Gluten-free Labeling Rules for Meal Delivery Services Vary

Meals provided by delivery services fall under either Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules, depending on the ingredients they contain.

Meals containing only grains, vegetables, fruit, seafood and other ingredients regulated by the FDA have to meet its requirements for use of the gluten-free label.

The FDA requires any product with a gluten-free label to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten from all sources, including cross-contamination that results from using a kitchen that also processes food that contains gluten.

That means that a delivery service offering FDA-regulated meals “should not say something is gluten free and then say [it] is not safe for those with celiac disease,” according to David Steigman, an FDA spokesman. Steigman said website claims are considered labeling and are under the FDA’s purview and jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, meals that contain meat, poultry and processed eggs are under the jurisdiction of the USDA.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does follow the FDA requirements for a gluten-free claim now that the FDA has published its rule defining the claim, a spokesperson said.  The USDA considers “gluten free” to be a special statement that requires the food label to be submitted for approval to ensure that the product does not include gluten-containing ingredients.

Also, “an establishment producing product with this claim needs to have the necessary “in plant controls” in place to ensure the accuracy of the claim,” according to the USDA.  Those controls include steps to prevent cross-contamination.

However, the USDA does not regulate what companies say on their websites or in advertisements. As a result, it is possible for meal delivery companies to use disclaimers online that say the meals may not be safe for those who have celiac disease, according to the USDA.


Mary Beth Schweigert is a regular contributor to Gluten-Free Living. She last wrote about weight loss and the gluten-free diet. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.