As anyone who must avoid gluten for medical reasons can tell you, gluten-free labeling can be very confusing and misleading.
Here's the problem: Despite the several variations of gluten-free labels we see on products -- "no gluten," "without gluten," "free of gluten," and "no gluten ingredients used," the fact is, for the most part, these claims are unsubstantiated and unregulated. In fact, neither the FDA nor the USDA has set any legal requirements as to what actually constitutes "gluten-free." Therefore, the potential for food products to be mislabeled -- either accidentally or intentionally -- is high. Can you even imagine how dangerous this could be for someone who must avoid gluten?
Thankfully, two organizations -- organic certifier Quality Assurance International (QAI), and the healthcare nonprofit National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) -- are seeking to add some transparency to the marketplace with a new gluten-free label. The question is: Can we trust it?
QAI and the NFCA are maintaining that their certification program is reliable because it "requires sensitive testing procedures, stringent auditing, and an independent application review process." In other words, compliance with the program is strictly monitored. Participating companies will be subject to annual inspection, which involves:
- Feedback from consumers, manufacturers, and retailers
- Ingredient verifications
- Product review
- Onsite inspection (to ensure the prevention of contamination and co-mingling)
- Random product testing
Moreover, the program tests to ensure compliance to 10 parts per million (ppm) or less (Many experts believe that 20 ppm of gluten is a safe threshold for people with Celiac disease.)
With such strict standards, the new program seems like it will make it nearly impossible for companies to mislabel "gluten-free" products (should they choose to comply in the first place). Until the government sets a standard for gluten-free foods, perhaps this new labeling will make the marketplace a little safer and accessible for people trying to avoid gluten.
Would you trust this new gluten-free label or are you still most comfortable reading the ingredient lists on products yourself?
Image via Quality Assurance International