The New Gluten-free Labeling Rule: Does it Go Far Enough?

This year, the celiac community has more to be grateful for with the long-awaited gluten-free labeling rule, which finally became official on August 5, 2014. Since this rule is hot-off-the-presses, here’s what you need to know.

The Basics

What is does it mean?
Gluten-free is finally defined in the U.S.! Products marked gluten-free legally must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, which includes any exposure to gluten by cross-contamination.

What’s covered?
The ruling covers all foods under the FDA, which is most packaged foods and nutritional supplements that choose to use the term “gluten-free,” “free of gluten,” “no gluten” or “without gluten.”It will not affect any packaged foods without a gluten-free claim, medications, or over-the-counter medications. Most packages still will not contain this information and will fall under FALCPA (food allergen labeling) rules.

Other gluten-free certifications, such as certification through the Gluten Intolerance Group or the Celiac Support Association, will remain unchanged.

Cross-contamination Counts

For many who are strictly gluten-free, avoiding cross-contamination is the hardest part. With a little support, you can read labels for gluten, but it’s often the tiny amounts that are accidentally added that can sink your battleship. Fortunately, this law means that the final product of items labeled gluten-free are below 20 parts per million, including any gluten accidentally added during processing.

What About Oats?

Oats are allowed in products marked gluten-free as long as the final product contains under 20 ppm of gluten.

Why Doesn’t Gluten-free Mean ZERO Gluten?

While that would be wonderful, it’s not yet possible to measure accurately down to zero parts per million at this point in time. Researchers around the world agree that 20 parts per million is safe for almost all people with celiac disease. Canada, Europe, Israel and other countries also define gluten-free as 20 ppm.

Controversial Points

The new ruling is clear that products must be under 20 ppm of gluten, but it doesn’t actually require manufacturers to test products for the presence of gluten. While the FDA gives some tips to manufacturers about testing, this is a bit puzzling and disappointing that there are no concrete requirements.

Think a Product is Mislabeled?

Complaints can be made by calling the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System called “CAERS” at (240) 402-2405, and this link provides additional resources around the U.S. 

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Cheryl Harris
Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, is a nutritionist and mindfulness coach in Fairfax, VA. She runs a private practice focused on digestive & autoimmune health, Harris Whole Health. She blogs at Connect with her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.