Gluten-free Label Reading: Tips and Tricks for Understanding Confusing Regulations
It says it’s gluten-free, so it should be, right? We wish. Data from the Nima community has shown that about 1 in 3 “gluten-free” dishes does contain gluten. The Food and Drug Administration considers a product to be “gluten-free” if it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. However, the FDA does not certify or label foods as gluten-free. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products labeled “gluten-free” meet the labeling requirements of testing below 20 ppm.
However, often times food companies will put a “gluten-free” claim on their packaging without a formal certification or testing process. The FDA states it is the company’s responsibility to make sure the product tests below 20 pm if they claim it is “gluten-free,” however there is no requirement to prove that claim before putting it on packaging. Here are 10 facts about the FDA’s gluten free labeling rule from the Celiac Disease Foundation.
These loose regulations can cause for quite a bit of confusion. It is up to the consumer to be educated on different types of certifications and gluten warning signs.
So who is to be accountable for this madness? Many manufacturers are turning to third party companies that certify products as “gluten-free” based on specialized gluten audits, including lab testing and kitchen inspections.
Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) is one of the leading certificate programs in the world, with more than 700 companies and 23,000 certified products worldwide. Products with this label must test below 10 ppm and pass a facility screening on a yearly basis to retain the certification. For more information about GFCO and their non-profit, Gluten Intolerance Group, check
out their website. Companies often times will label their products with this symbol without the word “certified”, so you must look closely and be aware that there is a chance it might not be certified.
The National Celiac Support Association, is a company that offers a similar certification as GFCO, however their labeled products must test below 5 ppm. The NCA performs not only product testing but also facility inspections, and reviews the product packaging to ensure safety. Aside from certifications, NCA is also a non-profit that works to educate and empower people with gluten restricted diets. To view current NCA certification holders, click here.
The National Sanitation Foundation International is a public health and safety organization that serves as an accredited resource for third party certification. The NSF is an independent organization that develops public health standards and implements through educational audits to provide risk management solutions. While they have a large range of public health certifications, they also provide a gluten free certificate after a thorough auditing process. Their products must test at 15 ppm or below of gluten.
So what do you do when there are no gluten-free certification labels? Open up that “gluten-free” filing cabinet in the back of your brain, and try to remember these label-reading rules:
1. Anything with the words “wheat, barley, rye, malt” contains gluten or has been derived from a gluten-containing ingredient and should be avoided.
2. Check the “Contains:” section, underneath the ingredients on a nutritional label. In the U.S, companies are required to note if their product contain the top eight allergens, which includes: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. While wheat is included in that list, gluten is not (as gluten is not technically considered an allergen). If the label indicates wheat, no further investigation is required. Remember, “wheat free” does not always mean “gluten free”, so if it does not contain wheat in the allergen statement, further investigation is still required.
3. Check closely for less commonly used sources of gluten such as:
• Brewer’s yeast
• Graham flour
• Whole oats, oatmeal, oat bran, oat flour (unless specified “gluten-free”)
• Seitan (a meat substitute with ingredients derived from wheat gluten used in many vegetarian dishes)
• Soy sauce
• Malt flavoring
4. If you are unsure, contact the manufacturer for clarity about their ingredients and best practices with cross contamination.
5. Test with your Nima!
Next time you are in doubt about a product, run through the above steps to ensure you are covering all your bases!