ATTIC TO BASEMENT: Gluten Labeling |



In recent years, gluten has taken a big hit in the food and nutrient world. Some of the reasons for gluten aversion include celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and weight control. If you avoid gluten, the following labeling guidelines will help you make scientific choices when choosing gluten-free foods.

What is gluten? Gluten refers to specific proteins naturally present in cereals containing gluten. The FDA defines gluten-free as a food that:

  • is naturally gluten-free and does not contain any ingredients containing a gluten-containing grain (e.g. spelled).
  • was not derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (eg, wheat starch).
  • does not contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or more of gluten.
  • during processing, any gluten that cannot be avoided must have less than 20 ppm.

Is gluten bad for you? For some people, especially those with celiac disease, these proteins can have serious health effects. If you think you are at risk for celiac disease or are concerned that you are sensitive to gluten, you should contact your healthcare professional.

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How do you know if a food contains gluten? If a food product is not labeled gluten-free, you should assume that the product contains gluten. Gluten-free labeling is voluntary for all FDA-regulated packaged foods. This does not include foods regulated by the USDA, such as meat, poultry, and some egg products; and foods and beverages regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade, which includes alcoholic beverages and products containing more than 7% alcohol by volume. Gluten-free labeling is not mandatory on gluten-free products. Labeling is voluntary; therefore, it is up to the manufacturer to decide whether or not to label their products gluten-free. How do you know if a food is gluten-free? Manufacturers of foods labeled gluten-free are required to follow FDA labeling regulations. They must use methods to prove that these products contain less than 20 ppm gluten, including:

  • Perform a gluten test at the manufacturing plant of the starting ingredient or finished product.
  • Use a third-party lab to perform gluten testing.
  • Request certificates of gluten analysis from suppliers of ingredients used in the product.
  • Participate in a gluten-free certification program.

So what should I look for on the label of gluten-free products? The FDA recommends that gluten-free foods be labeled:

Other terms that may be used (as long as the food meets FDA requirements for gluten-free products) but are discouraged are:

  • Gluten free
  • Gluten free
  • Gluten free
  • Low gluten
  • Very low gluten content

The FDA is responsible for monitoring all food products labeled gluten-free to ensure they comply with the rule. Surveillance methods include product sampling, inspection of the manufacturing plant, food label review, tracking of consumer or industry complaints that are reported, and gluten testing .

How are naturally gluten-free foods labeled? Of course, gluten-free foods, such as bottled water or fruits and vegetables, can be labeled as gluten-free. Gluten-free cereals such as rice, buckwheat and oats can be labeled as gluten-free as long as any potential cross-contact with gluten-containing products results in a gluten content of less than 20 ppm of gluten-free cereals. The FDA does not have a gluten-free logo or symbol required. The manufacturer can place the gluten-free claim anywhere on a food label as long as it does not interfere with the required information on the label.

1. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2014. Guidance for Industry, Small Entity Compliance Guide for Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods. College Park, MD: Food and Drug Administration. Available at: Accessed April 26, 2017.

2. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2016. Questions and Answers: Final Rule on Gluten-Free Food Labeling. Silver Spring, MD: Food and Drug Administration. Available at: Accessed April 26, 2017.


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