New labeling rules for gluten-free products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will give consumers assurance that all gluten-free products meet the same safety standards. The regulations will go into effect August 2014 and will require manufacturers to meet a 20 parts per million (ppm) FDA standard before they can put a gluten-free label on a packaged product. 20 ppm is a standard considered safe by many celiac disease experts and includes gluten from any source, including cross-contamination that can occur in the factory or in the field.
Which Foods Can Carry the Gluten-Free Label?
Foods labeled “gluten free” cannot contain wheat, barley or rye. Ingredients made from these grains are also largely prohibited, but the gluten-free label can be used if the products are processed to remove gluten as long as the final food contains less than 20 ppm. Oats are not allowed unless they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. A gluten-free label would be allowed on foods that inherently don’t contain gluten, for example raw carrots and grapefruit juice.
• The terms, “gluten free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten” and “without gluten” can be used on labels of foods that meet the FDA gluten-free standard.
• No universal symbol will appear on packages to indicate that a food meets the FDA gluten-free standard. If a food company wants to indicate that a product meets the standard, it has to use one of the gluten-free terms.
• Certification seals from third parties, for example a seal from the Gluten Free Certification Organization, can continue to be used on labels. Typically the standards for certification seals are stricter than the FDA requirements.
• The label format is left up to the manufacturer; the FDA does not have a mandated design or any requirements for where the gluten-free label has to be placed.
• Manufacturers can continue to use the terms, “made with no gluten containing ingredients” and “not made with gluten containing ingredients.” If the terms are used in conjunction with a gluten-free label, the product must meet the FDA standard. If the terms are used without a gluten-free label, the FDA says, “consumers should not assume the food meets all FDA requirements.”
• Food manufacturers can continue to use advisory statements such as, “Made in a factory that also processes wheat products” on a food that also has a gluten-free label. The FDA says it will need to “look at foods on a case by case basis to determine whether a specific advisory statement with a gluten-free claim would be misleading.” Any product with the advisory statement and gluten-free label would have to meet the FDA requirements.
• Naturally gluten-free foods can be labeled gluten free. The final rule addresses concerns that some gluten-free grains, legumes and seeds have a high risk of cross-contamination. A gluten-free label on these kinds of products provides the expectation that any gluten is less than 20 ppm.
• Gluten-free labeling continues to be voluntary, so even products that are gluten free may not be labeled as such. This is likely to come up most often with naturally gluten-free products with a low risk of cross-contamination such as fruits and vegetables. The lack of a gluten-free label does not mean the food contains gluten.
For more information, see Gluten-Free Diet and Recipes.