New day for gluten free

The FDA’s new rules on gluten-free foods went into effect this month. What will be the impact on your operations?

By 
Paul King, Editor

The Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) new rules establishing the definition of gluten-free foods and requirements for labeling such foods went into effect Aug. 5. The rules specify that, among other things, in order for a food to be considered gluten free it must contain less than 20 parts per million of the substance.

In addition, foods can be labeled gluten free if they do not contain “an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains, an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten [or] 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.”

According to the FDA, the rules apply to “all FDA-regulated packaged foods, including dietary supplements.” The voluntary rules are designed to protect consumers by establishing truth in labeling; food manufacturers will no longer be permitted to label foods gluten free unless they meet the stricter criteria.

What does this all mean for non-commercial operators? You might think that it would have very little impact, given that the rules were written for packaged foods. However, the FDA has indicated that its recommendations could also apply to other foods as well. In the agency’s guide to the new labeling rules, it states, “Given the public health significance of ‘gluten-free’ labeling . . . restaurants making a gluten-free claim on their menus should be consistent with FDA’s definition.”

Chef Rob Landolphi, culinary manager at the University of Connecticut and the author of three books on gluten-free cooking, has mixed feelings about the new rules.
“I think it’s great, fantastic, a long time coming,” he says. “Food manufacturers will be going to get their products certified gluten free, which will help us and consumers. There are a lot of positives to this.”

However, he says there still are unanswered questions. For example, will states adopt the FDA’s guidelines and, if so, how long will it take?

“It [also] will be interesting to see how restaurants and colleges and universities align themselves on this,” he adds. “Will they follow the ruling or come up with their own definition? I think some colleges will be scared to serve gluten-free items because of the fear of a lawsuit. If you want to make gluten-free items, staff training will be huge. It could become as big a deal as ServSafe.”

Landolphi says he envisions the possibility of universities creating specialized dining facilities to deal with specific health issues like gluten- or allergen-free dining.

“There was a time when we had all these small dining halls scattered across campus, and then we started building bigger and bigger facilities to become more efficient,” he notes. “Maybe we’ll see a swing back in the other direction. The student body definitely will have an impact on how we handle this in the future.”

Readers, what are your thoughts on the implementation of the FDA rules? Will it affect how, or even whether, you offer gluten-free foods to your customers? Share your opinions at pking@cspnet.com.