Measuring Gluten, a Crumb at a Time


How could something so seemingly innocuous have the potential to make so many downright sick? gluten, celiac disease and safe foods

Celiac disease demands hypervigilance.  Crumbs on the counter take on a new meaning if you are living your life with this disease.  Potluck parties are the worst of all, a scary combination of foods that have who knows what in them and have all probably had a brush with bread prior to your arrival.  The kiss of death or a certain guarantee for multiple bathroom trips in the near future.

The food habitus of the average individual is despicable to those who have celiac disease.  Share a spoon in three dishes, cut bread then cut the meat, unruly croutons at the salad bar- what is going on with these people?  Haven’t they ever heard of celiac disease?

My point being, the safety of food is constantly in jeopardy.  The origin of foods we assume are safe also go through a rigorous process, but just how good is it?  Assuming it says “gluten free” on the container it should be safe, right?  What about foods that are naturally g- free, are their levels measured?  So many questions, now lets look into the answers.

According to the FDA

“FDA has been working to define “gluten-free” to:

  • eliminate uncertainty about how food producers may label their products.
  • assure consumers who must avoid gluten that foods labeled “gluten-free” meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA.

FDA’s actions on Aug. 2 bring the agency one step closer to a standard definition… On this date:

  • FDA reopens the public comment period on its proposed gluten-free labeling rule published on Jan. 23, 2007.
  • FDA makes available, and seeks comments on, a report on the health effects of gluten in people with celiac disease. The report includes a safety assessment on levels of gluten sensitivity in people with the disease”

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration considers foods to be gluten free when they have 20 or less parts per million (ppm).  This measurement and standard has been up for debate.

There is a wonderful letter written by Dr. Fasano from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research titled “In defense of 20 Parts Per Million”.  Twenty parts per million translates in to twenty milligrams per kilogram of food.  He notes important points with regards to tighter restrictions (ppm <20) on g-free companies and the impact it could have on available market options for the consumer.  Just because we can measure tighter ppm with assay testing, is it indicated?  Can food manufacturers keep up with the rigid standards?

“In 2007, FDA proposed to allow manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain any of the following:

  1. an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
  2. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  3. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten
  4. 20 ppm or more gluten

In the notice reopening the comment period, FDA states that it continues to believe the proposed definition… is the correct one.

FDA’s notice also describes current analytical methods that can reliably and consistently detect gluten at levels of 20 ppm or more in a variety of foods.” ~ Food and Drug Administration on Gluten Free Labeling

See “Approaches to Establish Thresholds for Major Food Allergens and Gluten in Food” on the FDA’s website.


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