FDA’s Gluten-Free Labeling Laws, Part 3

Since it’s Friday, something fun:

I guess Kate Gosselin of reality-TV fame has a bakery? Anyway, she pulled a classic move – flirtation via baked good – only to find that the target of her affections was gluten-free. Nice to have you on our team, random TV guy!

I have some cross-contamination concerns regarding the gluten-free cupcake they found for the dude, but I haven’t watched the show. Check it out for yourself here.

Now, down to business. Let’s wrap up all this FDA talk today, shall we?

We already covered how the FDA got to 20ppm as the threshold, and about how the FDA wants manufactures to label their food. That leaves us with a quick two-part chat: which foods is the FDA is focused on, and what testing methods will they use to determine if foods are safe?

Logically, wheat, barley and rye are on the “no” list. However, there are some foods (like wheat starch) that have a basis in these grains but that are widely considered gluten-free. As science progresses – both in creating the food and testing it – there will likely be more. As it stands now, the FDA is open to allowing these, provided they’ve been processed to be below 20ppm. To me, this is a good thing – there’s only a very small part of these plants that triggers the reaction, the rest can be safe if used carefully – but if you have a different opinion you may want to let the FDA know.

In no way does the rule mention oats. This doesn’t mean all oats are going to be considered gluten-full or gluten-free; it means that if someone is selling gluten-free oats they need to be able to prove that the oats test to below 20ppm. Which is a beautiful segue into my next point:

How will the FDA decide if a food is below 20ppm?

First thing to understand: the FDA is not requiring any specific testing protocol. It will be up to each manufacturer to test as they see fit. A tomato farm that wishes to label their tomatoes gluten-free can do so, without running any sort of test or providing any sort of certification. If they get inspected, and their tomatoes are not below 20ppm, they’re in trouble.

When the FDA checks someone out, the current rule stipulates that they will use two different tests, the Morinaga and the Mendez R-5 ELISA. The Morinaga is used by the Japanese government, and although it hasn’t been AOAC certified the FDA feels comfortable with the lab results it’s seen.

The Mendez R5 ELISA has been AOAC certified. So what is it? ELISA simply refers to the type of test (stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay); there are different varieties but they’re all kind of like going fishing. The lab takes an antibody (in this case, R5) and uses it to “bait” the gluten. The antibody is linked to some sort of easy to read symbol – like a color – and the symbol is used to determine how much gluten is on the line.

Neither test is perfect; gluten detection is not a black and white issue. For example, neither test works reliably with fermented or hydrolyzed foods – think beer, soy sauce, starches, etc. However, there are other methods and antibodies on the market and still others in development. Taken as a group, these next-generation antibodies are filling and will no doubt continue to fill the current gaps in gluten detection technology – and the FDA’s ruling leaves very little room, in my opinion, for this sort of scientific development. So I have some concerns there.

What do you think?

If you want to dig a bit deeper, the blogosphere has been abuzz with thoughts and insights about the proposed rule. Two planets to check in on are Tricia Thompson, the Gluten-Free Dietician and also the guest spot of Andrea Levario, Executive Director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, with Jules Gluten Free on the radio.

One thought on “FDA’s Gluten-Free Labeling Laws, Part 3”

  1. I have been to Georgetown Cupcake in DC where this episode of Kate plus 8 was shot.
    They have the most amazing Gluten Free Cupcakes I have ever tried! They reserve a section of their kitchen specifically for gluten free needs :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2010-2015 Triumph Dining