9. Become a label expert.
Labels are the key to finding safe gluten-free food. First, look for a gluten-free label. It tells you a product is made with gluten-free ingredients and can be a short cut for finding foods that fit in your gluten-free diet. Be aware that current U.S. labeling laws don’t require gluten-free ingredients to be tested for cross contamination. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on a definition for use of the gluten-free label on foods. Once approved, the FDA-approved label will set specific standards for foods labeled gluten free and take cross contamination into account.
Meanwhile, if you want more exacting standards for items labeled gluten-free, look for a certification seal from the Gluten Intolerance Group or the Celiac Sprue Association. (See next tip for more details)
When a food has neither a gluten-free label nor a certification seal, you have to rely on the ingredients list to determine if it has gluten-containing ingredients. Look for any wheat, rye, barley, malt or oats.
Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, wheat always has to appear on a label when it is used in any form in a food regulated by the FDA. So if an ingredient, modified food starch for example, is made with wheat it will clearly say so on the label. The word wheat can be in the ingredients list or in a Contains statement that follows the ingredient list. Foods that contain wheat are not gluten free unless the wheat is found in a highly processed ingredient from which the harmful protein has been removed. This includes maltodextrin, glucose syrup and citric acid.
Barley, rye and oats are not covered by the allergen labeling law. Rye is mainly used in rye bread, where it is clearly labeled. Barley is also usually included in the ingredients list when used, though it may be called malt, malt flavoring or malt extract and should be avoided. Oats that are not specifically labeled as gluten-free are highly likely to be cross-contaminated and are not gluten free.
Some foods also have advisory statements, like “May contain wheat,” “Made in a facility that also processes wheat,” “Made on equipment that also processes wheat.” These statements are voluntary and have no official definition. Some companies use them broadly for legal protection and others use them to warn allergic consumers about a real risk in the processing of a food. On the flip side, you may see statements like “Made in a dedicated gluten-free facility,” or “Made on dedicated gluten-free equipment.” At first labeling reading can seem overwhelming, but you will learn the ins and outs faster than you might think.