Friday, February 13, 2015

Gluten-Free Feature Friday: What Does "Certified Gluten-Free" Mean?

Many products on the shelve today are quick to alert consumers that they are "gluten-free!" However, I couldn't help but notice that some simply state they are gluten-free, and others have this snazzy little seal saying they are "Certified Gluten-Free."

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I began to wonder why some products have this and some do not, and what exactly being "certified" meant? And who is handing out these certifications anyway?! For today's GFFF, I put on my investigation cap and did some digging on the "Certified Gluten-Free" label!

What does it mean?
To be certified, manufactures must have their products and facilities thoroughly inspected before being able to sport this label. When you see that a product is "Certified Gluten-Free", it means that the packaged food after processing contain no more than 10 ppm (parts per milliliter) of gluten. Or (if you are more of a percentage kind of person) the product contains no more that 0.001% of gluten. You can find the full description of these standards here.

So wait... You mean that even if a product is certified gluten-free, it might still have gluten?! Yes, indeed it might! What gives? Well, the reason is that right now there is not a method available that can verify a product as 100% gluten-free, or containing 0 ppm of gluten. However, the FDA states that research shows most people with Celiac can safely eat foods containing 20 ppm of gluten or less.

This certification is only valid for one year, and products and facilities must be re-inspected annually to retain this label. Some companies may even need to be re-inspected a few times a year, depending of their facility and packaging process.

Who Is Certifying?
This certification is being handed out by a nonprofit organization, Gluten Intolerance Group. This is the group that recently helped bring Udi's and Pizza Hut together to offer gluten-free pizza, as I am sure we have all heard about. I was excited to find out that this group was founded in 1974 by a registered dietitian (yay RD's!!) The GIG then created the Gluten-Free Certification Organization in 2005 to begin certifying products by these standards listed above.

Now, ten years later, the organization is annually renewing certifications for over 21,000 products in over 5 countries. The GIG has also created youth programs and summer camps, gluten-free food service and management training, and gluten intolerance awareness programs such as Chef to Plate.

Today, the GIG is headed by Executive Direction Cynthia Kupper and Director Lola ORourke, both registered dietitians!

How is this different than FDA Certification?
Even if a product is not "Certified Gluten-Free" by the GFCO, companies must still be certified by the FDA in order to post the claim of "gluten-free" on their packaging. The main difference is that the FDA's certification states that the product must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten (along with other criteria that can be seen here.)

While the FDA did not cite their statement that most Celiacs can safely consume this much gluten, I was able to find an article that examined this. A study done in 2004 by the the University of Tampere in Finland found that those with Celiac can safely consume about 100 ppm (0.01%) of gluten a day.

So, why did the GIG want to start their own certification?
"Our goal is to provide a certification program that has higher standards in order to give consumers greater confidence in the certification process." - Gluten Intolerance Group 
Think of the "Certified Gluten-Free" label to be the like the "Non-GMO Project." We do have the USDA Organic seal, but the "Non-GMO Project" seal is just that extra, third-party safety net to help verify a product as non-GMO. Same goes for the "Certified Gluten-Free."

Bottom Line?
The "Certified Gluten-Free" seal of the GFCO means that a product may contain less gluten than an item that is simply verified gluten-free by the FDA. You can also be assured that a third-party, whose mission is to help promote healthy living for those of us with gluten sensitives, has inspected the facility and the product, and is doing so every year.

You can find out more information about the GIG at You can also see if there is a local office near you and find out ways to get involved to help promote the awareness of gluten sensitives in your community!

If you have Celiac or a NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity), do you often check to see if your food is "Certified Gluten-Free?"

New To "Gluten-Free Feature Fridays?" Check out some of these past posts!!
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