FDA rule specifies what 'gluten-free' means


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This week, the term “gluten-free” got less hazy.

The FDA officially has standardized the meaning of the term, mandating that, as of Aug. 5, any product bearing that description must contain less than 20 parts-per-million of gluten.

Gluten affects those with celiac disease, a condition triggered usually by wheat, barley, rye and oats. Celiac hinders the absorption of food by damaging the small intestine. According to the FDA, 3 million Americans suffer from it. Others are sensitive to gluten or avoid it for other reasons.

According to Amy Macklin, registered dietitian and nutritionist and owner of Gluten Free Roots in North Fayette, the new regulations may alleviate some confusion in interpreting labels.  

“Now there's a legal definition of gluten-free. It’ll take out some guess work for [consumers],” she said. She often works with families transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle, and noted that clearer labels will make these transitions easier. 

Prior to the regulation, manufacturers were more cavalier about what they labeled “gluten-free,” just to get on the “gluten-free bandwagon,” Ms. Macklin said. 

The FDA’s new rule is a “step in the right direction,” according to Jeff Weiner, branch manager of the Pittsburgh Gluten Intolerance Group, but he says it’s important to still monitor gluten-free products that may have been cross-contaminated with gluten products. 

“I always look at the way it was grown,” he said. “Like oat. Oat is usually gluten-free, but it could’ve been grown with wheat and barley, and there’s complications there.”

According to Glutino, a gluten-free brand in Boulder, Colo., more than 76 percent of consumers see the new mandate as a vehicle for safer shopping and accessibility for those following gluten-free diets.

The new rules don’t apply to alcoholic beverages or food served at restaurants, but the FDA encourages wide observance of the regulation.

Kaleidoscope Cafe in Lawrenceville already serves multiple gluten-free options, and simply notes that on the menu. As chef and owner Dan Robinson puts it, they don’t count the parts-per-billion. “We just [say] the process in the kitchen and what we use and don’t use. So we don’t use flour or other gluten ingredients.”

Incorrectly-marked gluten-free products may still be on the shelves at grocery stores as grocery stores transition to stocking FDA-approved gluten-free foods. “I think we’re going to see some transition in some things that were labeled gluten-free that now aren’t gluten-free,” Ms. Macklin said. “So there’s going to be some confusion until consumers get used to what gluten-free means, but I think it’s a good thing as we move forward.” 


Kate Mishkin: kmishkin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1352

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