Okay, today we’re going to take on the really boring topic of FDA regulations. It’s something that you all should know before we go much further, so I’m going to try and make it as not boring as possible. Yup.
If you do not know, as of August 5th, 2014 the FDA put in guidelines for what can and cannot bear the label gluten free.Here is a summary of the new rule from the FDA’s own webstie:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or we) is issuing a final rule to define the term “gluten-free” for voluntary use in the labeling of foods. The final rule defines the term “gluten-free” to mean that the food bearing the claim does not contain an ingredient that is a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food (i.e., 20 milligrams (mg) or more gluten per kilogram (kg) of food); or inherently does not contain gluten; and that any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food is below 20 ppm gluten (i.e., below 20 mg gluten per kg of food). A food that bears the claim “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten” in its labeling and fails to meet the requirements for a “gluten-free” claim will be deemed to be misbranded. In addition, a food whose labeling includes the term “wheat” in the ingredient list or in a separate “Contains wheat” statement as required by a section of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act) and also bears the claim “gluten-free” will be deemed to be misbranded unless its labeling also bears additional language clarifying that the wheat has been processed to allow the food to meet FDA requirements for a “gluten-free” claim. Establishing a definition of the term “gluten-free” and uniform conditions for its use in food labeling will help ensure that individuals with celiac disease are not misled and are provided with truthful and accurate information with respect to foods so labeled. We are issuing the final rule under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA).
Yeah, I know TRDR right? What’s the cliff notes version? Well the FDA says that anyone that puts gluten free (or any variation of that phrase) on their package must have 20ppm (meaning 20 mg per kg) or less of something with gluten in it. Also if a anything has gluten, wheat, or a wheat directive (i.e. wheat starch) need to have a label stating that is has wheat in it. This was all done for people with celiac disease. It feels pretty good to have a new law for you right? But what does it really mean?
Packages for processed foods are like like 99% safe, which is about as good as we can get. Everyone and their mother knows about the Cheerios disaster. If you didn’t hear anything about it, well Cheerios went to great lengths to source gluten free oat flour to allow celiacs to eat Cheerios again. Great right, and then contaminated oats flour gets delivered to their dedicated gluten free facility. It was ALL over the news. Now, when General Mills found out what happened they went public, pulled boxes off the shelf, and shut down the facility to clean it. That is the absolute correct response, and Cheerios are safe again. But it’s a lesson that we need to learn. Just because the package says it’s safe doesn’t mean that it is 100% safe.
So, how does the FDA protect you? Well there’s facility inspections, labeling reviews, consumer complaints, and when needed testing. They, in fact, rely on the facilities to do their own testing. Yeah, you see what I’m seeing here aren’t you. But, for the most part, it’s safe. Like 99% of the time, safe. You can trust a label. And then there’s this…
I got caught by something like this. I bought sweet potato chips. The package even said on it “Gluten Free, 100% Sweet Potatoes” but the 100% Sweet Potatoes in a circle around the Gluten Free. It basically read “100% Gluten Free Sweet Potatoes.” My husband and I were joking about how sweet potatoes could contain gluten. Of course, I didn’t really look at the package. And guess what? I was feeling it the next day, so I looked at the package it was processed in a facility…
So why is this so bad? Well wheat can be airborne, so there’s that, but this is a more interesting processed food fact. You know those mystery flavor Dum Dum lollipops? They’re the combination of one two flavors when they’re switching between the flavors. Yup, it’s not an actual flavor, it’s just multiple flavors mixing together. That’s a p
retty extreme example, but it’s not an unusual for multiple similar products the same equipment. It just takes one person not being careful when they’re cleaning the equipment and your white blood cells are re-enacting the Avengers in your intestines.
Now that we discussed all of the dangers of not reading packages or and what the FDA is doing for you, it’s time to discuss what you can do for the FDA. Remember back a couple of paragraphs where I mentioned that the FDA only knows what to investigate through consumer reports…guess what you are? You are a consumer, and better yet, you’re a consumer that really needs to be gluten free. You are the exact consumers that they wrote these rules for. Remember, you are your own best advocate, and you can help others too. How did the FDA know to investigate Cheerios? Well because consumers reported that they were getting sick, and because of that they figured out what happened. The FDA makes it pretty easy to report. I mean it’s not an online form, but it’s close enough.
Contact FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System called “CAERS” by phone, 240-402-2405 or email, CAERS@cfsan.fda.gov
There’s everything almost everything that you need to understand the FDA guidelines for gluten free package labeling. If you would like more information you can check our the FDAs own website. There’s a lot of good information there.