Deciphering Gluten Free Food Labeling
Deciphering food labels, especially for people with coeliac disease or choosing to live a gluten free lifstyle can be confusing, so our friends at GF Pantry are taking us through the Australian Food Standard Code for gluten to help you understand what's in what you eat.
People with coeliac disease are told to avoid any foods with gluten in the ingredients list, or with a may contain gluten statement, but are there exceptions? What do I need to know to read the label properly?
Australia’s Food Standard Code regulates foods that can be sold in Australia and how we label them. It applies to all foods, imported or manufactured here. Changes over the years, conflicting needs of manufacturers and consumers, and technical complexities have led to a code that is not always easy to understand. To break it down, here are the 4 main things people with gluten intolerances, coeliac disease or living a gluten free lifestyle should know.
1. Changes to allergen declaration
The majority of food allergies are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, soy, lupin and wheat. The code requires that these 10 foods are declared on labels when present. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and strains of cereals containing gluten were also declared in a bid to help those with coeliac disease. In 2016, the Code was changed as our knowledge evolved. Requirements for some ingredients to be declared once they had been significantly processed, were removed. This included highly processed wheat products that no longer contain gluten such as glucose/dextrose made from wheat (subject to low limits) and distilled alcohol from wheat. People with coeliac disease are now advised that alcohol and glucose/dextrose from wheat are fine for the majority part to consume. There is a very small percentage of people with coeliac disease who may be affected by glucose syrups but they are not the norm. The change also didn’t change anything for the top 10 food allergies, so wheat must still be disclosed whether the end product contains gluten or not.
2. Australia vs. other countries gluten free standard
A gluten free claim requires foods to contain no detectable gluten, oats/oat products, malted cereals containing gluten, or products of such cereals. Current technology can detect up to 3ppm so this is Australia’s default standard, whereas many other countries list 20ppm as their set limit. This means all food claiming gluten free in Australia must be tested with nil gluten detected but this is not the case in other countries.
In Australia, a gluten free claim can be made even when the products are produced in factories containing gluten or even if some ingredients are derived from gluten cereals such as wheat as long as there is no gluten in these products and they are safe for people with coeliac disease. A Coeliac Australia endorsement is the GOLD STANDARD for gluten free. It means the society formed to protect you, has checked and double checked everything. The product may or may not be produced in the same factory as products with gluten, and it may have ingredients derived from wheat, but the society has been satisfied with the processes used in manufacturing and sourcing. There is no gluten in these products and they are safe for people with coeliac disease.
3. It is up to manufacturers to decide whether or not to include “may contain statements.”
Some food labels use 'may contain' or 'may be present' statements about allergens. May contain statements are voluntary statements made by manufacturers and are not regulated by the Food Standard Code.
The use of the statement can stop the consumption of something cross contaminated with gluten but can also limit the consumption of product that is actually safe. It is recommended to contact the food manufacturer directly and ask about their practises if you wish to consume these products as there is always a risk. GF Pantry customers are lucky. If the product is not specifically marked gluten free, GF Pantry asks all the hard questions before stocking the product. Is it made in a gluten free facility? Are the ingredients sourced through a gluten free supplier? Is gluten free testing conducted? Are there any chances of cross-contamination? You can be confident that everything at GF Pantry has been checked and is gluten free.
4. Foods not covered under the Code
Alcohol is not covered by the same labelling standards as food. For more information on drinking safely, visit GF Pantry's alcohol blog (and of course drink responsibly.)
And after all that, don’t forget that fresh fruits and vegetables are all naturally gluten free, so eat as much of those as you want, even if they don’t have a label!
Complaints about suspected undeclared allergens in foods should be directed to the local food enforcement agencies. In many cases this is actually your local council, but many people also advise Coeliac Australia of gluten issues so they can help fight the good cause.
If you wish to understand more about our labelling and allergen laws, a good place to start would be with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)
GF Pantry is located on level 1 near Coles. For more tips on allergy friendly living, visit the GF Pantry blog >