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What Does Gluten Free Mean? A simple explanation of the FDA’s gluten free labeling rule

What does gluten free mean? If you live in the USA, the FDA has laid it all out. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein in certain grains. These include wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. This protein causes an autoimmune reaction in people with Celiac Disease and distress in people who are gluten intolerant. 

What is Gluten Free Food?

Gluten free foods come in two varieties, naturally gluten free food, and processed foods that do not contain gluten ingredients. 

Naturally Gluten Free Food

These are the one-ingredient foods that don’t need a label. They naturally do not contain the gluten grains, so they don’t contain gluten. Think, Apples, chicken, unseasoned rice and dried pinto beans.

You can find a larger list of gluten free foods by clicking here.

No Gluten Ingredients

The other type of gluten free foods are the processed foods that don’t have any ingredients made from wheat, rye, barley, or spelt. For these foods, you’ll have to read the labels.

Not sure how to find gluten on a label? Find Other Names for Gluten by clicking here.

What Does Gluten Free Mean on a Label?

In the United States, as of August 2014, “Gluten Free” on a label means that a product is not made with gluten containing grains and contains less than 20ppm gluten through cross contamination.

Gluten Free Does Not Mean Oat Free

If you are visiting from another country that considers oats gluten grains, note that in the USA, Gluten Free does not mean Oat Free. If you avoid oats, please carefully read the ingredients label of gluten free foods.

Gluten Free Does Not Mean “Produced in a Dedicated Gluten Free Facility”

According to the FDA guidelines, a producer does NOT have to let you know if their product was produced in a factory with an allergen as long as that allergen is not an ingredient in your food. So they may produce their food in a factory where they also produce a product with gluten. The “May Contain” warnings that you see on packages is completely voluntary. Click here to see the FDA’S regulation on May Contain Warnings. As long as the test result is 20ppm gluten, a product can be labeled gluten free.

Producers Might Not Use a Gluten Free Label

A company might not label a gluten free product “gluten free.” It is completely up to the producer to include it on their label. That is why you sometimes see “Gluten Free” on one product when another brand with the same ingredients might not be labeled “Gluten Free.”

Restaurants are NOT covered under this law

As of the writing of this post, restaurants do not have to prove that their “gluten free” meals contain less than 20ppm gluten. It’s a good idea to find out how a restaurant prepares its food to avoid cross contamination. For example, if they roll a “gluten free” pizza dough out on the same counter as regular pizza dough, there is a high chance of cross contamination. But if they prepare it in a separate area of the kitchen with separate gluten free toppings, they reduce the risk of cross contamination.

Know Which Ingredients Contain Gluten

The safest way to shop is to know which ingredients contain gluten. You can find a list of other names for gluten here: Other Names For Gluten. Read the label EVERY TIME you buy processed food. There is nothing stopping a producer from changing their recipe and including gluten in their product.

Find Out More

Want more info directly from the FDA? You can click on these links to find out more. Gluten Free Food Labeling Final Rule Gluten and Food Labeling: The FDA’s Regulation of “Gluten Free” Claims.

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Hey Friend! I'm so glad you dropped by! I'm Jodi, I'm a wife, mom of four, homeschooler and world traveler. I've been gluten free for almost 20 years and I share tips and recipes especially for gluten free beginners on knowgluten.me