Regulations to make gluten free claims has been finalized by the FDA and will go into effect August 2014. Our gluten and allergen expert, Diane Moyer, MS, RD has summarized what the regulations for gluten free claims state:
Criteria for Gluten Free Claims
In order for a food to be labeled “gluten-free” it will have to meet one or more of the following criteria:
1. The food must be inherently gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, etc.
2. The food may not contain any of the gluten-containing grains, which are defined as wheat, barley, rye, spelt or their cross-breeds (kamut, triticale, etc.).
3. If there is any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food (as in cross contact from the manufacturing process), the food must contain less than 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten.
4. The food may not contain any ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain, if it has not been processed to remove the gluten, even if the food tests to less than 20ppm, i.e. wheat flour is not permitted in any amount.
5. The food may contain an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain, if the ingredient has been processed to remove the gluten AND the final product contains less than 20ppm. Wheat starch is one ingredient that would be OK to include under this section, as long as the final food ends up containing less than 20ppm of gluten. (However, this could lead to the confusing situation of a food being labeled “gluten-free,” and, at the same time, stating “Contains Wheat,” which is required under the food allergen labeling law.)
Acceptable Terms for Gluten Free Claims
Putting the term “gluten-free” on a label will be voluntary on the part of the manufacturer. Foods without this label will not necessarily be any less safe. The terms “no gluten,” “free of gluten” or “without gluten” are considered to be identical to “gluten-free” and subject to the same regulations. On the other hand, statements such as “made with no gluten-containing ingredients” will continue to be allowed, but unless the food also states “gluten-free,” it cannot be assumed the food meets all the above criteria.
Testing for Gluten
Food manufacturers are also not required to test their products for gluten. They are expected to use good quality control measures to ensure that the food meets guidelines. They might contract with a third party or a national GF certifying organization to test, or they might require such information from their ingredient suppliers, and then follow good manufacturing processes to assure no cross-contact. However they choose to do so, they are responsible for making sure that any claim on their label is truthful and complies with the regulations.
Oats and Gluten Free Claims
Oats will not be considered a gluten-containing grain under these regulations, even though a minority of people with Celiac Disease/Gluten-Related Disorders does react to oats. However, most oats have cross contact with wheat and barley from the fields and mills, so including them would make it difficult to reach the 20ppm goal. There are oats labeled “certified gluten-free,” which have been grown and milled separately from other grains.
Restaurants Making Gluten Free Claims
Although the FDA did not specifically address restaurants, it did state that restaurants would be expected to follow the same guidelines, similarly to putting any other nutrition claim on a menu item, such as low fat or low sodium. In any restaurant that prepares gluten-containing foods, especially if any baking is done on the premises, there is a high likelihood of cross contact of other foods. Therefore, it might be advisable, for liability purposes, for restaurants to use alternative wording to “gluten-free” in identifying these options on the menu.