As of Tuesday, foods on grocery store shelves carrying the "gluten-free" label must meet stringent Food and Drug Administration requirements, following through on a plan introduced one year ago that promised to regulate the claim.
The FDA introduced gluten-free labeling guidelines last year and published the final rule in August, 2013., giving retailers a year to come into compliance. The label ensures that gluten proteins –naturally found in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains – are only present in foods at certain levels.
While many foods currently labeled as gluten-free may already meet the new federal definition, some products still on store shelves could be non-compliant with FDA's gluten-free labeling guidelines, FDA warns.
Related: FDA Regulates 'Gluten-Free' Labeling
The label regulation provides a uniform standard definition to help consumers with celiac disease manage a gluten-free diet.
According to FDA's rules, gluten-free foods must contain fewer than 20 parts per million gluten. Foods may be labeled "gluten-free" if they are inherently gluten free; or do not contain an ingredient that is: a gluten-containing grain, like spelt wheat; derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten, like wheat flour; or derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten, like wheat starch, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 ppm or more gluten in the food.
According to Mintel Menu Insights research released in April, claims like "gluten free" are appearing more frequently on restaurant menus, posting a 200% increase between Q4 2010-13, and accounting for 40% of the total growth in ingredient nutritional claims on the menu during the same time period.
FDA says small food businesses and retailers have already received guidance to help them comply with the new rules, and the administration will "continue to work with, educate and monitor industry on the use of the gluten-free claim."
FDA also says it will use its existing compliance and enforcement tools, such as inspection, laboratory analysis, warning letters, seizure, and injunction, to ensure that the use of the claim on food packages complies with the definition.
Given the public health significance of "gluten-free" labeling, FDA says, restaurants and other establishments making a gluten-free claim on their menus should be consistent with FDA's definition