For those who suffer from gluten intolerance or are among the estimated 3 million Americans suffering from celiac disease – or preparing food for someone afflicted with this chronic illness – there is a new tool that will make food shopping easier. In August 2013, FDA announced a regulation that defines and standardizes the term “gluten-free” for food labeling. The new definition ensures that gluten-free claims on products are consistent and standardized across the food industry.
- Why “Gluten-Free” Labeling is Important: Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains. It gives breads and other grain products their shape, strength, and texture. But when someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, his/her body’s natural defense system triggers antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine. This limits the ability to absorb nutrients, and can lead to other very serious health problems, too.
- Definition of “Gluten-Free”: FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free.” This level is the lowest that can be reliably detected in foods, and most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten. The regulation also requires foods labeled “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten” to meet the definition for “gluten-free.”
- Timing for Label Compliance: Many foods that were labeled as “gluten-free” prior to the new regulation may already meet the new federal definition. Otherwise, manufacturers have until August of 2014 to make whatever changes are needed in the formulation or labeling of their foods bearing a gluten-free claim in order to legally market them in the United States.