Today is the day folks. The new FDA gluten-free labeling laws go into effect. A day the celiac community has been waiting forever for.
And you know what this means don’t you?
Yeah…neither do I. Like anything else the government gets involved in, it’s kind of a confusing mess.
So the Gluten Dude is here to try to break it all down for you.
A few caveats before we get started:
1) Though I may kvetch a bit about some of the rulings, I am beyond appreciative of all of the work that went into getting this passed. And it is indeed a step in the right direction.
2) Please…no comments that gluten-free must mean 0 ppm. There is no way to test for it and though it sounds nice, it’s just not reasonable at this point in time.
And away we go…
What the Gluten-Free Labeling Law Covers
The rule covers all foods under the FDA.
Whether a food is manufactured to be free of gluten or by nature is free of gluten, it may bear a gluten-free labeling claim if it meets all FDA requirements for a gluten-free food. In order to use the term “gluten-free” on a food label, the food must meet the following requirements (from MayoClinic.org):
- The food is inherently gluten free (like fresh fruit or raw vegetables).
- It does not contain an ingredient that is a gluten-containing grain (wheat, rye or barley).
- It does not contain an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain that that has not been processed to remove gluten.
- It does not contain an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten, but that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.
- It does not contain any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food in amounts of 20 ppm or greater.
Similar labels, such as “without gluten”, “free of gluten” or “no gluten” are also allowed.
I tried to get “not a damn bit of gluten” and “look ma…no gluten!” passed, but the FDA wouldn’t take my calls.
Keep in mind the label is not mandatory so just because it may not say “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s not gluten-free.
And if the 20 ppm still scares you a bit, look for the following specific certifications on the products you buy (from SimplyGlutenFree.com):
- CSA Recognition Seal through the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) – food must test under 5 ppm
- Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) through the Gluten Intolerance Group – food must test under 10 ppm
- Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP) through the Canadian Celiac Organization and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness – food must test under 10 ppm
- QAI Gluten Free Certification through Quality Assurance International (QAI) – food must test under 10 ppm
What the Gluten-Free Labeling Law Doesn’t Cover
– Alcohol. Yeah…total bummer on this one. Still so much fear and confusion in this realm. The Omissions and the Dauras of the world can continue to call their beer gluten-removed and market it as gluten-free.
Oh…and for the upteenth time, pure alcohol is gluten-free. That means you can drink your vodka, gin, tequila, rum, etc. to your heart’s delight. Actually, mix those four together, add some triple sec, a dash of coke and some lemon and you’ve got yourself a Long Island Ice Tea. And if that’s gluten-free then really…life’s not so bad ;)
– Restaurants. Another bummer but there is hope. Here is what the FDA says: “We encourage the restaurant industry to move quickly to ensure that its use of “gluten-free” labeling is consistent with the federal definition and look forward to working with the industry to support their education and outreach to restaurants. In addition, state and local governments play an important role in oversight of restaurants. We expect to work with our state and local government partners with respect to gluten-free labeling in restaurants. We will consider enforcement action as needed, alone or with other agencies, to protect consumers.”
Let’s face it…when we dine out…we are at risk. We are in the hands of the chefs and the servers. That’s just reality and I don’t see it changing in the near future.
– Meat, poultry, fish and eggs. These are regulated by the USDA. Actually, if you mix those four items together, add some triple sec…oh never mind.
– Prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs. This is desperately needed. Please stay tuned as a few powerful voices in our community, including yours truly, are banding together shortly to try to make this happen.
Will the New Rules Really Keep Me Safer?
Short answer…I don’t know.
Let’s take Bart’s Bakery as an example. He sells gluten-free cookies. Except he uses shared equipment and multiple tests have proven that his cookies are over the 20 ppm limit. Yet he still sells them on his website and the stores are still stocking them.
Will boneheads like him really change? I mean he already knows his products are making people sick yet he continues to sell them.
And I’m sure there are other companies that are selling “gluten-free” food knowing damn well that it may not really be gluten-free. Is the small risk of them getting caught worth them changing their ways? I’d like to think so, but companies with loose morals may not be enticed enough to change.
And one other note…testing is not mandatory. Manufacturers are not required to test for the presence of gluten in ingredients or in the finished “gluten-free” labeled food product. Not only that, but there is no requirement for the manufacturers to keep records if they did indeed test for gluten.
So in a nutshell, while the rules make the celiac minefield a little less treacherous, it’s still buyer beware. If there are companies you trust, stick with them.
What if I Get Sick from a “Gluten-Free” Product?
If you are fairly certain you got glutened from a “gluten-free” product, contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for the state in which you reside. Here’s the link with all of the phone numbers.
Any Last Bit of Advice?
1) Try to stay positive. While the ruling isn’t perfect, it is progress.
2) You still MUST be your own best advocate.
3) If you do react to 20 ppm, look for the labels mentioned above.
4) Don’t live in fear. Life is to be enjoyed.
Actually, if you mix these four things together, add some triple sec… ;)