What Does “Gluten-Free” Really Mean? The New FDA Labeling Standard

Earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that food claiming to be “gluten-free” must meet a new stringent standard:  Gluten is a protein found mostly in wheat but also is some other grains.  To comply with the FDA’s new rules, products labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 parts per million of the protein—or about an eighth of a teaspoon of flour in 18 slices of gluten-free bread. That’s low enough for most people who have mild to severe gluten allergies to safely consume the product.  This new labeling standard is the same as the European and Canadian requirements.  Manufactures have until August 5, 2014 to comply with the new standard.

There are a few details of this new labeling requirement that are important to know.

·         This standard applies to dietary supplements claiming to be “gluten-free” as well. 

·         Manufactures using the “gluten-free” claim may not have had their product tested for compliance.  The onus is on the FDA to test products making the “gluten-free” claim.  Some manufactures making the claim may go untested or slip through the cracks.

·         Manufactures can use other wording such as “No Gluten Ingredients” or “No Gluten Added” that would exempt them from the “gluten-free” labeling standard.

·         Alcoholic beverages are not regulated by the FDA.  Therefore they are not part of this labeling requirement.

·         Foods that naturally have no gluten can use this labeling as a way of looking more health conscious.

So, while the new labeling is an improvement, consumers must be knowledgeable about the finer points of this new standard.  If you have celiac disease, or some other reaction to gluten, continue to be careful about your food choices and don’t completely rely on the new labeling requirements.

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