Day Two in the Gluten Free 101 : Getting Started Series - Reading Food Labels.
It would be great to be able to pick up a package of food, read the label and know whether or not it is safe. But it is just not like that in the US.
- Food manufacturers are not required to label a food that contains gluten.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires food makers to list the top eight allergens whenever they are used in a food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Gluten is not one of the top allergens and is not required to be listed. Beware that products labeled wheat free are not necessarily gluten free. Because wheat is considered a top allergen, all foods that include wheat will be labeled as such. Food manufactures are not required to list gluten as an ingredient if it is not derived from wheat. Thus, a food product labeled wheat free may still contain gluten derived from spelt, rye or barley and therefore is not GF.
- Even foods that are naturally gluten free can become contaminated with gluten when processed.
Even if the product does not contain gluten ingredients, the food still may not be GF due to cross-contamination that can occur during the manufacturing process. In theory, if something is clearly labeled and all of the ingredients appear to be gluten free, then the item should be safe to eat. Unfortunately, cross-contamination can be an issue that is not found on the label. Once I purchased sun-dried tomatoes and the ingredients were clearly all gluten free. Nevertheless, I emailed the manufacturer to double check. I received an answer back that they could not guarantee the item to be gluten free because of the manufacturing processes. This may occur when machinery or equipment is inadequately cleaned after producing gluten-containing foods. Wheat flour can stay airborne for many hours and contaminate exposed preparation surfaces and utensils or uncovered GF products. This is an individual choice, but as a general rule we do not eat food that is manufactured in a facility that processes wheat or is made on the same lines as wheat with the only possible exception being if the food is certified GF by one of the agencies listed below.
- What about products labeled Gluten Free?
The FDA has proposed a less than 20 parts per million gluten free standard. However it has never gone into law so currently in the United States there is no definition for the use of the term “gluten free.” The only requirement is that the label be “truthful and not misleading.” Without a clear standard, food manufacturers are allowed to set their own limits for exactly what is and what is not gluten free.
- What about the Gluten Free Certification Programs?
Some companies seek certification from one of several gluten-free certification organizations. The Gluten Intolerance Group, the Celiac Sprue Association and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness have developed their own certification programs to help consumers identify safe gluten free food. GIG’s certification process is Gluten Free Certification Organization. They certify products to be GF that test to contain less than 10 ppm of gluten. This is also an individual choice, but I generally trust products that have gone through the GFCO program and are labeled as such. Be warned, some food manufacturers will label a product as certified GF when it really is not. Always look for an official label from one of the Certification Organizations.
- To summarize:
As a general rule, I never eat anything processed until I check with the food manufacturer by calling or email to verify:
Is the product made in a dedicated GF facility?
If it is made in a facility shared with gluten-containing products, is it made on dedicated GF equipment?
What steps did the manufacturer take to prevent cross-contamination?
Is the product Certified GF by one of the recognized agencies and if not, does the manufacturer regularly tests to see if the product falls below the standard of 20 ppm?
When in doubt, Go Without! Do not eat a food if you are unable to verify the ingredients and the risk of cross-contamination.
Looking for a Gluten Free Bread Machine? We recommend the Zojirushi BB-CEC20 Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker, Black