Understanding Food Labels-Gluten Free Shopping

When you are ready to begin your grocery shopping you will find that understanding food labels is very important. In order to know what is or is not safe, you will need to know just what information the label does give you, and what is still uncertain. There are some terms you will need to watch for when gluten free shopping.

Understanding Labels and FALCPA

Reading labels to check if something you wish to buy is acceptable on a gluten free diet has become much, much easier.

In 2004, a new law was passed known as FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act). This law took effect on January 1, 2006.

This law affects nearly all packaged products. ( all packaged products except those regulated by the Dept. of Agriculture (usually raw meat, poultry, and some egg products) or by the Alchohol, Tobacco and Fiream Trade Bureau.(wine, beer, and distilled spirits).)

So as of January 1, 2006, all other packaged food products produced OR imported into the U.S. must list, in plain English, the presence in any form of 8 major allergens. This is a huge improvement!

These allergens include:

tree nuts (must specify type)
crustacean shellfish (must specify type, ie: shrimp, crab)
fish (must list type, ie: cod, herring, tuna)

The companies can either have an allergen statement after the ingredient list, using the word "Contains:" and then list those allergens present in the product. For example, below the list of ingredients it may say:

" Contains: Wheat, Milk, and Soy."

The other option for companies is to place the information in the ingredients list, and to place the information of which allergen it is from in parenthesis immediately after the item. For example, the list of ingredients might say:

"Natural Flavors (Wheat)."

So when you are at the store, you can pick up a can or package, look for an allergen list, and see if it says:

"Contains: Wheat."

If there is no allergen list, or the list does not show wheat, then you read the ingredient list to make sure. If it says wheat anywhere then you put it back on the shelf and try another brand.

Items That Will Not Always Be Listed

While wheat is required by law to be listed, other gluten containing grains will not always be listed. These include barley, rye, and for some of us oats and things derived from them. You will need to keep a list of these terms with you or memorize them:

barley malt
blue cheese (often made from wheat bread)
groats ( from barley or oats)
malt (derived from barley)
malt extract
malt syrup
malt flavoring
malt vinegar
pearl barley
rice malt
sprouted barley
brown rice syrup
dextrin (might be barley, contact manufacturer)
Natural Flavors (some companies not on the following list)

Companies like Con-Agra, Kraft, Hormel, and Uni-lever will tell you what the natural flavors are derived from if they contain gluten. So in the ingredient list it would say "natural flavors (barley)"

If it is not one of these companies you will need to check with the manufacturer to be sure.

What About Spelt, Durum or Other Terms?

This still greatly simplifies understanding food labels, as you no longer have to keep a list of over 100 terms that essentially mean "wheat" with you when you go gluten free shopping.

A word of caution...On products labeled gluten free the new standard is that naturally gluten free products must contain no more than 20ppm while gluten reduced products like wheat starch must contain no more than 100ppm.

Spelt, Triticale, Durum , Einkorn, Emmer, Farina, Semolina, Kamut and Bulgar are also listed as Wheat on the labels. If you should go to a health food store and the clerk tells you spelt or einkorn or even sprouted grain is gluten free, do NOT believe it. They are Wheat and they contain gluten. This has happened to some people and they got sick. None of these items are acceptable on a gluten free diet.

In the case of dairy, a product can say nondairy and still contain casein or caseinates. In that case it should say (derived from milk) in the ingredient list.

Note: If you see the term maltodextrin, this is usually made from corn or potato starch in the U.S. It is not from barley and so is acceptable on the gluten free diet.

Note: Caramel coloring, in products produced in North America, is made from corn based ingredients and does not contain gluten.

I hope this information is helpful to you in understanding food labels and how this can help you shop.

Related Pages that may also be helpful to you include Gluten Free Sausage, for sausage and lunch meats, Gluten Free Products which has sauces, condiments and other items, and Gluten Free Snacks. The hub page that lists all the pages of foods acceptable on the diet is Gluten Free Shopping Be sure to take a look at them as well.

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