FDA Sets Guidelines For “Gluten-free” Foods In Stores And In Restaurants

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“Gluten-free” seems to be everywhere.  You may not know what “gluten-free” means, but chances are you haven’t missed the growing number of restaurants, grocery stores, and food brands that are offering menu items or food products that are “gluten-free.” And if you are a restaurant owner or are planning to open a restaurant, it is certainly important to know what “gluten-free” means and how it may affect your business.

The FDA recently issued a final rule defining the characteristics required for a food to be labeled “gluten-free.”  Up to an estimated 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease, which can cause potentially life-threatening illnesses if they eat the gluten found in certain foods like breads, pastas, and cakes or any food that contains wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains.  The FDA ruling is great news for those Americans who suffer from celiac disease, as well as those people choosing to eat gluten-free.

For restaurant owners, this new rule is particularly important given the growing trend of offering “gluten-free” foods as a way to attract new customers.  For instance, Danielle Abril wrote an article in the Dallas Business Journal last July discussing the “gluten-free” trend in national restaurant chains and in local restaurants, particularly in the past twelve months.  See this link for that article.

The FDA ruling sets a gluten limit of 20 ppm (parts per million) in any food that carries the label “gluten-free.”  The same rules apply to foods labeled “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten.”  The rule will provide comfort and certainty to people with celiac disease that foods labeled “gluten-free,” whether on menu items in restaurants or food products for sale elsewhere, are safe for them to consume.

For restaurants that want to or are currently offering items labeled “gluten-free” or some similar label, those foods must be in compliance with the new rule by August 5, 2014.  For a more detailed analysis of the requirements of the new FDA “gluten-free” labeling rules click here and for the final rule in the Federal Register click here.