Lazy Gluten Free: The New Gluten Free Labeling Regulation

The New Gluten Free Labeling Regulation

Hopefully you have heard that the FDA's gluten free labeling rules went into effect on August 5, 2014. So what does that mean and how does that impact the gluten free community (us)? I thought I would provide a quick overview for you to ensure that you know what is going on and what a GF label means now.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines "gluten-free" foods as those containing less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Don't be deceived by this, because manufacturers can legally label a food GF even if the food contains a gluten-containing ingredient (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) as long as the ingredient has been processed to reduce the gluten to below the 20ppm threshold.  That means that if you are particularly sensitive to gluten, you need to be very careful about consuming products labeled GF. Make sure you use products that are made in a dedicated facility and that the manufacturer can attest to the ingredients being completely GF as well.

When the new rules were announced in August of 2013, the FDA said that 95% or more manufacturers were already following the 20ppm or less GF rules. However, all companies using GF labels had one year (until August 2014) to be in compliance with the new rules.

The FDA first proposed rules to govern gluten-free labeling in 2007. Then in August 2011, the agency reopened the public comment period and announced plans to resume work on the regulations. In February of 2013, the FDA completed its work on the regulations and sent the final version on for further regulatory review.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 began requiring manufacturers to disclose on food labels the presence of eight major allergens (including wheat). These disclosures began to show up in 2006. The law also required the FDA to establish rules for gluten-free labeling, which in 2007 the agency proposed to define "gluten free" as food containing less than 20ppm.

What You Need to Know:
It should be noted that the new gluten free labels will be voluntary, not mandatory. Any manufacturer that wishes to cater to GF consumers can add the labels, but they are not required to do so. The labels will also not eliminate the need for us to continue to identify gluten and gluten by-products on food labels since the FDA's rules won't require manufacturers to disclose gluten-containing ingredients.

Here are the new "Gluten Free" terms you may see on labels that are covered by the FDA regulation:
  • Gluten Free
  • Free of Gluten
  • No Gluten
  • Without Gluten

What is Covered:
  • Packaged foods
  • Restaurants making a gluten-free claim on their menus should be consistent with FDA’s definition
  • Imported foods into the United States must meet the same federal requirements as foods domestically produced
  • Foods that by nature are gluten free (ex: spring water)
  • Any grain (other than the gluten-containing grains of wheat, rye, barley, or their crossbred hybrids)
  • Oats (do not have to be certified GF, just have to have less than 20ppm of gluten

What Isn't Covered:
The final gluten free labeling rule applies to all FDA-regulated packaged foods, including dietary supplements. However, the rule excludes those foods whose labeling is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). 
  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Certain egg products (FDA regulates labeling of shell eggs)
  • Most alcoholic beverages, including all distilled spirits, wines that contain 7 percent or more alcohol by volume, and malted beverages that are made with both malted barley and hops.

My hope is that this helps shed a little light on what the FDA GF labeling rules actually mean. We are still a long way off from being able to 100% trust a food labeled 'Gluten Free', but this will help us to make better and somewhat more informed decisions about the food we buy. Continue to read labels and investigate when you are unsure if a product is safe. 

If you would like more info, visit the FDA's site here:

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