Most foods labeled “gluten free” comply with FDA guidelines

By Van Waffle

Summary: In August 2013 the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its long-awaited rule for gluten-free labeling. Foods labeled gluten-free must comply with a standard of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, a level the FDA considers safe for people with celiac disease. The deadline for compliance is August 5, 2014. Considering the lack of published data on gluten content of labeled gluten-free foods, this American study set out to assess a number of commercial products.

Researchers sampled 112 items selected based on convenient availability or requests submitted to the Gluten Free Watchdog reporting service. A subset of 36 products was certified gluten free by either the Gluten Free Certification Organization or the Celiac Sprue Association. Six samples of each product were submitted to a testing facility.

The tests showed that 90.6 percent of the samples contained too little gluten to quantify, less than five ppm; 6.8 percent contained between five and 20 ppm; and 2.5 percent contained 20 or more ppm. The 2.5 percent represented just four products, a bread, a cookie, a hot cereal and a tortilla. One of the four was certified gluten-free. All baking, bean, beverage, chili, entrée, flour, grain, gravy, baking mix, nut, pasta, ready-to-eat cereal, snack food and soup products fell below 20 ppm. The published paper does not identify which products failed the test.

Conclusion: The vast majority of products labeled gluten-free can be considered safe for people with celiac disease. Manufacturers can provide products at a level well below the 20 ppm standard set by the FDA. The small size of this study limits its validity; the researchers advocate further testing to show whether their snapshot reflects the gluten-free status of products as a whole over time. Any consumer concerned about the gluten content of a specific product should inquire with the manufacturer about safety and testing protocols, the researchers note.


[1] “Gluten content of selected labeled gluten-free foods sold in the US”, Thompson T, Grace T, #Practical Gastroenterology#, 2013 Oct; 10: 10-16.