FDA moves to clarify meaning of “gluten-free”

Consumer Reports News: August 08, 2011 03:08 PM

If you’re having trouble clearly defining “gluten-free,” you’re in good company. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hopes to clarify the issue by standardizing how the term is used on food labels.

The agency is reopening a proposal introduced back in 2007 that would require wheat, rye, and barley products that use the term “gluten-free” on their labels to contain no more than 20 part per million of gluten. The FDA said the standard of 20 ppm comes from the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an agency that develops worldwide food standards, which set the guideline in 2008. The European Union has since adopted 20 ppm as its standard for gluten-free foods. Gluten levels below 20 ppm cannot be detected by standard lab tests.

Last week, the FDA announced it was reopening a comment period for its gluten-free proposal and asked consumers, medical experts, and others in the gluten industry for input. The comment period will remain open for two months, and later this year, the FDA will issue a final rule for the industry to follow that will probably go into effect in 2012.

Gluten is harmful to the 3 million Americans with celiac disease, a condition in which the body’s immune system treats the protein, found in wheat, rye, and barley, like an invader, damaging the small intestine.

Bottom line: If you have celiac disease, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian for tips on consuming a gluten-free diet. And always check the labels and avoid forms of wheat such as spelt, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), as well as kamut, farina, bulgur, durum flour, barley, matzo meal, graham flour, wheat germ and cracked wheat. What’s more, you’ll need to stay vigilant. Since manufacturers sometimes swap ingredients, a food you once thought was gluten-free may no longer be safe to eat. For more on celiac disease and gluten-free options, read “Living without gluten.”

FDA reopens comment period on proposed “gluten-free” labeling rule [FDA]
FDA finally regulating gluten-free foods [Boston Globe]

Evan MacDonald

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