In my mind, gluten free means any food item free from any gluten containing ingredient. However, that probably isn’t good enough for everyone. So, the United States Food and Drug Administration clarified the definition of gluten free. Today is all about labels!

Rules from FDA

Gluten free has a technical definition per the US government. Besides the 20ppm designation, there is more. Gluten free has a three part definition. To be labelled gluten free the food does not contain any of the following:

  • an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains,
  • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten, or
  • an ingredient derived from these grains that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten

This definition also applies to any foods in restaurants.

Note that none of these rules discuss cross contamination, shared lines, or shared manufacturing equipment. Naturally gluten free items such as fresh fruits and vegetables can be labeled gluten free as long as they don’t come into contact with items that are greater than 20ppm.

There is no requirement for any of the items to be tested for gluten before the label can be applied.

Also, a few countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, have much stricter limits. In Australia and New Zealand for an item to be labeled gluten free it must have 0ppm of gluten and no oats. Europe has standards for “low gluten” and “gluten free” designations. Much of the rest of the world adheres to the 20ppm designation for a gluten free label.

Certified Gluten Free

Certified gluten free means that a company has voluntarily paid for their item to be tested to ensure it tests at least below 20ppm.

No gluten containing ingredients

There are many companies that are now talking about their products that “have no gluten containing ingredients” but will not label their item gluten free. Because “gluten free” has a technical definition they are afraid to label their items gluten free.

This begs the question – do you trust a company to ensure something is gluten free when they won’t label it? For some companies, I do. For others, I don’t. Everyone has to make their choices.


Restaurants are under the same FDA rules and if we ever get to back to restaurants, there may be some changes. Menu items are starting to show up as “Gluten friendly” or “Gluten reduced” rather than “gluten free”.

FDA Rule Changes for Covid

Also know that food manufacturers have been given some leeway in substituting ingredients without changing their label. But what they aren’t allow to do is change a non-allergen ingredient to one containing an allergen ingredient without disclosing it on the label. In other words, a manufacturer cannot change from tamari (gluten free soy sauce) to soy sauce (normally contains wheat) without disclosure.

What does this all mean?

Eat whole foods. Just as an FYI, I only buy apples with a gluten free label. (Joking!)

If you don’t, stick to manufacturers you trust and have a good track record of producing gluten free foods. There are some manufacturers who dedicate their entire business to producing allergen free food items. They produce foods label it gluten free and often times even pay for it to be certified gluten free. Those with the commitment to producing allergen free items should be rewarded with our patronage.

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