Gluten Free Food Testing - What do the labels really mean?

Gluten-Free Food Testing 

What does 'Gluten Free' Mean?

Gluten-free is a term used to measure a combination of proteins that exist in a few grains we commonly eat each day. Gluten is predominately found in wheat. It is the combination of these proteins that give a product like wheat that unique ability to stick together, to bend, and be light and fluffy.

Gluten-Free Food Testing

When you see ‘Gluten Free’ on packaging, what exactly does this mean? If you see the words ‘Gluten Free’ on a packet, then you would be right to assume that the company has tested the product and that it contains zero gluten. However, this is not quite the full story. There is a small threshold that allows for traces of gluten to be present. The additional tricky part is that every country around the world has different food labelling laws. In practise, this means that the threshold for the presence of gluten varies.

Gluten-Free Labelling is not straight forward

Here in Australia our testing threshold utilising current testing methods allows us to detect gluten content down to <3-5ppm which stands for parts per million. If a product tests below 3-5ppm, this means we can label a product gluten-free. In the US, Europe and UK, their gluten-free threshold is <20ppm. Effectively this is also the same as 20 milligrams of gluten per 1 kilogram of food or 20 milligrams of gluten per 35.27 ounces of food. To put this amount into further context, a 1-ounce (28.35 grams) slice of gluten-free bread containing 20 parts per million gluten would contain 0.57 milligrams of gluten. So, if you are purchasing food that is labelled gluten-free and it is imported from outside of Australia, you can assume it is only tested to 20ppm. So please be aware of this, unless the company importing the item has tested each batch and displays that somewhere on the label or their website.

Pressure from Food Labelling Standards

There is continued pressure towards the Food Labelling Standards Australia and New Zealand to streamline their definitions in line with the rest of the world. In Australia, because our laws are so stringent, we have a lot fewer foods available than the rest of the world and therefore gluten-free food is considerably more expensive for manufacturers and of course consumers.

How much gluten can a coeliac safely consume?

A report named ‘A Systematic Review of Safe Level of Gluten for People with Coeliac Disease’ (2016) determined that the safe level of gluten for people with coeliac disease is unknown. The authors of this report sifted through in excess of 197 report papers and, according to their work, there still aren’t enough quality studies to know if small amounts of gluten harm a coeliac's health.

For more information read our Compliance Page and check out our FAQs.

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