Gluten Free Labels Are Now Recognized by the FDA

by Christine Hronec

 
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially laid down rules for what can and cannot be labeled “gluten-free.” According to the Federal Register, in order to be labeled with the term, the item must contain less than 20 parts of gluten per million. The FDA clarified that the maximum was set at 20 ppm because there are not yet any analytical methods that can “reliably detect gluten” at lower levels. Also, “some celiac disease researchers” suggest that even those with celiac “can tolerate…trace amounts” of gluten.

To be sold as “gluten-free,” the item also cannot list any grains containing gluten among its ingredients — such as spelt or barley — or grains that have been crossbred with those grains. A press release notes that the new rule also applies to labels like “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “without gluten.” All food products, including dietary supplements, must abide by the guidelines set out by the FDA. The rules, however, do not apply to liquor and beer, which are regulated by a different agency. And, when it comes to gluten-free foods served at restaurants, the FDA asks that eateries are “consistent” with the guidelines, but don’t require that they follow the rules.

“Adherence to a gluten-free diet is the key to treating celiac disease, which can be very disruptive to everyday life,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA’s new ‘gluten-free’ definition will help people with this condition make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health.”

The FDA recognizes that many foods currently labeled as “gluten-free” may be able to meet the new federal definition already. Food manufacturers will have a year after the rule is published to bring their labels into compliance with the new requirements. The FDA was directed to issue the new regulation by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), which directed FDA to set guidelines for the use of the term “gluten-free” to help people with celiac disease maintain a gluten-free diet.

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