Maltodextrin: What Is It?

What Is This in My Food? Maltodextrin

“Do you know the source of maltodextrin in this chicken?” I asked the guy behind the deli counter.

“Maltodextrin is just sugar, it’s perfectly safe,” he said impatiently.

“But it comes from corn and sometimes wheat. I’m allergic to both.”

He shook his head as if I was speaking a different language, then he assisted the lady next to me.

I didn’t buy the chicken.

Maltodextrin is one of those ingredients that confuses me. Sometime it makes me sick, sometimes it doesn’t.  So today I decided to put on my sleuth hat and do a little investigating.

In terms fit for an allergic foodie who didn’t do well in science class, maltodextrin is simply a food additive produced from a starch. While the name has “malt” in it, maltodextrin does not contain any malt (phew!). It comes in a white powder or a concentrated solution.

What Is This in My Food? Maltodextrin?

What’s important for those of us with allergies, sensitivities and celiac disease to know is this: Maltodextrin is derived from corn, rice, potato starch, wheat, and sometimes barley.  So if you have allergies or sensitivities to any of these, you may react to maltodextrin. I know I sure do! This is why I don’t use Splenda–it contains maltodextrin from corn.

If you have celiac disease, you need to stay away from maltodextrin derived from wheat and barley. This is easier said than done. For instance, the other night my husband was eating barbecue ribs and maltodextrin was listed on the label. According the FDA Regulations, if the maltodextrin contained wheat, wheat should have been included on the ingredient (maltodextrin (wheat)).  It wasn’t. But I still didn’t feel safe because “gluten free” didn’t appear on the packaging either. And since I’m also allergic to corn anyway, I decided not to take a chance on those ribs.

Honestly, unless I’m eating food from a allergy-friendly company, I’ve never seen the source of maltodextrin listed. The reason maltodextrin derived from wheat can be listed as plain old maltodextrin, even though the FDA has labeling rules for the top-8 allergens, is a bit complicated. The Gluten Free Dietitian has a good explanation here.  I’m sure she did better in science class than I did.

Something else to consider: The amount of gluten in maltodextrin is usually less than 20 ppm; this means the FDA allows the food to be labeled gluten-free. For those of us who are super sensitive, 20 ppm is way too much.

So I’m glad I didn’t buy that chicken or bite into those ribs.  Unless the ingredient list identifies the source of maltodextrin, I’m staying away from it.

What Is This in My Food? Maltodextrin first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Working Together to Avoid an Allergic Reaction

How do you feed a conference full of food allergic people?

One of the steps The South Point in Las Vegas took for the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference was listing the ingredients in the food served in the buffet line.

Food Labeling in Buffet

This labeling made eating easy–and safe!  But such attention to detail doesn’t always happen when those of us with food allergies eat in restaurants. In fact, studies have shown:

* 24 percent of restaurant staff believe consuming small amounts of allergens are safe;

* 25 percent believe a fryer destroys allergens; and

* 25 percent believe it is safe to remove an allergen, such as shell fish or nuts, from a finished meal.

Scary, isn’t it?

Dr. Lama Rimawi, founder of Tasterie, and Nona Narvaez, founder and executive director of Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota,  offered some terrific ideas for those of us wanting to eat out and for the folks making and serving our food.

For Restaurants

*  The most important statement you can make to a food allergic person is:  I don’t know.  It’s okay if you don’t know what’s in a product used in a dish, but it’s critical to be honest.

* Training your staff.  There are three different companies that certify food allergy training.  At least one person with food allergy training should be in the restaurant when food is being prepared and served.

* Listen to your customer!  Communication is essential.

For Consumers

* If you withhold information from restaurant staff regarding your dietary restrictions, the food establishment cannot accommodate your needs.  Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But many diners are too embarrassed to communicate their food allergies.

* A good restaurant is going to send the chef to your table.  If they don’t, ask to speak to the chef or the manager.

* If you or a loved one has a reaction, report it to the restaurant. If that initial call never gets made, there is no tracking of the allergic episode.

* The FDA Food Code is a model code that assists governmental agencies to develop their own food safety rules. The model code is produced every four years, the last one being in 2009, and takes into consideration the best of food science to keep the public safe.  To find out what your state’s regulations are, contact your state health department.