According to a press release from the FDA, one rule limits total gluten at less than 20 parts per million (ppm). This is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods. This level is consistent with those set by other countries and international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) that set food safety standards. The FDA claims most people with celiac disease can tolerate that level of gluten.
"This standard 'gluten-free' definition will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products and will assure people with celiac disease that foods labeled 'gluten-free' meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA," Dr. Michael R. Taylor, deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in the press release.
According to the FDA, Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, explained that without a legal definition of "gluten-free", people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance could not be sure if their bodies would tolerate the food.
"This is a tool that has been desperately needed," Levario said in the FDA's press release. "It keeps food safe for this population, gives them the tools they need to manage their health, and obviously has long-term benefits for them."
A member agreed, according to the FDA. "Without proper food labeling regulation, celiac patients cannot know what the words 'gluten free' mean when they see them on a food label," said Dr. Allessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and visiting professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Before the rule there were no federal standards or definitions for the food industry to use in labeling products "gluten-free", the FDA reports. An estimated 5 percent of foods currently labeled "gluten-free" contain 20 ppm or more of gluten.
The FDA will allow manufactures to label a gluten-free food if it does not contain any of the following:
1) an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
2) an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
3) an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten
Foods such as bottled spring water, fruits and vegetables, and eggs can also be labeled "gluten-free" if they inherently don't have any gluten, according to the FDA.
The regulation was published in the Federal Register on August 5, and manufacturers have one year to comply, according to the FDA.
"As many as 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease," reads the press release. "It occurs when the body's natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs. Delayed growth and nutrient deficiencies can result and may lead to conditions such as anemia (a lower than normal number of red blood cells) and osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Other serious health problems may include diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease and intestinal cancers."
Image Source: FDA