products free of gluten. According to its Frequently Asked Questions page, most of its sausage products do not contain gluten ingredients. Again, ConAgra brands will disclose gluten ingredients clearly on the label, but will not guarantee products meet the legal definition of "gluten-free."

  • Wellshire Farms. Wellshire Farms advertises itself as "all natural meats and allergy-free foods," so unsurprisingly, most of its products, including the sausages, are considered gluten-free. The company's website features a searchable database that allows you to see lists of foods that are considered gluten-free, and also exclude other allergens (such as casein, corn, nuts and soy).
  • .
  • Wright. Wright, a division of Tyson Foods, Inc., makes country breakfast sausage and specialty sausage products. According to a customer service representative, Tyson will clearly disclose any ingredients containing wheat, rye, barley or oats, but does not label anything gluten-free; instead, customers are urged to contact the company to ask about a specific product. When I emailed, a customer service rep responded: "Tyson has very strict allergen guidelines in all processing facilities. When production is started on a new product, the line is broken down and cleansed to make sure all residue has been removed."

If you're particularly sensitive to trace gluten, you might want to stick with Jones Dairy Farm sausage, which is certified gluten-free, or with one of the other companies that specifically guarantees their products are gluten-free (they should be safe to at least GF-20 levels, if not lower). Companies that don't make anything with gluten ingredients might also be good bets.

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