Nothing slows a grocery shopping trip down more than massive amounts of label reading. But, as someone with a gluten-related disorder, you have to do it. The Food and Drug Administration’s gluten free labeling rule went into effect four months ago. It offers rules companies need to follow in order to label a product gluten free. It has certainly has helped the cause.
But to be honest, mistakes are still being made. Just yesterday, Stop and Shop, the owner of Ian’s gluten-free products, recalled the Gluten-Free Panko Bread Crumbs. The emaxhealth.com article stated, “Although wheat is listed in the ingredient list, the front of the package declares it is ‘allergy-friendly, gluten free,’ and this type of misleading statement could confuse consumers.” Not to mention that it isn’t in line with gluten-free labeling per the FDA.
This is one example of why it is still important to read labels, even though a product might plaster “gluten free” on the front.
Gluten Free Label Reading
So here are some quick things you need to know– from the very basics, to the more detailed.
- Gluten free in general terms means no wheat, barley or rye (or derivatives of these grains). See Celiac.com’s unsafe ingredients list. Gluten free in the FDA’s terms for product labeling: also states the product needs to be below 20 ppm of gluten. There are a lot of additional details in the FDA’s rule. Click here to read more.
- If a product contains wheat, the US government says it must be listed in the ingredients list. Wheat is a top 8 allergen. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act mandates that wheat be listed in the “contains” statement or in the ingredients listing if it is a stand-alone ingredient or if it part of another ingredient like broth, for example. Wheat is a common ingredient rendering it unsafe for celiacs, so being able to easily spot this on a label helps tremendously.
- Gluten is NOT required to be listed on a label. You will likely not see “gluten” listed as an ingredient or in a contains statement, because it is not a top 8 allergen. Instead you need to know which ingredients contain gluten, which takes you back to point #1.
- Watch for red flags: malt or barley malt are very common gluten-containing ingredients. Flavorings, spices, seasonings are all terms in which companies can hide ingredients. Rye and barley could, conceivably, be in something like that. If wheat is hidden in an ingredient, it will have to be listed (see point #2).
- Make it easy on yourself: Shop the perimeter of the store. If you don’t want to constantly read labels, then buy whole, one ingredient foods like meat, produce, and dairy. You can season your meat with spices or marinades you make at home with your gluten-free seasonings. The more you go into processed foods, the more you will need to read labels and the more likely it is that gluten is somehow weaved into the ingredient list.
- Gluten free smartphone apps may help guide you in the store to help answer questions you have. Is that Gluten Free? and Content Checked are two apps I have used to help shop for gluten-free products. Although there are several out there.
- Front of the package looks promising, but the ingredients reveal the truth of gluten free status. The “rice” noodles my husband eats for chow mein has wheat flour listed as a primary ingredient, but you would never know that from the front. This product doesn’t make a gluten-free claim, but at first glance you might think it could be okay.
- Know the difference between gluten-free labeling and gluten-removed labeling in beer. If you are a beer drinker this is a very important point. Gluten-free beer is made from non-gluten-containing ingredients. Gluten-removed beer is made from a gluten grain (usually barley) and then is processed to remove the gluten. The agency overseeing the gluten-removed beer, the TTB, says there is no validated test to check for gluten in fermented products at this time to know just how much gluten was indeed removed. Click here for more info
- Don’t trust a store to tell you whether something is gluten free or not. Occasionally, store personnel will incorrectly place or post inaccurate signage near gluten-free products. See photos below.
Other considerations when reading labels. Oats is a grain that is considered gluten free, but there is a high risk of cross contamination with wheat in growing and processing of oats. Oats labeled gluten-free are best for people on a gluten free diet. If a product has oats in it, and it is not labeled gluten free, it is likely the oats used are not gluten-free. You can call the company for further investigation More info on oats here.
Final word: Don’t only rely on products with a big “gluten free” label slapped on the front of a package. Keep up on your label-reading skills and check the ingredient listing as well. It could save you aggravation in the long run.