FDA issues gluten-free regulations

LEWISTOWN – The Food and Drug Administration has issued a final ruling regarding labeling a food as gluten-free, giving those who have turned to a gluten-free diet due to diagnosed celiac disease confidence in the grocery products they buy.

“This standard gluten-free definition will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products and will assure people … that foods labeled gluten-free meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA,” said Michael Taylor, deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The new definition of gluten-free requires that a food contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The rule also states that foods claiming “no gluten,” “free of gluten” and “without gluten” meet the FDA definition of gluten-free.

Manufacturers have a year to meet these requirements and bring their labels into compliance if they wish to label their food as gluten-free, Taylor said.

“We encourage the food industry to come into compliance with the new definition as soon as possible and help us make it as easy as possible for people with celiac disease to identify foods that meet the federal definition of gluten-free,” Taylor said.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine, said Dr. John Pagnotto, family medicine physician at Geisinger-Lewistown. Basically, it’s an allergy to the protein, known as gluten, in wheat products, he said.

“When people with celiac disease eat gluten, there’s an allergic response in the small intestine, causing a release of antibodies which destroys the lining of the intestine,” Pagnotto said. “This can limit the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, growth retardation and anemia.”

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, located in Pennsylvania, an estimated one in 133 Americans have celiac disease and 83 percent of them are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. There is no cure for the disease and the only treatment is a gluten-free diet, the website states.

“For years, gluten-free labels have gone unregulated, putting our gluten-free community in danger,” said Alice Bast, president of NFCA. “We applaud the FDA for finally publishing a standard definition of gluten-free.”

However, since manufactures have the next year to comply with the new regulations, consumers should remain weary and continue checking labels to confirm lack of gluten, Pagnotto said. People like to think they can trust the products they’re buying, but it’s better to be safe, he added.

Those who require gluten-free foods should avoid products with ingredients like barley, malt, rye, triticale, wheat, bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. The allergy warning at the bottom of the ingredients lists any common allergy inducing food that may be included in the product.

“There are more and more things on the shelf labeled as gluten-free these days,” Pagnotto said. “Once these new regulations are in effect, they will make following a gluten-free diet easier and safer for those with celiac.”

For more information, visit the Food and Drug Administration website at www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm363474.htm or the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness website at www.celiaccentral.org.