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Facts About Gluten-Free Labeling

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.  This is why it is so important for people with gluten sensitivity to avoid gluten, but gluten-free labeling can be confusing.

Facts about gluten-free labeling

There is no treatment for Celiac other than strictly following a gluten-free diet. So it becomes imperative for people with Celiac to find gluten-free foods that are free of any contamination. On August 2, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its long-awaited gluten-free food labeling rule.

According to the rule, when a manufacturer chooses to put “gluten-free” on food packaging, the item must comply with the new FDA definition of the term – less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. All FDA regulated foods, drinks, and dietary supplements are subject to the rule. Foods not covered under the rule are meat, poultry and unshelled eggs, and any other products regulated by the USDA. Imported products or any foods not regulated by FDA are not covered. Distilled spirits, wine and malted beverages are not covered. Medications are not regulated by FDA hence they are not covered under this rule, but there is work going on to create a Medicine Disclosure Act to include gluten-free labeling. Restaurants are encouraged to label the foods but there is no way to enforce the requirement.

No symbol has been approved by the FDA to identify foods that meet the definition of ‘gluten-free’. The FDA has determined that consumers favor the label “gluten-free” to communicate that a food is free of gluten. Manufacturers are allowed to include a symbol as long as it is truthful and not misleading.

Since there are a wide variety of foods that are not covered, it becomes important to learn how to read ingredient labels and avoid cross contamination.

If you suffer from gluten sensitivity and follow a gluten free diet, please join us for our new Celiac Disease support group.  This group meets the 3rd Tuesday of each month starting today, March 17 from 6 to 8 pm at Cary Hospital.  The support group is a great resource to keep up with latest research, most current and accurate news and information about celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders.

If you have questions about the WakeMed Cary Hospital Celiac Disease Support Group, please contact me, Parul Kharod, RD, in WakeMed Cary Hospital’s Food & Nutrition Services department at 919-350-2358 or email at