'Gluten Free' Now Actually Means Gluten Free
Shoppers avoiding gluten can rest easy now that a new labeling requirement for gluten-free products has gone into effect.
Manufacturers had one year to comply with an August 2013 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that defines the characteristics of foods bearing the gluten-free label. Those that don't meet the criteria could face regulatory action by the FDA.
Any food product made after August 5, 2014 must comply with the rule, but FDA officials note that some products with longer shelf lives, like pasta, might still be on the market.
The final rule only applies to products sold in retail stores and not restaurants, but the FDA urges that restaurants be consistent with the definition.
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein in wheat, rye and barley or any crossbreeds of those grains.
Foods that are considered gluten-free must not include any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye or barley. To be included, these grains must be processed to remove the gluten. Products donning the gluten-free label must have gluten levels of 20 or less parts per million (ppm).
According to a statement from the FDA, "This is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools."
Before the federal standards, an estimated 5 percent of gluten-free foods contained more than 20ppm.
The definition and the accuracy of the label is important for people with celiac disease, an incurable condition that causes the body to attack the lining of the small intestine when gluten is ingested. People with celiac disease can only manage the illness with dietary changes by not eating gluten. About 3 million people in the U.S. have this disease.