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New FDA rules regarding labels claiming “gluten-free” in effect August 5th

Is it really gluten-free?
Is it really gluten-free?
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

As of August 5th, 2014, the FDA will implement a finalized standard definition for gluten-free labeling. What this means is that manufacturers that use the “gluten-free” claim on their products will now be held to an industry-wide national standard.

Before the FDA’s label ruling, the term used on food packages was a somewhat arbitrary one. What it meant from one food product to another could be vastly different, leaving people who can’t have wheat, barley or rye, among others, to have to fend for themselves and be confused and concerned about the safety of packaged foods they purchased.

As a result, consumers were left spending hours in the supermarket and on the phone with manufacturers to determine if a product was truly safe for them or their loved ones. Understanding the technicalities of the ruling is important so you know what you are getting when you see the term “gluten-free” and similar wording on food packages.

Additionally, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) made a new ruling on how alcohol products can be labeled with respect to gluten as well. The TTB will continue to allow these products to be labeled that they have been “processed”, “treated”, or “crafted” to remove gluten as long as they meet two conditions.

First, the label must be accompanied by a legible statement on the product saying that the gluten content of the product cannot be verified and so may contain gluten.

And second, that the label application must specify how the gluten was removed as well as ELISA assay results showing the product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten.

In that final ruling, the FDA stated that a food can be labeled gluten-free if it has no gluten-containing grain as an ingredient, or has an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain but has been processed to remove that gluten and results in the presence of less than 20 (ppm) of gluten in the final product.

For products like wine and spirits that do not have any gluten-containing ingredients, industry members can label these as gluten-free but are held responsible to make sure that there is no cross-contamination during “production, processing, storage, or other handling practices.”

What are the products that are covered by the final rule?

The final rule applies to all FDA-regulated foods, including dietary supplements. The rule excludes those foods whose labeling is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Generally speaking, the USDA regulates the labeling of meats, poultry, and certain egg products (FDA regulates the labeling of shell eggs). The TTB regulates the labeling of most alcoholic beverages, including all distilled spirits, and wines that contain seven percent or more alcohol by volume, and malted beverages that are made with both malted barley and hops.