MSNA-conference

T-minus 15 minutes before my first presentation at MSNA conference on Tuesday

Well the big day has come and gone.  The voluntary gluten free labeling rules put forth by the US Food and Drug Administration are now in force.  

I wish I could have been more active with FDA updates yesterday (that is, after all, what I aim to do on this site).  But instead I was talking to hundreds of school nutrition workers at the Minnesota School Nutrition Association Conference — which was also important.

I taught two sessions on preparing gluten free lunches at school and they were both well received.  I think it was a very important topic and task to do -even though there was a developing story in the gluten free world.  

So this morning I spent time going over some of the updates that came out yesterday from the FDA regarding their gluten free labeling rule.  I thought I would point out a few changes I noticed.  

Just as a quick reminder of the basics of the gluten free labeling rule:

  • Packaged products must have less than 20 ppm of gluten if they are being labeled gluten free
  • This is not a mandatory rule.  This is only voluntary. It is for companies that WANT to label their foods gluten free
  • Consumers who believe a product is not in compliance with its gluten-free claim can send a complaint to the FDA

Gluten Free Labeling Rule Updates

On August, 5, 2014, the FDA published:

The updates come mostly from the Q and A page.  

Restaurants & Gluten-Free Claims

The first big change I noticed was about restaurants and what kind of compliance is involved there with gluten free labeling.  I have been following this particular change for a while.

In August of 2013 it stated this: 

FDA's mention of restaurants in the Gluten Free Labeling Rule from August 2013

FDA’s mention of restaurants in the Gluten Free Labeling Rule from August 2013

Some in the gluten free community felt the initial explanation didn’t give much information or guidance to the restaurant industry.  By November of 2013 the Question and Answer page stated this:

FDA's update for Restaurants who do Gluten Free Menus - November 2013

FDA’s update for Restaurants who do Gluten Free Menus – November 2013

But I noticed yesterday the Q and A answer on the subject is shortened back to up state this:  

Updated Q/A re: restaurants as of Aug. 5, 2014

Updated Q/A re: restaurants as of Aug. 5, 2014

So what does this mean? I’ll be honest…I am not really sure. The entire document doubles down on using the term “packaged foods” in defining the FDA’s role.  That is included in the above statement to explain the difference between what the FDA is doing with labeling vs what should happen in restaurants.  In his blog, Taylor reiterated much of what the August 5, 2014 point states.  But he did add, “…the National Restaurant Association also advised operators offering ‘gluten-free’ items on their menus to make sure their claims are consistent with the definition.”  

Does a disclaimer like the one below I saw from Olive Garden’s menu last month absolve them of the FDA’s requirement?  Their menu online is called “gluten sensitive”.

Gluten Free disclaimer on Olive Garden menu July 2014

Gluten Free disclaimer on Olive Garden menu July 2014

This remains to be seen.

Moving on.

Oats

I did see the FDA added a question about oats.  You may remember, a few weeks ago, Tricia Thompson of Gluten-Free Watchdog posted an update on labeling GF oats based on some questions I asked in the Chex Gluten Free Oatmeal review I did.  She inquired with the FDA about labeling oats.  I wonder if this was added because of that? Or just simply because it was necessary, or both? 

But basically this point says if a company is labeling its product gluten free and it includes oats as an ingredient, the company does not have to add that the oats are certified gluten free on the label.  I am not sure that eases anyone’s mind however.  Interested in this topic? Check out Thompson’s article on the subject. 

Complaints

If you want to issue a complaint, there is more detailed information on who to contact and what information you need to provide.  Click here to see more on that (you’ll have to scroll down a bit).  

Also it added a point here about whether you can report an unpackaged food labeled gluten free?  The answer:  “FDA’s final rule applies to packaged foods.  FDA will monitor any reported information related to unpackaged food and share any complaints received about unpackaged foods such as those served in restaurants, with state and local government partners.”  Almost seems to me they are leaving the door open for restaurant complaints to see what happens. — In my opinion.

Other updates may have been to shorten or tighten the copy.  

Either way, the rule is a good first step and no doubt the FDA could make tweaks to the rule along the way.  We already know the FDA is going to come out with a rule on testing gluten in fermented and hydrolyzed foods since the Q/A says “sandwich ELISA methods do not adequately detect gluten” in those products. 

Let us know what you think about the gluten free labeling rule and how its going!  Feel free to comment below.

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