The Crazy World of Gluten-Free Labeling Laws!

FDA gluten-free labeling

You may have to bear with me (or bare with me…could be fun) as I have a feeling this may be a long, rambling post. One…because it’s 10:00pm, I just worked a 14 hour day and I’m a bit punch drunk. And two…because it deals with a topic that has no clarity: The FDA Gluten-Free labeling laws. My goal by the end of this post is to have a firmer grasp on what the hell is allowed and not allowed and hopefully give you a firmer grasp as well. And I’ll also have a call to action for you at the end from the Gluten-Free Watchdog.

I’ll start this with an email I received last week.

Just came across this product (Dude note: See the picture at the top of this post) and while I am going to be raising a bit of hell about their unsafe packaging and marketing, I thought you might like to as well. Please look up Three Jerks Jerky. Read their home page (cue excitement as a celiac…) then click on specifically the “Veri Veri Teriyaki Jerky.” Look at the fine print in the photos. Let me know what you think. I’m so afraid they are making my fellow celiacs and gluten intolerant people ill (especially if those people are for some reason not intense label-readers) Help!!

She then contacted the Three Jerks Jerky team (yeah…I know that sounds funny) with some questions and some choice words and here is their response.

Thank you for reaching out. We understand your concerns completely! We also take allergies very seriously. But we do follow FDA guidelines which allows us to classify our Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki flavor as Gluten Free. During the fermenting process, as the jerky is cured and cooked down, the defatted wheat germ that is used becomes so minimal that it is well below the percentage to even be considered a gluten product. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused you, but we also have 5 other flavors that do not contain this if you are still worried.

A few quick notes: 1) Celiac is not an allergy. Just want to clarify. 2) Defatted wheat germ? Yeah I had to look it up too. Sounds lovely. 3) Trying to sell the other flavors as part of your response? Tacky.

But the question is: Are they allowed to label that gluten-free. So off to the FDA website I went to (hopefully) get the answer.

(Dude note: It’s now 10:29 and I’m fading. Will finish this up in the morning. Good night all.)

(Dude note: Ah…that’s better. A good night’s sleep (well for me anyway) and a nice up of Java. Let’s proceed, shall we?)

So off to the FDA website I went and here is what I found:

The final FDA rule defines “gluten-free” as meaning that the food either is inherently gluten free; or does not contain an ingredient that is: 1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); 2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or 3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.

Ok…so let’s break this down one at a time and see if the product passes or fails.

1) It cannot contain a gluten-containing grain. FAIL.

2) It cannot be derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten. FAIL.

3) It cannot be derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed if the final product has more than 20ppm gluten. ?????

One and two are clear fails. But number three is where it gets tricky. The FDA is saying the product can indeed contain gluten as long as it’s been processed to remove enough gluten to declare it safe. And here is where the rule fails the celiac community. Upon further reading, the rule states that the manufacturer is not required to test for the presence of gluten in their final product. Yes…even though it contains gluten.

But wait…there’s more (because isn’t there always more?). The rule states that the manufacturer can use any testing method they’d like but they recommend using a scientifically valid method. Again…giving the power to the manufacturer to make it easier to NOT comply.

And yes…there is even more. The FDA uses the ELISA based methods to test foods for gluten because it’s “scientifically valid”. But guess what this scientifically valid method does not test for? Yep…it cannot adequately detect gluten in fermented and hydrolyzed foods, which is exactly what the Jerks Jerky product in question is.

Is anybody else’s head spinning??

So what’s the answer? To me, it’s simple. Just don’t buy any food products that are made from gluten-containing grains. If we don’t buy them, they won’t make them. If we use the power and strength of our community to purchase foods only from the manufacturers that do it right and have our health in their best interest, we can make a difference. So I’m asking you to please consider rewarding the companies that take the extra measures to keep us safe.

And I’m respectfully asking my fellow bloggers to stop promoting foods that may not be safe to the community. I’ve seen it too many times recently and I just am shocked that someone would sell out the community to put money in their pockets. Celiac disease is not a career choice. It’s an autoimmune disease. Please treat it as such.

And now for the Call to Action I mentioned above. Not sure if you are aware of The Gluten-Free Watchdog, but he is exactly as her name suggests. She watches out for the community, tests questionable foods labeled gluten-free, let’s the community know and contacts the manufacturers to put a stop to it. She recently launched an FDA Citizen Petition to End Labeling Violations under the Gluten-Free Rule. This is an official FDA Petition, not simply one started on change.org. The petition is asking the FDA to establish new reporting and investigation processes to address facial misbranding violations under the gluten-free labeling rule.

