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FDA Standardizes Gluten-Free Labeling

The new labels are a step toward making foods safer for people with celiac disease, but do they go far enough?

The FDA recently announced a definition for gluten-free labeling. (Photo Credit: Tiffany Arnold | Germantown Patch)
The FDA recently announced a definition for gluten-free labeling. (Photo Credit: Tiffany Arnold | Germantown Patch)
By Brandie Jefferson

“Gluten-free” labeling has recently been popping up on supermarket labels and menu items; from products that never had are naturally gluten-free, to gluten-free mixes for pizza crust, bread and a host of other products traditionally made with wheat, there hasn’t been a standardized definition of what “gluten-free” means. 

Until now.  

For the up to 3 million people with celiac diseases – and the millions more who may suffer from gluten intolerance – the FDA has some big news. 

The new FDA definition of “gluten-free” now refers to foods with less than 20 parts per million of gluten, the lowest level that can be consistently detected, according to the FDA.

In a statement released by the FDA, Executive Director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance Andrea Levario said the new regulation was a desperately needed tool for people with the disease.

"It keeps food safe for this population, gives them the tools they need to manage their health, and obviously has long-term benefits for them," Levario said.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which a person’s body triggers an immune response in the small intestine in response to gluten—proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and their crossbreeds—according to the Mayo Clinic. 

When people with celiac disease are exposed to gluten, their immune systems essentially attacks the body, which can cause inflammation, damaging the small intestines and preventing the absorption nutrients.

There is no cure for the disease, people with celiac are directed to follow strict gluten-free diets, which is why the FDA’s announcement is important.

However, not everyone believes the new regulations go far enough.

“While it’s nice that the FDA finally said, ‘hey, if you’re going to make a gluten-free claim, you have to back it up,’ what they didn’t do is make it mandatory that if the allergen is in a food that is not making a claim of gluten free, that it not be listed,” said David Burke.

Burke manages One Dish Cuisine, an allergy-sensitive restaurant in Ellicott City owned by Maureen Burke, who is also the head chef and David's wife.

If a food product doesn’t claim to be gluten free, then it doesn’t have to note ingredients that may have gluten.

“There’s a whole bunch of food out there that people are eating and getting sick off of because the allergies are not listed,” David Burke said.

The list of ingredients goes beyond bread and pastries, but can include items such as spices, processed meats and even medications.

(There is currently a bill in committee that would require drug labels to specify grain or starch-derived ingredients).

The FDA does regulate dietary supplements, but the new requirements do not apply to foods and drinks regulated by the FDA (meats, poultry and certain egg products) of those regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (alcoholic beverages).

In addition to having no more than 20 ppm gluten, foods must also be free of the following ingredients to be labeled “gluten-free”

  • Any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
  • Any ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  • Any 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

Tell Us: Where do you buy gluten-free foods in Kensington or around Montgomery County?

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