Certified Gluten-Free: What Does That Mean?

Happy Fourth of July! Last week, we discussed the science behind testing for gluten in food. Now, let’s talk about the laws.

As we’ve discussed before, there are currently no federal laws or regulations that control the labeling of gluten-free food. The FDA states that companies can label their food gluten-free as long as it is “truthful and not misleading.” Companies can technically label their food gluten-free without testing, which raises obvious concerns over food safety. The FDA has stated that they may have a ruling on a gluten-free regulation by the end of the year.

They’re proposing that no food can be labeled gluten free unless it does not contain any of the following:

  1. Wheat, barley, or rye
  2. Ingredients made from wheat, barley, or rye that that have not been processed to remove the gluten
  3. Ingredients made from wheat, barley, or rye that that have been processed but contain more than 20 ppm gluten
  4. 20 ppm gluten

In the absence of any concrete regulatory guidance, several independent gluten-free certification organizations have stepped in to fill the void. There are currently three certification programs in the United States. Check out the chart after the list below for details on each certification.

  1. Celiac Sprue Association Seal of Recognition (CSA): The Celiac Sprue Association undertakes a variety efforts to increase awareness of Celiac disease to advance their mission of “Changing the World for Celiacs.” They are comprised primarily by the efforts of volunteers who aid in spreading information and support, and their Seal of Recognition is a part of what they offer. The CSA requires written documentation of the facility and ingredients, samples of the packaging, and periodic testing
  2. Gluten Intolerance Group Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GIG): The Gluten-Free Certification Organization is a part of the larger Gluten Intolerance Group, which seeks to spread information about celiac disease and living gluten-free. The GFCO will send an inspector to physically audit the facility and, assuming it passes inspection, they will then require periodic testing and inspection.
  3. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness Gluten Free Certification Program (NFCA): Similar to the CSA and the GIG, the NFCA offers a wide variety of online materials and resources to raise awareness of Celiac disease. Their Gluten Free Certification Program requires a physical inspection, random sampling, and annual monitoring.

Each of these organizations has its differences. For a summary of what the certifications offer, see our chart below:

Big thanks to Tricia Thompson over at Gluten Free Dietitian for doing the research required for this chart. If you haven’t already checked out her site, it’s a great resource for anyone who’d celiac or gluten-intolerant.

It’s unclear what will happen when the the FDA ruling passes. The independent gluten-free certification program in Canada, the Canadian Celiac Association’s Gluten Free Certification Program, must abide by the rules of Health Canada, but continues to certify foods. Each of the US gluten-free certification organizations are already stricter than the proposed FDA ruling, so it would not be difficult for them to continue their certification program without interruption if and when the ruling passes.