Although gluten intolerance is different from a food allergy, it can cause serious health problems in people who have celiac disease, a chronic digestive disorder. Gluten is a protein that occurs in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It's found in many foods and food ingredients.
The FDA has recently established guidelines for use of the term "gluten-free" on food labels. Any food product bearing a gluten-free claim must not contain an ingredient that is:
- A gluten-containing grain
- Derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten
- Derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.
Currently, the "gluten-free" label is voluntary — it's up to the manufacturer whether to include it. Many foods are naturally gluten-free and may or may not be labeled as such.
The bottom line: Be cautious
Always double-check labels to be sure you know what you're eating and drinking. Even though a food product may have been safe the last time you purchased or consumed it, it's possible that the ingredients have changed or the label has been updated. If you have any doubt about food ingredients, contact the manufacturer about whether the food possibly contains a food allergen.
Nov. 03, 2016
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- Food allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies. Accessed Aug. 3, 2016.
- Food allergen labeling and consumer protection act of 2004. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm106187.htm. Accessed Aug. 3, 2016.
- Have food allergies? Read the label. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm254504.htm. Accessed Aug. 3, 2016.
- Guidance for food industry: Questions and answers regarding food allergens, including Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (edition 4); final guidance. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/ucm059116.htm. Accessed Aug. 3, 2016.
- Questions and answers: Gluten-free food labeling final rule. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362880.htm. Accessed Aug. 3, 2016.