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What Does Gluten Free Mean & How to Identify it in Products

Aug 17th 2018

As the gluten free product market continues to grow with hundreds of options now available in stores, how do you know which products are truly gluten free? Millions of people have chosen a gluten free diet for managing Celiac disease, but others avoid gluten ingredients in their diet in attempt to improve their overall health. For those of you who are new to the gluten free lifestyle, this blog will explain what gluten free means, common gluten ingredients to avoid, and how to identify products that are certified gluten free.

What Does Gluten Free Mean?

Gluten free simply means that the product in question does not contain the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defined the term gluten free as any product containing no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in order to be safe for people with Celiac disease to consume. While there are foods naturally gluten free like fruits, vegetables, meat, beans and nuts, there are also produces that are processed to remove gluten or processed without gluten ingredients that also qualify as gluten free. The FDA’s rules are applicable to these packaged foods as well as dietary supplements and foods imported into the US.

How are Products Certified Gluten Free?

Thanks to the FDA definition of gluten free, we can now shop with confidence, knowing that if a product has a gluten free label, it adheres to the FDA standards and is certified gluten free. There are many independent companies that issue their own certified gluten free programs and offer gluten free symbols or gluten free labels. Each company has their own standards to qualify products as gluten free, and these companies may also approve food service establishments including restaurants, cafeterias and hospitals as certified gluten free. But the most prominent and widely recognized certification is the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO). The GFCO gives companies permission to use their gluten free label only after their facilities and products have undergone rigorous inspections, meeting the strictest standards of no more than 10 ppm of gluten, which is less than what's been mandated by the FDA.  In order to maintain the integrity of the certification, annual inspections are required with regular testing. This is why we are very proud to display this logo on all of our Ethel's products! 

Gluten Ingredients to Avoid

To be safe, you should always check for gluten ingredients on the label since gluten is not always easy to recognize. As we mentioned, gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, but ingredients such as breading, bread stuffing, durum, faro, malt extract or malt syrup, oatmeal, oat flour, and semolina also contain gluten. At the grocery store, be cautious when picking out foods such as soup, chocolate bars, flavored coffee, and salad dressings, because these items frequently contain hidden gluten.

Now that we’ve answered the question what does gluten free mean and understand how products are certified, those of you affected with Celiac disease and those of you who choose to avoid gluten for improved health and lifestyle can select foods labeled gluten free with confidence. Thanks to better product certification, gluten free symbols, and gluten free labels on packaging, it’s no longer difficult to avoid gluten ingredients when grocery shopping!


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