What is facial misbranding? I’ll let GFW explain: We are defining facial misbranding to be when a product label displays a “gluten-free” claim but the ingredients list includes an ingredient that is prohibited under FDA rules from being contained in any product labeled “gluten-free” (e.g., barley malt, barley malt extract, barley malt syrup, wheat [except in limited circumstances with clear additional markings and language]).

You can read more about the petition here.

The petition has received 454 comments to date. The goal is 1,000. So here is what I’d like you to do (it’ll only take a minute):

  1. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2017-P-5118
  2. Click the blue Comment Now button next to “Citizen Petition from Tricia Thompson”.
  3. Write your comment why you are supporting this petition (required).
  4. Add your name. This is optional. If you do not compete these boxes, you will be listed as “anonymous.”
  5. Make sure the box “I am submitting on behalf of a third party” is NOT checked. Uncheck it if it is.
  6. Select a category. Many of you will be commenting as an “individual consumer.”
  7. Click continue.
  8. You should be given the opportunity to preview your information before submitting.
  9. After submitting your information, you will receive a tracking number for your comment.

That’s it easy-peezy.

Well…my original goal of this post was to add some clarity to the gluten-free labeling laws. Did I? I have no idea. But I do know one thing. Asking us to TRUST that companies making gluten-free products will do right by us is not a comforting thought. Anybody remember Cheerios??

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32 thoughts on “The Crazy World of Gluten-Free Labeling Laws!”

  1. I’ve signed the petition and written about this as well. It drives me crazy and perpetuates the gluten free myths! There is NO process that makes gluten safe!
    Reading through the law is maddening as it contradicts itself in several places and leaves the door open for interpretation to companies out to jump on the gf bandwagon and rake in the money from the gf fad!
    Thanks for your informative post about the problems with gluten free labeling!

  2. I also signed the petition, and left a comment. I am new to having Celiac. (2 years) And I learn something new everyday about it. Thanks for sharing this info.

  3. My husband bought this product after seeing the product showcased on Shark Tank. We received the product and thank goodness I thought to myself- hmm teriyaki- how did they do that gluten free and looked at the label. I too contacted the company and got a similar response. I followed up with the ironic fact that the Soy Vay company (according to the Soy Vay website) has a gluten free teriyaki product that would be more suited to their gluten free claims. I received no comment to this.

  4. I’m trying to submit – but the little box before “I read and understand the statement above” won’t let me check it. I’ve gone back into Edit mode and come back out. I’ll try to re-do the whole thing. Frustrating 🙁

    1. OK – After not being able to even access the site for about 5 minutes, I was able to get in and submit my comments. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  5. The page is still loading … I am hoping that is because it is so overwhelmed with people trying to make comments that it cannot load at this time. I will keep trying. Perhaps the FDA needs to be informed about Lorraine, the woman who died at the age of 46 after a long battle with Celiac Disease. I am sick and tired of the fad dieters making life a living hell. Hardly anyone takes this disease seriously. I just returned from a 3 day trip where I ate almost nothing (I could handle the 3 pound weight loss, but I sure felt a lot of hunger pangs) while everyone else enjoyed their meals together. I tried to find safe places to eat but, after being told several times, that, YES, we have gluten free food but NO we do not prep it in it’s own area, I pretty much accepted that I was just going to be eating my Gluten Free Bars and my trail mix … and lots of water … on this trip. Story of my life after my Celiac diagnosis … but, at least I still have a life. Can’t say that of Lorraine … rest her soul. Thank you for sharing the info about the petition. It is hard enough to live with this disease without the food manufacturers being given ways out of having to provide a 100% truthful label which would guarantee we can safely eat the freaking food. There are still too many loopholes to be able to rely on the words “gluten free” on a product. My granddaughter works at a pizza place which makes “gluten free” pizza. She got in trouble for telling a customer that there was cross-contamination because her doing so lost a sale. Restaurants are merely “encouraged” to comply with guidelines, so we are totally at the mercy of people who are, for the most part, in the dark about this potentially killer disease … or who just don’t care.

    1. Yes, Deb. I feel the same as you do, and have definitely had vacations where I heavily relied on my trusty suitcase of safe food. I also get so sick and tired of the fad. It seems to be fading out a little now where I live (the northeast) and I’m hoping that’s true. I mostly don’t eat pre-processed food. I mostly just eat food that already is GF and yes, for sure, I cook it myself. And the people who don’t care, or who say mean things to us……..well, we’ll just try to keep away from them, won’t we?

  6. Thank you for sharing Gluten Free Watchdog’s petition on this subject. My entire family, extended family, and friends signed and commented on the petition even though my son is the only family member with Celiac Disease. Everyone wanted to support my son in addition to the strong belief that product deception is just plain wrong. Please encourage your families and friends to sign/comment on the petition. There is strength in numbers. . .

  7. OK Dude,
    Nice catch.
    The FDA addresses fermentation and the bogus claims that it changes the gluten in any way.

