Gluten-labelling practices in the USA examined

The American company Gluten Free Watchdog has investigated the gluten content of 101 different foodstuffs whose list of ingredients did not mention gluten-containing grains. The aim was to test whether and to what extent labelling practices offer coeliac sufferers enough relevant and reliable information in an everyday context. The results of this study have been published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Amongst the 101 products which were investigated were cereals, spices, tea, drinks, confectionary and baked goods. The result: of the 87 products which carried no allergen advisory statement concerning wheat or gluten content, 13 (15%) nevertheless had traces of gluten quantified at ≥ 5 ppm, and in 4 products, the gluten content was as high as ≥ 20 ppm, that is in excess of the threshold value for being able to label a product as “gluten free”.

shutterstock 237866758 400x200Only 14 of the tested products provided appropriate advisory statements stating that the products in question had been produced or packed in a production facility, or with the use of equipment, which is also used for products containing wheat or gluten. Of these 14 products, only one (7 %) was demonstrated, however, as containing gluten in quantities above the limit of quantification (in this case ≥ 20 ppm).

Study summary: Current labelling practices in the USA are not sufficiently informative with respect to the question of whether or not a product does in fact contain traces of gluten. This is particularly true of the 20 ppm threshold relevant to coeliac patients. Gluten Free Watchdog concludes that further regulation and standardisation of trace labelling practices is needed.

This conclusion, however, neglects industrial reality by apparently assuming that a product carrying an advisory statement needs to contain detectable allergen traces in order for the statement to be justified. In fact, such a statement can indeed be justified even if, due to inhomogeneity, not every packaging unit or lot of the product contains the allergen in a detectable concentration. Besides, the study's results show that 95 % of the products without an allergen advisory statement do not contain gluten traces higher than the threshold for "gluten-free" labelling. From our point of view, this indicates a functioning allergen management and a correct labelling practice for the majority of the products that were tested.

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