April 19, 2024

Gluten-Free on a Product Label Means Something For Celiacs

Gluten-Free on a product label really means something for celiacs. The FDA regulates the claim of “gluten free” and sets standards and definitions for the food industry to use.

Gluten-Free on a Product Label Means Something For Celiacs

About 3 million Americans have celiac disease, which an auto-immune digestive disorder. People with this disease must avoid gluten or they can suffer from serious health consequences, including malnourishment.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale, and barley, gives bread its structure. Foods that include gluten include breads, cakes, cereals, pastas, and others including beer.

In celiacs, gluten molecules attack villi in the small intestines. Those villi promote nutrient absorption. When they are damaged by gluten, nutrients can’t be properly absorbed. Celiac disease is heredity, and it can develop at any age after people start eating foods that contain gluten.

Untreated celiac disease can lead to serious health complications, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, coronary artery diseases, and small bowel cancers. The only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.

“Gluten-free” is a voluntary claim that food manufacturers can use, but if this label is on a product, the company must use the claim in a “truthful and not misleading” manner. The company must also comply with all requirements that are established by the regulation and enforced by the FDA

Before this regulation, there were no standards of definitions for the United States food industry to use in labeling for this allergen. That meant that consumers couldn’t be sure about a food’s gluten content. The gluten limit is set as less than 20 parts per million for foods that have the label designations “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.” That is the lowest level that can be reliably detected in foods using scientifically validated analytical methods.

Many foods, including fruits, eggs, and vegetables, are naturally free of gluten. But even though a food doesn’t contain gluten, the claim might not appear on the label because the regulation doesn’t require the claim.

The regulation applies to all foods and beverages regulated by the FDA, including dietary supplements, packaged foods, shell eggs, fish, and fruits and vegetables, except for meat, poultry, and some egg products that are regulated by the USDA, and most alcoholic beverages, because they are  regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Consumers can report any complaint they may have about the potential misuse of these claims to an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in the state where the food was purchased.


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