Foods labelled gluten-free in US must now meet FDA’s definition

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 11th August 2014
Foods labelled gluten-free in US must now meet FDA's definition
Foods labelled gluten-free in US must now meet FDA’s definition

All foods labelled gluten-free in the US must now meet all requirements of the gluten-free labeling final rule published in August 2013.

The requirements apply to packaged foods labelled on or after 5 August 2014.  The FDA said it recognised that many foods currently labelled as gluten-free may already meet the new federal definition. However, consumers should be aware that there may be some products still on store shelves that were produced and labelled before the compliance date for the FDA’s rule.

The compliance date was established in the final rule one year ago to allow the food industry sufficient time to make changes needed in the formulation or labeling of their foods that voluntarily bear a gluten-free claim in the United States.

Gluten-free labelling rule

The final rule provides a uniform standard definition to help consumers with coeliac disease manage a gluten-free diet.  Gluten-free foods must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten. Foods may be labelled “gluten-free” if they are inherently gluten free; or do 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);
  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 ppm or more gluten in the food.

On June 25, 2014, the FDA issued a guide for small food businesses to help them comply with the final rule’s requirements. The FDA said it would continue to work with, educate and monitor industry on the use of the gluten-free claim.

Outreach will be conducted to assist the industry, as needed, to ensure that the provisions of the rule are fully understood.  In addition, the FDA will use its existing compliance and enforcement tools, such as inspection, laboratory analysis, warning letters, seizure, and injunction, to ensure that the use of the claim on food packages complies with the definition.

Restaurants and cafes making gluten-free claims should be consistent with ruling

The FDA said it recognised that people with coeliac disease were also interested in being able to identify gluten free foods served in restaurants and other retail establishments that serve prepared foods to customers. The gluten-free final rule applies to packaged foods, which may be sold in some retail and food-service establishments such as some carry-out restaurants. Given the public health significance of “gluten-free” labeling, the FDA said that restaurants and other establishments making a gluten-free claim on their menus should be consistent with the FDA’s definition. State and local governments play an important role in oversight of these establishments.

The FDA said it looked forward to working with the states, the restaurant industry and other stakeholders to support education and outreach on the appropriate use of the term gluten-free.