Everything You Need to Know About the New Gluten-Free Labeling Rules

One year ago, after considerable public (and no doubt even more backroom) debate, the FDA ruled that U.S. food manufacturers had twelve months to adhere to stricter labeling requirements for products claiming to be “gluten-free.” The move was hailed as a major victory by some health and nutrition activists; it was cited as an example of bureaucratic foot-dragging by others. Either way, the ruling gave manufacturers twelve months to get themselves compliant with the FDA’s new labeling standards before facing potential regulatory action.

Yesterday, that twelve month period ended and the stricter rules officially came into effect. Which means, the jig us up for FDA rule-breakers and gluten-scammers.

But what exactly are the new rules? And what are their implications? With a little help from the FDA’s most recent statements, here’s what you need to know.

1. The New Regulatory Definition of Gluten-Free. According to the new guidelines, a food is ‘gluten-free’ if it does not contain any of these elements: (a) an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains, (b) an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten and/or (c) an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten.

2. New Rules Set a Measurable, Scientific Standard. The FDA has now set a formal gluten limit of 20 ppm (parts per million) for any food product that bears a gluten-free label. Previously, consumers with gluten intolerances never knew exactly what level of glutens existed in supposedly gluten-free products. The level of 20 PPM is generally considered well below the level where even most patience with full blown Celiacs disease can tolerate a food.

3. What about Foods that Are Inherently Free of Gluten? Foods like bottled water, fruits, vegetables and eggs can be labeled gluten-free. The label is not just limited to foods where glutens have been removed.

4. Can Advertisers Avoid Penalties By Simply Using Another Name for Gluten-Free? No. Food manufacturers who advertise using words that effectively mean the same thing as gluten-free, such as “no gluten,” “without gluten” or “gluten-less” must adhere to the same standards as those for “gluten-free”.

5. Are There Still Some Products in Stores Labeled as Gluten-Free That Do Not Meet the New Standards? Unfortunately, yes. Some products that have long shelf lives like pasta may have been labeled gluten-free before compliance with the new rules became mandatory. So people with gluten sensitivities must take care to check that food products were actually packaged after August 5th, 2014 if they want to ensure that they meet with the new standards.

6. Rules Apply to Restaurants, Too. The FDA has decided to hold restaurants that use the words “gluten-free” on their menus to the same standard as packaged food manufacturers. So restaurateurs will need to take care to know exactly what’s in their ingredients if making gluten-free claims.

While perhaps not perfect and a bit slow in coming to fruition, the new set of FDA rules does seem beneficial to consumers desiring to limit gluten in their diets. More information can be found on the US FDA website under “Consumer Updates,” here.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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