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At long last, FDA defines ‘gluten-free’

My younger daughter and I joke that her future wedding song – when Mr. Right finally comes along – should be Celine Dion’s rendition of “At Last.”

I might sing the same about the much-anticipated definition of the term “gluten-free” that was just released by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

At last.

This is the final ruling that defines “gluten-free” on food labels from a law enacted in 2004 – the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.

What’s the big deal? Celiac disease – an autoimmune disorder which requires the strict avoidance of gluten – affects an estimated 3 million Americans. (Gluten is a composite of proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye and barley grains.)

And some people are sensitive to gluten even without a clear diagnosis of celiac disease.

Until now, trying to figure out which foods were free of gluten was tricky since no standard existed for the term “gluten-free.” Finally – at last – the definition exists.

And hooray, it is consistent with guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as those in Europe and Canada.

One thing the FDA is clear about: A food labeled “gluten-free” cannot contain any wheat, rye, barley or mixtures of these grains.

(Triticale, for example, is part wheat and part rye.) And any incidental gluten in a food must be less than 20 parts per million (ppm) in order to carry the gluten-free label.

Use of the “gluten-free” term is voluntary – a food that is gluten-free does not have to say so on the label. Bottled water, for example, is not required to display a gluten-free label unless the manufacturer so chooses.

Any food that makes the gluten-free claim, however, must abide by this new definition. Any food regulated by the FDA, that is.

Meats, poultry, some egg products and alcohol are excluded from the gluten-free rule because they are regulated by other agencies, not the FDA. To which I say, never mind.

When will these new definitions show up on our food labels? Manufacturers have until August 2014 to get their gluten-free labeling act together, says the FDA.

At last.

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