A Guide to FDA Food Labeling for Gluten-Free Products

Labeling your product as gluten-free has many benefits if done in accordance with the FDA’s guidelines.

Labeling your product as gluten-free has many benefits if done in accordance with the FDA’s guidelines. Image source: Flickr user Martin Lewison.

If you look on any grocery store shelf across the nation, you’ll notice that there are more gluten-free products than ever before. The demand for products free of wheat and gluten is certainly on the rise.

Currently, 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, a debilitating inflammatory autoimmune condition. But it isn’t only people with celiac disease who consume gluten-free products. 18 million Americans report suffering non-celiac gluten sensitivity that causes a variety of adverse symptoms, such as digestive distress, headaches, and skin issues.

In an effort to protect the health of these individuals, the FDA has been regulating the voluntary use of the term gluten-free on food labels since 2014. This means that food manufacturers must comply with a specific set of rules in order to label their product gluten-free.

If you are a food manufacturer who is interested in selling your gluten-free products on supermarket shelves, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to FDA food labeling for gluten-free products so you can label your product with confidence.

FDA Food Labeling for Gluten-Free Products

In order to label your product as gluten-free, it must fit into one of the following categories:

  • Inherently gluten-free (i.e. naturally doesn’t contain gluten).  
  • Free of any gluten-containing grains, including wheat, barley, spelt, rye, kamut, or einkorn.
  • Free of any substances made from gluten-containing grains that have been processed to remove the gluten (i.e. wheat starch) if the product has more than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten.
  • Prepared in a gluten-containing facility where cross-contact may occur as long as the product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten.

It’s important to keep in mind that since gluten-free labeling is voluntary, food manufacturers are not required to label their foods as gluten-free if they meet one of the above criteria. And, since it is voluntary, there is no designated gluten-free symbol, nor a place where the gluten-free claim must appear. Rather, it is up to the food manufacturer to decide where it is placed on the package and with what wording (i.e. “without gluten,” “contains no gluten,” etc.).

You may include the symbol of your gluten-free certification program on your package if you’d like. Keep in mind, though, that receiving certification is not required by the FDA. If you are interested in getting certified to increase consumer trust in your product and to protect yourself legally should someone have a reaction from your product, here are a few popular certification programs to look into:

Some food manufacturers who have their products certified include the parts per million (ppm) of gluten the product contains on the label for consumers to see (i.e. “Contains less than 5 ppm gluten”). Again, this detailed information may make it more likely that celiac or gluten-sensitive people will feel confident consuming your product.

It is also strongly recommended, but not necessary, that food manufacturers have their products tested for gluten levels. The can be done in-house with a gluten-testing kit, contracted out to a gluten-testing company, or by simply reviewing gluten test results of the products you use to make your product. As long as you ensure that your product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten, you won’t have to worry about being penalized by the FDA.

The Importance of Allergen Statements on Food Products

While you may or may not to choose to label your product as being gluten-free, it is still important to include allergen statements on your product so that people with allergies or food sensitivities are aware of what the product contains and of any potentially harmful effects it may cause.

The simplest and most accurate way of doing this is by using an online nutrition analysis software, like LabelCalc, to create your nutrition facts panel. LabelCalc flags any of the eight major allergens, including wheat, that appear in your food product. That way, you can write your allergen statement accordingly and you don’t have to worry about missing an ingredient that could cause a serious reaction. Placing a statement like “contains wheat” or “contains gluten” in bold text at the end of the ingredient list is standard practice. Plus, using an online nutrition analysis software will streamline the entire label creation process.

Whether or not you use the gluten-free claim on your product, the main thing is to be as careful and as honest as possible when it comes to your product. Building trust among consumers, especially those who have so many limitations when it comes to what they can eat, is the most important thing. And considering the ever-increasing demand for gluten-free food, the payoff for ensuring your product is safe could be huge.

LabelCalc offers industry-leading online nutrition analysis software for food manufacturers that allows them to create their nutrition facts panels and allergen statements easily and affordably. To learn more, contact us today.

What is LabelCalc?

LabelCalcⓇ is one of FoodCalc LLC’s two nutrition analysis products, created to help meet the needs of the food industry. Based in San Francisco, CA, we are a nationally recognized provider of online nutrition analysis that is fast, accurate, and FDA-compliant.

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