There are two problems with oatmeal. Even if the first problem can be solved, the second one makes solving the first pretty much irrelevant.
The contamination may only be slight, but the contamination problem is huge. Because the distribution system is not concerned with keeping oats separate from wheat (or from rye and barley either), wheat and other gluten-containing grains can show up as the odd plant growing in the field, or in the harvesting equipment, transportation equipment, grain elevator, mill, packaging equipment … you name it.
But how much gluten from wheat, barley or rye might end up in your morning porridge? Not much. Probably none most of the time. But if you are the unlucky one to get a grain of wheat in your oatmeal one unlucky morning, then that’s all it takes to ruin your day, and probably the next few weeks besides.
“Gluten-free oatmeal” does exist. It is specially handled to reduce or eliminate the chances of contaminating wheat and other gluten-containing grains entering the system. Does that solve the problem? Read on.
The second problem with oats makes the first one irrelevant.
Oats contain gluten. Some argue that the gluten is sufficiently different from wheat gluten as to be safe for celiacs. Others believe that they are too similar to be safe. Even some proponents of gluten-free oats say that it should be consumed in moderation. Perhaps that statement alone tells the whole story.
The fact is we don’t really know for sure if oat gluten is really safe for celiacs or not. Some celiacs do not do well with oats, which serves as a warning to other celiacs who don’t notice any obvious symptoms.
In the end, you are best to avoid oats completely if you are celiac. There are plenty of other grains and pseudograins to choose from when avoiding wheat and gluten.
The up-side of eating oats is a bit more variety and convenience.
The down-side is illness and potential organ damage by ingesting oat gluten.
Conclusion: avoid oats if you are celiac.
What is your experience with following a gluten-free diet and eating (or not eating) oats? Comments welcome!