As of Aug. 5, 2014, packaged foods across the U.S. must comply with the new federal rules for labeling foods as “gluten-free”.
The rules, set by the FDA, require that any packaged food with a gluten-free claim have to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. After finalizing the standard in August 2013, food manufacturers were given one year to come into compliance. As of August 5, 2014, the standard went into full effect.
The standard applies to terms including “gluten free”, “no gluten”, “without gluten” and “free of gluten”. The celiac disease community lobbied for many years for a gluten-free standard, as without one in place some companies were using the term “gluten-free” quite loosely. For the consumer, there was no way to know if a claim was true, presenting a significant health risk to those medically required to be on the gluten-free diet.
It’s important to note that while the standard covers all foods and dietary supplements that are regulated by the FDA, it does not apply to most alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, prescription and non-prescription drugs, pet food, and foods regulated by the USDA (such as meat or poultry).
While the FDA is unable to test all products to ensure they meet the standard, dietitian Tricia Thompson of Gluten Free Watchdog has tested hundreds of gluten-free products already on the market, and the majority contained well under 20 ppm of gluten. For maximum safety, it’s best to stick to established free-from manufacturers, or look for credible gluten-free certification programs (such as GFCP).
If you think a company is inappropriately displaying a gluten-free claim, contact them to ensure the product is meant to be gluten-free. You can also contact your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator (see here).
FDA Finalizes Gluten-Free Standard
FDA’s Gluten-Free Rule: Issues in the Fine Print
How to Read a Label if You Have Celiac Disease
How to Read a Label if You Have Celiac Disease (Canadian version)