FDA defines "gluten-free"

Responding to widespread labeling of products as “gluten-free,”  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a new regulation defining just what that means. The agency now requires that any food product labeled “gluten-free” can’t  have more than 20 parts per million of gluten.

The boom in “gluten-free” labeling has coincided with a far greater public awareness of celiac disease, an immune system disorder that causes the body to react when exposed to gluten, a protein found in barley, rye and oats.  People with celiac disease—an estimated 3 million American have the condition--have to avoid eating foods containing gluten; otherwise the lining of the small intestine can become damaged and affect the proper absorption of vital nutrients into the bloodstream. The severity of the reaction to gluten differs from patient to patient, but the new FDA regulation is meant to protect people from even trace amounts of gluten.

While many gluten-free foods already adhere to the rule, manufacturers and distributors will have 12 months to institute it and update their labels.  This rule also applies to other terminology related to gluten content, such as "free of gluten," "without gluten" and "no gluten."

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