    [i]“9. What additional requirements does FDA propose to verify a “gluten-free” claim on hydrolyzed or fermented foods?
    Because the current gluten tests do not adequately detect and quantify gluten in fermented and hydrolyzed foods or ingredients, FDA proposes that, in order to make a “gluten-free” claim, manufacturers of these foods would have to make and keep records to show all of the following:
    • The food meets the definition for “gluten-free” in 21 CFR 101.91(a)(3), including that the food had less than 20 ppm gluten, before fermentation or hydrolysis.
    • The manufacturer adequately evaluated the processing for any potential for gluten cross-contact.
    • Where a potential for gluten cross-contact has been identified, the manufacturer has implemented measures to prevent the introduction of gluten into the food during the manufacturing process.
    These records could include test results conducted by the manufacturer or an ingredient supplier, a certificate of analysis, or other appropriate verification documentation for the food or each ingredient used in the foods.“[/i]

    https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm472735.htm

    The claim:
    [i]“During the fermenting process, as the jerky is cured and cooked down, the defatted wheat germ that is used becomes so minimal that it is well below the percentage to even be considered a gluten product.”[/i]
    Is a clear violation of the law. They are required to test for gluten content BEFORE any fermentation process.

  8. I feel like they can keep their 20ppm for gluten free (for the fad dieters) and should add a new label called “Celiac Safe” which contains 0 zero gluten.

    1. To be fair, there is no test for zero gluten. I think the best they can test for is either 3ppm or 5ppm. And studies have shown that the celiac body can tolerate 20ppm (which is still a very minute amount.) I understand your point…just don’t want to mislead anyone.

      1. This Celiac body can’t tolerate any Gluten at all. By Celiac Safe, I mean they cannot contain a single gluten containing ingredient. I feel like trying to find food I can eat is a free for all. So I cook everything from scratch. It’s the only way to guarantee my health.

        1. On my way out, Dude. I’ll go and sign the petition in the morning. Thanks, as usual, for all you do for our community. jeanne

  9. On my way out, Dude. I’ll go and sign the petition in the morning. Thanks, as usual, for all you do for our community. jeanne

  10. From what I understand and the kind folks at Schar’s explained it to me in a long and extensive email. There IS away to take a wheat product and make it gluten free! If you look at the ingredients in a few of Schar’s products ie, the new croissants, it will list wheat starch as an ingredient. The first time I saw that, I emailed the company and they replied promptly—they use the “process of “distillation” to remove gluten from the wheat starch rendering it safe to use.” Is this the same distillation process used by the liquor industry to make whiskey from barley, rye and scotch? It is used throughout Europe to provide substance and body to gluten free baked products without a problem. I can’t help wondering if this is the same process used by Omission Beer that many celiacs drink without a problem? If anyone has further questions, I invite them to call or email Schar’s and discuss it further. However there is a vodka on the market that is also distilled from wheat- does that mean it, too, is safe?

    1. Omission beer is not distilled, it has enzymes added that are supposed to break down the gluten into it’s components leaving less than 20ppm. It also doesn’t seem to work which is why they can’t label it gluten free. In a distillation process the liquid is boiled and the condensation is collected. The gluten can’t vaporize so it remains behind which is why most whiskeys, scotches, etc. and the vodka from wheat are OK, however, a word of caution. Distillers sometimes add ingredients into the product after distillation and those can contain gluten. Example, Jameson’s Cask Mates is a new whiskey that is aged in old stout beer barrels and is not safe due to the gluten contamination in the barrels. As for wheat starch I can’t see how you can distill anything that isn’t liquid and starch is a carbohydrate made up of glucose, so seems implausible. Have to do some research on that one.

  11. Signed! I’m super new to gluten free for my celiac daughter. I bought a trail mix labeled gluten free and after she had consumed I looked on back and it was made on the same line as wheat. What?!

  12. I’m confused. I thought the USDA had jurisdiction over labelling of meat products. See Tricia Thompson’s Gluten Free Dietician article “Labeling of USDA-Regulated Foods” (www.glutenfreedietitian.com/labeling-of-usda-regulated-foods). It’s also covered in a Gluten Free Watchdog article “Foods Labeled Gluten-Free Must Now be in Compliance with the FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule”. Section 2 of that article goes into this in detail.

    The upshot seems to be that most companies subject to USDA jurisdiction comply with the FDA rules, but it’s voluntary. (And to further twist your mind into little knots, alcoholic beverages are under another government agency’s jurisdiction.)

    As far as I know, this information is still current.

  13. I just filled out the petition. Thanks for posting the link. Last week, I inadvertently purchased several items that were labeled as “gluten-free,” but actually turned out to have gluten. Thank goodness I didn’t actually eat these items.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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