As of Aug. 5, 2014, food products that are labeled gluten-free must meet the government definition of gluten-free. The FDA came out with the final guidelines last August, giving manufacturers a year to adjust their product formulations. Products labeled gluten free that were on grocery store shelves before Aug. 4 can remain until the end of their shelf life, but gluten-free products being labeled today must comply with the new rules.
So, why the interest in gluten?
Gluten is a protein that is found in some grains, such as rye, barley, and wheat (including spelt, kamut, triticale, and all varieties of wheat). Consuming gluten is a problem for people with celiac disease, which is thought to affect 3 million people in the United States. Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects digestion and can lead to serious long term complications. The U.S. government has established a definition for gluten-free to help ensure that those with celiac disease are provided truthful and accurate information.
What are the new rules?
Labeling a food as gluten free is voluntary. The new rules apply to manufacturers who choose to use the claim. The following lists the gluten free food labeling rules as they are described in the Federal Register:
- Foods that inherently do not contain gluten (e.g., raw carrots or grapefruit juice) may use the “gluten-free” claim.
- Foods with any whole, gluten-containing grains (e.g., spelt wheat) as ingredients may not use the claim.
- Foods with ingredients that are gluten-containing grains that are refined but still contain gluten (e.g., wheat flour) may not use the claim.
- Foods with ingredients that are gluten-containing grains that have been refined in such a way to remove the gluten may use the claim, so long as the food contains less than 20 ppm gluten/has less than 20 mg gluten per kg (e.g. wheat starch).
- Foods may not use the claim if they contain 20 ppm or more gluten as a result of cross-contact with gluten-containing grains.
As consumers, we may see “gluten-free” listed on products that obviously do not contain gluten, like bottled water or fruit drinks, and on grain products that contain less than 20 ppm gluten, per the above rules.
Some nutritional analysis software programs allow you to search their food database for products that provide gluten free claims. This feature is great for nutritionists and dietitians working with clients that have celiac disease.