New government standards help those who eat gluten-free foods

Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionSeptember 10, 2013 

FDA Gluten Labeling

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is defining what a “gluten free” label on a food package really means after more than six years of consideration. “Gluten-free” products will have to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.


Tossing pizza dough into the air may be critical to the art of making a perfect crust, but when a fine dust of flour flutters down, it isn’t so fine for patrons who’ve ordered the gluten-free pies.

“It’s cross contamination,” says Stewart Singleton, who trains food service professionals on allergy awareness, including how to properly prepare gluten-free menu options. “Some restaurants … toss their pizzas with cornmeal, so that’s OK.”

An estimated 3 million Americans have celiac disease and must avoid gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten triggers the production of antibodies that damage the lining of the small intestine.

“If I consume a food that contains even the tiniest amount of gluten, such as a burger that was touched by a hamburger bun, I can miss a whole day of work,” says Singleton, who was diagnosed with celiac disease 10 years ago.

Finally, a definition

The detective work to identify sources of the offending gluten will soon be a lot easier, even if the product is labeled gluten-free.

New federal standards have been set for gluten-free claims with a limit of 20 parts per million in products.

“A standard is important,” Singleton says. He points out that food service ingredients will improve, too. “For instance, there’s a commercial salad dressing company that used Worcestershire powder in their dressings, but that contains barley malt, which is not gluten-free, so they had to change the recipe.”

Who wants gluten-free?

From bread to beer, the nationwide demand for gluten-free products is robust, representing more than $4 billion in annual sales. Celiacs benefit from the improved quality and quantity of gluten-free products, but market demand was led by a greater number of consumers identified as gluten intolerant.

“From day one, we knew that gluten-free was going to be a big part of our agenda,” says Doug Turbush, chef and owner of Seed Kitchen & Bar in Marietta, Ga.

“Gluten-free demand has been overwhelming.”

Turbush knows now that the gluten-free soy sauce he purchases for the restaurant has to meet federal standards.

The downside of the demand is the temptation for some restaurants to offer gluten-free options without doing it right.

Travel journalist Laura Powell suffers from migraines when she consumes gluten.

“I’ve even seen menus where gluten-free is asterisked,” she says. “If you read the fine print, you find ‘almost gluten-free,’ which is like being a little bit pregnant.”

Beyond the gluten-free grocery list, Singleton says restaurants need to do more.

“They need designated staff, preparation areas and equipment,” he says. “At Yeah Burger, they use separate toasters for the gluten-free buns.” Powell adds, “Just because it’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s worthy of being on your menu. Don’t feel the need to add a dish if the quality is not up to the rest of your standards.”

Even with the new standards, you can’t be shy.

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