Posted in Labeling Laws

It’s Going to Be LEGEN-wait for it- DARY!! (Or Non-Dairy as the Case May Be:-)

I miss HIMYM already…
(Photo courtesy of:

Today is a day which many gluten-free friends have been working towards and dreaming about since before I even knew that a pesky little protein called gluten even existed. And August 5, 2014 is a date which has been circled on most calendars for both gluten-free producers and consumers (I recently found out I’m teaching an economics course this year…I need to bring back out the business lingo:-) for almost a year now. Today is the day the FDA officially regulates the term gluten-free when applied to food products sold in stores across this great nation.

All these foods fall under the regulations…
Whether you’re gluten-free yourself or not, I have a feeling you’ll notice the changes…or perhaps you already have. Since these changes were announced a year ago, many food companies have spent the past year clambering to get their products (or more specifically their labels) into conformity before the sun rose this morning. Yes, it was all over the news this morning. No, it didn’t seem like the news segments really provided much information…but in their defense, I think it’s because the laws are so confusing that it really can’t be adequately explained in a brief 45-second news segment. 
So what does all of this mean? Why am I not outside flipping cartwheels or throwing some kind of “Happy Day that the Gluten-Free FDA Regulations Go Into Place!” party? Trust me, I’ve been reading excited posts and emails and in solidarity I did already take a cupcake out of my freezer to thaw and enjoy after a long-awaited digital reunion with my college roommates later tonight. I am over the moon for my gluten-free friends and I do love that there is now something concrete we can do as gluten-free consumers when we are duped by a product’s claim or false labeling. However, I must admit I’m also a little nervous. Partially because I have so many other food sensitivities that the label only establishes 25% of the criteria I need to cover before diving in…but also because I think there are some opportunities for potential confusion, or perhaps even flaws, as newly gluten-free consumers (and to be honest producers too) try to navigate their ways through the murky waters of FDA land. That being said, I do sincerely appreciate all that the FDA does to keep us safe on a regular basis…and I’ll end there because I have never and will never turn this blog into any kind of political commentary. If you want any feedback on that, you’ll have to come over for an actual cup of coffee with Katie…or look at pretty much any newspaper or TV news program, it’s everywhere.
Here is my condensed summary of the new laws in effect today:
What Makes Me Smile
  • Anything labeled gluten-free cannot contain more than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. That means if it contains any gluten, gluten-derived substance, or remnants of a gluten-derived substance, it cannot state gluten-free on the package unless that trace amount measures less than 20 ppm.
  • It applies to ALL packaged foods sold in the United States…which means all imported goods are subject to the same regulations in order to be stocked on American shelves
  • It ends the wheat-free vs. gluten-free confusion. Gluten is a protein also found in rye, barley, spelt, etc. However, most newly diagnosed patients, or their well-meaning friends and family, assume wheat-free on a package means it’s safe. NOT TRUE. So now if a package only says wheat-free, chances are it’s not gluten-free or it would say so.
  • It addresses cross-contamination…sort of. Prior to today, any food which didn’t include any gluten ingredients could state gluten-free on the label, regardless of where it was manufactured. So in other words it would be like me whipping up a loaf of gluten-free bread from rice flour, kneading it on the same surface that just held countless loaves of gluten-filled bread, cooking it in the same breadmaker with the spinner which has gently kneaded countless loaves of gluten, then wrapping it up and labeling it as gluten-free. Is it a lie? No. However, I can guarantee that within an hour after eating it, I’d be on the bathroom floor. Starting today, such a product can only be labeled gluten-free if the total gluten content is less than 20 PPM, factoring cross-contamination chance into the probability equation. (yay math!!)
  • IT INCLUDES VITAMINS!! Perhaps shopping for vitamins will no longer involve an hour in Walgreens or a phone call with Trader Joe’s corporate which ended with me saying “Oh great, I don’t care if it contains meat, I just was looking for a vegan label so I know there’s no egg or dairy”. Problem is I’m pretty sure he was vegan and let’s just say I don’t think I made a friend at corporate office that day.
  • There is something you can do if you get glutened! (You know aside from lie lifeless on your couch, holding your stomach and swearing that you’re never letting another morsel of food you haven’t cooked yourself cross your lips). There is now a hotline to contact at the FDA if you think a package is mislabeled as gluten-free and they will follow up and investigate! 
Maybe as a GF team we can make the grocery store a safer place!
What Has My Palms Sweating:
  • First and foremost, it needs to be noted that this regulation requires that any packaged food PRODUCED from this day forward must adhere to the above standards. In other words, the foods that are already packaged and out there on grocery shelves and in warehouses are not required to be thrown out (thank goodness) or altered. Hence until the shelf life of all current gluten-free products has expired (which honestly is not ALL that long), the products on the grocery shelves do not necessarily adhere to these standards. In short, shop with caution, my friends…though really what else is new?? 😉
  • The FDA has no jurisdiction over foods overseen by the USDA (i.e. meat, poultry, eggs, etc.) or the TTB (i.e. alcoholic beverages)…so finding that you-safe steak dinner and accompanying spirit hasn’t gotten any easier. Good thing you probably mastered that around Week 2 🙂
  • The regulations do not apply to restaurants. So your gluten-free dining out anxiety is here to stay…
  • There is no actual testing required before products are consumed. That’s right. This is one of those “Let’s scare them all into conforming and then figure out later what we’ll do if they don’t” type discipline strategies. (Teachers and parents of the world, you probably understand why I’m a little uneasy) Manufacturers cannot label a product as gluten-free unless it contains under 20 PPM..but there is no actual test ever required to ensure it does. It just means the manufacturer is confident enough to put the label knowing that if someone gets sick and reports it, the product will be tested and sanctions will be brought if they are found in violation. Who knows what that means…
Why I’m Somewhat Indifferent:
  • My life won’t really change. The FDA will never pass any kind of regulatory practice to disclose the use of corn…considering it’s in well, everything…so I’ll be investigating packages, googling products, and making things from scratch for the rest of my days. And to be quite honest, I’m more than OK with that. It’s become part of my life so much so that I forget it isn’t normal to travel with a packed lunchbag and a spare clean sponge.
  • I’m sure this will just fuel the “gluten-free people are just high maintenance” culture, especially because of the people who go gluten-free simply because they’re convinced it’s healthier and they’ll lose weight (I can almost guarantee that won’t happen).
Then why do I think today is legendary? Well, because it is. Today’s law change means that the FDA has finally acknowledged that Celiac Disease is real, that it is dangerous, and that for some of us gluten-free is not simply a passing fad, but rather a medical treatment…and a key to happiness, or even sanity.
So cheers to you, members of the Celiac and Gluten-Intolerant Community! I hope today is the start of an even better gluten-free life for you. And especially those of you who were fighting for this regulation back in the days when I was still naively devouring bagel sandwiches for breakfast, I’m happy for you and I hope you enjoy your moment in the sun.
As for me, I’ll celebrate this monumental day with you in spirit. And then tomorrow morning, I will wake up and my world will be relatively unchanged, minus the one less cupcake in my freezer supply that is. And for the first time in quite some time, I can honestly say: I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂
Click hereif you want to read the official statement from the FDA.

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