The much-anticipated definition of the term gluten-free was just released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At last. It is the final ruling that defines gluten-free on food labels from a law enacted in 2004 the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
Whats the big deal? Celiac disease an autoimmune disorder which requires the strict avoidance of gluten affects an estimated 3 million Americans. (Gluten is a composite of proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye and barley grains.) And some people are sensitive to gluten even without a clear diagnosis of celiac disease.
Until now, trying to figure out which foods were free of gluten was tricky since no standard existed for the term gluten-free. Finally, the definition exists. One thing the FDA is clear about: A food labeled gluten-free cannot contain any wheat, rye, barley or mixtures of these grains. And any incidental gluten in a food must be less than 20 parts per million (ppm) in order to carry the gluten-free label.
Why not zero gluten instead of the allowed 20 ppm? No scientifically validated method exists that can reliably detect gluten at a level lower than 20 parts per million. And research suggests that most individuals with celiac disease can tolerate occasional trace amounts of gluten (less than 20 ppm) with no adverse effects.
Any food that makes the gluten-free claim must abide by this new definition. Any food regulated by the FDA, that is. Meats, poultry, some egg products and alcohol are excluded from the gluten-free rule because they are regulated by other agencies, not the FDA. Manufacturers have until August 2014 to get their gluten-free labeling act together, says the FDA.