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Reading Food Labels for Gluten Free Food

Everyone on the Gluten Free diet has to learn how to read food labels.

First I want to say that the safest, most economical and easiest way to go Gluten Free is to eat foods that are naturally gluten free such as fruit, vegetables and plain meat.  Supplement this with some GF bread that is made in a Dedicated Gluten Free Facility or your own homemade bread.   Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and you will feel better and be safer.

However, I recognize that we all purchase food products that are processed by a food manufacturer. 




Even chocolate bars are made in a food processing facility of some sort and I love chocolate!

Every time you go to the store and buy a processed food product from a chocolate bar to a can of chicken broth, you have to read the label to ensure the product is gluten free.  (Be especially careful of chicken broth because a lot of the time it does contain wheat). 

Unfortunately, food manufacturers are not required to label a food that contains gluten.  The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires food makers to list the top eight allergens whenever they are used in a food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Gluten is not one of the top allergens and is not required to be listed.

Under new laws, after August 2014, if a product is labeled "gluten free" it cannot contain more than 20 ppm gluten and should be safe to eat.  Twenty parts per million is 20 milligrams per 1 million milligrams (or 1 kilogram).  If a one-ounce slice of bread contains 20 ppm gluten, it contains approximately 1/2 milligram of gluten (0.56 milligrams).   That is basically a crumb.   While 20 ppm is a pretty universal standard, there are some experts who think even that is too much.  Source. 

Until then, and if a product is not labeled "gluten free," do not eat anything processed until you read the label to ensure that none of the possible sources of gluten are included such as wheat, barley, rye, malt, brewer’s yeast, modified food starch derived from wheat, dextrin derived from wheat and oats (unless specified as GF).    Click HERE for a more detailed list of ingredients that could contain gluten. 

Even if the product appears to not have any gluten ingredients, check with the food manufacturer by calling or email to verify:

  1. Is the product made in a dedicated GF facility? 
  2. If it is made in a facility shared with gluten-containing products, is it made on dedicated GF equipment?
  3. What steps did the manufacturer take to prevent cross-contamination?
  4. Is the product Certified GF by one of the recognized agencies and if not, does the manufacturer regularly tests to see if the product falls below the standard of 20 ppm?


When in doubt, Go Without!


Do not eat a food if you are unable to verify the ingredients and the risk of cross-contamination.

Why is this so tricky? 


Let’s Start with Easy Products – Those Labeled Gluten Free.


Effective August 5, 2014, food that is regulated by the FDA and labeled Gluten Free should be safe to eat if you are comfortable with the less than 20 ppm standard.

As of that date, manufacturers will be legally allowed to label a food "gluten-free," "free of gluten," "without gluten," and "no gluten," if it does not contain any of the following:   

  • An ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains (“prohibited grains”)
  • An ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  • An ingredient derived from these grains (like wheat starch) that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten
  • 20 ppm or more gluten or 20 micrograms or more gluten per gram of food.

Foods such as bottled spring water, fruits and vegetables, and eggs can also be labeled "gluten-free" if they inherently don't have any gluten.

This final rule applies to all FDA-regulated foods, including dietary supplements, but does not apply to foods and beverages whose labeling is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and/or the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).   Source.  Foods regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) include egg products, poultry products, meat products, and mixed food products that generally contain more than three percent raw meat or two percent or more cooked meat or poultry (e.g. soups, chili, frozen entrees).  However, it’s estimated that 80 to 90% of these products voluntarily comply.  Source.  When in doubt, double check any ingredient list which includes starch, food starch, modified food starch and dextrin as these could be derived from wheat.  


What about food that is not labeled Gluten Free? 

Since food manufacturers are not required to label gluten, you must read the label to see if the food product contains one of the items mentioned yesterday such as wheat, barley, rye, malt, brewer’s yeast, modified food starch derived from wheat, dextrin derived from wheat and oats (unless specified as GF).    Click HERE for a more detailed list of ingredients that could contain gluten.

However, even foods that are naturally gluten free and do not have any apparent gluten ingredients can become contaminated with gluten when processed.

Even if the product does not contain gluten ingredients, the food still may not be GF due to cross-contamination that can occur during the manufacturing process. In theory, if something is clearly labeled and all of the ingredients appear to be gluten free, then the item should be safe to eat. Unfortunately, cross-contamination can be an issue that is not found on the label. Once I purchased sun-dried tomatoes and the ingredients were clearly all gluten free. Nevertheless, I emailed the manufacturer to double check. I received an answer back that they could not guarantee the item to be gluten free because of the manufacturing processes.

This may occur when machinery or equipment is inadequately cleaned after producing gluten-containing foods. Wheat flour can stay airborne for many hours and contaminate exposed preparation surfaces and utensils or uncovered GF products.

This is an individual choice, and we are very strictly gluten free, but as a general rule we do not eat food even if it does not include any gluten ingredients if it is manufactured in a facility that processes wheat or is made on the same lines as wheat, with the only exception being if the food is certified GF by one of the agencies listed below and sometimes if the food manufacturer is already in compliance with the new law and independently testing the food to contain less than 20 ppm. 

Beware that products labeled wheat free are not necessarily gluten free.


Because wheat is considered a top allergen, all foods that include wheat will be labeled as such. Food manufactures are not required to list gluten as an ingredient if it is not derived from wheat. Thus, a food product labeled wheat free may still contain gluten derived from spelt, rye or barley and therefore is not GF.


What about the Gluten Free Certification Programs?


Some companies seek certification from one of several gluten-free certification organizations. The Gluten Intolerance Group, the Celiac Sprue Association and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness have developed their own certification programs to help consumers identify safe gluten free food.

The Gluten Free Certification Organization certifies products to be GF that test to contain less than 10 ppm of gluten.

This is an individual choice, but I generally trust products that have gone through the GFCO program and are labeled as such. Be warned, some food manufacturers will label a product as certified GF when it really is not. Always look for an official label from one of the Certification Organizations.

After reading all of this, do you understand why we say Naturally Gluten Free is the way to go? 





Posted by Laurie on
Thanks for this post! Finding gluten-free stuff that actually is gluten-free can be difficult if you don't know what to look for.
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