Gluten-removed. Gluten-friendly. Gluten-conscious. All ridiculous terms made up by lazy companies that want to cash in on the gluten-free market without going the extra mile to keep those who can’t have any gluten from getting ill.
But “gluten-free” is supposed to mean something. If something is labeled gluten-free, it should mean that it is safe for the celiac and NCGS community, with as little risk as humanly possible.
Here’s how the FDA defines gluten-free, as of new labeling laws put in place in 2014.
In general, foods may be labeled “gluten-free” if they meet the definition and otherwise comply with the final rule’s requirements. More specifically, the final rule defines “gluten-free” as meaning that the food either is inherently gluten free; or does not contain an ingredient that is:
- a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat);
- derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or
- derived from a gluten-containing grain 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.
Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm.
Is it me or did you have to read that a few times to fully understand it? Actually…don’t answer that. Or if you do, use one syllable words and very short sentences so I can comprehend it.
When Mrs. Dude or I go shopping, if it’s a new item we are picking up, the first thing we look for is the “gluten-free” label. And 9 out of 10 times, it means the product is safe and I breathe a sigh of relief. But then I’ll look at the back of the package and if it says it was made in a shared facility or shared equipment with gluten, I breathe a sigh of disappointment and it goes back on the shelf. It doesn’t necessarily mean the item wasn’t safe, but in my eyes it means there is more of a risk than I’m willing to take.
Now the frustrating part is adding “made in a facility (or shared equipment) that also processes gluten” to a product is completely voluntary. And the companies will always say they use best practices to minimize the risk. And I’m sure many do. But how do you know which ones cut corners?
Case in point: A few years back, I had quite an interesting back and forth with Bart’s Cookies after I claimed their gluten-free cookies should not be labeled gluten-free because the packaging says “may contain wheat” and the shared equipment looks like this after making a batch of non gluten-free cookies:
After Gluten-Free Watchdog got involved and tested their gluten-free cookies, the results showed they were over 500ppm, while Bart himself claimed the cookies were tested and were only 5.6ppm. Who are you going to believe? Oh…and after all of this, he then started telling people “If gluten is a serious health issue, I would not not chance our cookies.” No…he seriously said that and yet, his cookies are STILL labeled gluten-free.
We’d need a different word than “safe” simply because it would “guarantee” them to be safe and there are no guarantees in life (and it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen). But until we can come up with a better word, let’s use “celiac safe” for now. So what would a “celiac safe” label on a package mean? Here are my thoughts (and thanks to a fellow celiac named Matthew who got me thinking about this):
- The product is made in a completely gluten-free facility.
- All ingredients used in the product that are processed in other facilities are made in a completely gluten-free facility.
- Regularly batch testing is mandatory and all batches must test below 10ppm. (I know 20ppm is legal and I’m not arguing against it, but I’d like to make “celiac safe” a bit more stringent.)
If the above steps were followed and the product was labeled “celiac safe”, I wouldn’t think twice about buying it. And how cool would that be?
Food without worrying. What a concept!