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Gluten-free or very low gluten?

Did you know that in the UK 4% of adults and 6% of children have a food allergy or intolerance? When we think of products that people are allergic to, it’s often peanuts, shellfish and those containing lactose that spring to mind. However around 1% of the population, known as coeliacs, is intolerant to gluten.

The gluten protein is most commonly associated with wheat, but is also found in rye, barley and other cereals and carbohydrates. For coeliacs the consequences of eating products containing this protein are serious and can cause damage to the digestive tract meaning that foods are not able to be absorbed properly. This can lead to other problems such as anaemia, bone disease and poor growth.

Labelling Laws

Look around any supermarket or health food shop and you’ll find several products claiming to be ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’. But what is the difference between the two? And if a product is ‘wheat-free’ does it also mean that it is ‘gluten-free’?  To help with these queries, the Food Standards Agency has just published a set of guidelines entitled ‘Gluten Advice for Consumers’. This also ties in with existing legislation, Commission Regulation 41/2009, which concerns the composition and labelling of foodstuffs suitable for coeliacs. Whilst many companies voluntarily adhered to the Regulation since its introduction in 2009, compliance became compulsory on 1st January this year.

In order to qualify as ‘gluten free’ there must be no more than 20 parts of gluten per million in a product. Those labelled ‘very low gluten’ must have levels of gluten that are 100mg/Kg or less. Additionally ‘very low gluten’ foods can only contain cereal products that have undergone special processing to reduce gluten levels. Even products that are to be diluted by the consumer must still adhere to the 20 parts per million rule since they must be ‘gluten-free’ as sold.

‘Wheat –free’ versus ‘Gluten-free’

So what of the question of ‘wheat-free’ versus ‘gluten-free’? The answer is that just because a product does not contain wheat it cannot automatically be classed as gluten-free. There are other factors to be considered such as cross-contamination with other gluten-containing products; or the product itself might contain ingredients which contain varying levels of gluten. For example oats, a cereal which does not contain gluten itself, must be produced, prepared and processed in an environment where there is no danger of cross contamination from other products before they can be declared ‘gluten-free’.

Appropriate labelling on products suitable for coeliacs and people with other types of allergies is essential, since misinformation can lead to serious illness and in some extreme cases, death, since ingredients can send consumers into immediate anaphylactic shock. There are other instances where, whilst incorrect labelling is not life-threatening, it will upset consumers who are avoiding certain types of food or ingredients as a lifestyle choice or for religious reasons – for example vegan, vegetarian, halal , kosher, free-range, organic etc.

Specialist Courses

In order to ensure that the food you are producing complies with current labelling and production legislation we offer two comprehensive courses. Managing Food Allergens in Manufacturing is a one-day course designed for those who are responsible for designing, implementing and auditing allergen management system. It covers all aspects of all aspects of allergen control as well as risk assessment processes, testing, validation and verification

Our in-depth Legal Labelling course provides delegates with a working knowledge of legislative requirements for food composition and labelling. By the end of the one-day course they will be able to assess confidently product specifications, pack copy and artwork for legality.

The formulation of special diets for those with allergies, intolerances, or special requirements also forms part of our nutrition courses, Level 2 of which is available online. Please click here for course details.