A Word (or Two) About Labels

By Rachel Sircy

Canva - Assorted-color Box Lot on RackThis is a subject that I tend to write about quite a bit, but I’m going to devote yet another post to discussing gluten-free food that’s not really gluten-free. I’ve previously written about how even though I’ve been gluten-free for more than a decade, I still have flare-ups and residual symptoms. I’m sure that many sufferers of Celiac Disease out there who have been gluten-free for a while have similar issues. That’s because recent research has found that approximately 70% of sufferers who follow a gluten-free diet are regularly exposed to gluten, either accidentally or intentionally.

Of course, there are always those who have moments of weakness and relapse, but many of the us who ingest gluten do so without our knowledge. The problem is often that gluten-free labels are attached to foods which are not truly gluten-free.

An interesting article I found on GlutenFreeWatchdog.com, cited a recent incident in which a sausage manufacturing company was penalized by the USDA for labeling their pork sausage as gluten-free when it contained soy sauce. Those of us who’ve been gluten-free for a while know the dangers of soy sauce. Yes, there are brands (notably San-J) who do claim to make soy sauce without fermenting their soybeans with wheat. However, most types of soy sauce do contain wheat, including the soy sauce used by this company to make its pork sausage. So, how on earth did this company think it could get away with labeling products gluten-free which were clearly not?

Well, I’ll attempt to avoid summarizing Gluten-Free Watchdog’s entire article, (you can read it here: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/when-a-regulatory-agency-usda-actually-enforces-the-gluten-free-labeling-rule-and-recalls-a-product-containing-wheat-based-soy-sauce/) but it’s important to note that the FDA allows products to be labeled gluten-free as long as the gluten in their particular product doesn’t exceed twenty parts per million. That’s twenty parts of gluten per million.

Canva - Supermarket RefrigeratorsHowever, someone in the comments section of the GFWD article rightly pointed out that this system of measurement is flawed – and dangerous – for people with serious gluten sensitivities. You see, a company may label a product gluten-free because it has less than 20ppm, but what if a celiac has two servings? Or what if it takes two (supposedly) gluten-free flavor packets to make a recipe? Then, the level deemed “safe” by the FDA has been exceeded.

The real issue, then, as I understand it, is that companies are not really required to state exactly how much gluten is in a product labeled “gluten-free.” So, it’s nearly impossible to judge what is gluten-free and what isn’t.

So, what are we to do in this case? Well, we can try to make the FDA aware of violations to gluten-free labeling. The Gluten-Free Watchdog website is a good place to send anything that seems suspicious. Take a picture of the label and/or give the name of the product and the manufacturer to them via email. They are good about looking into those kinds of things. Also, FoodAllergy.com has an entire article devoted to placing a complaint about a mislabeled product to the FDA. For more information on what to do when you think a product is mislabeled, visit https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/advocacy-resources/what-to-do-when-you-think-a-product-is-mislabeled.

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