Is Your Gluten-Free Label A Lie?

Can you trust your gluten-free label? Not often enough.

A surprising number of foods — from cookies to salads to sauces — are misbranded as gluten-free when they contain ingredients not permitted under that label by the Food and Drug Administration, according to dietitian Tricia Thompson, founder of the advocacy group Gluten Free Watchdog.

For instance, Thompson has identified supposed gluten-free products containing barley malted( barley is a gluten-containing grain ), sauces with wheat-based soy sauce and cookies with spelt( a wheat flour ).

“There is so much misunderstanding out there, “ Thompson told HuffPost. “The store selling[ that] cookie initially and erroneously responded that spelt is a grain but not wheat.”( It turned out that the cookie did not contain spelt, and that the label itself was wrong, which is another problem in itself .)

Mislabeling is so pervasive that in August 2017, Gluten Free Watchdog filed a citizen petition with the FDA. The petition, coauthored by Thompson and lawyer Kaki Schmidt, asks the regulator to allow direct, electronic consumer reporting of deceptive labels and to routinely issue warning letters to companies contravening gluten-free rules. In the last two years, Gluten Free Watchdog said it has reported over 30 mislabeled products that violate FDA regulations.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m screaming into the wind, ” said Thompson, who had been on the phone with a manufacturer until 9 p. m. the night before. “I’m exhausted from talking to so many manufacturers and trying to educate them.”

CedarLane CedarLane has confirmed that their “gluten free” couscous is actually induced with wheat, which contains gluten.

Take the case of couscous, a semolina wheat-based grain. Cedarlane Foods, establishment of 1981 by Robert Atalla, offers a popular gluten-free line carried in supermarkets across the United Nations. Its organic salad line includes a product labeled gluten-free that contains couscous, veggies, chickpeas and a citrus dressing.

“I emailed and spoke with the company four or five times in late August, ” said Thompson. “At first they informed me by email that their ingredients were classified information. In our final telephone conversation they confirmed that indeed, their couscous was made from wheat.” Though the company promised to contact the FDA and recall the nearly 600 instances in the marketplace, Thompson said she hasn’t received verification. Cedarlane Foods didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Misbranding can have serious consequences for 3 million people in the U.S. who have celiac disease, an autoimmune illness triggered by gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The only cure is a gluten-free diet. An additional 18 million Americans may have gluten sensitivity, a less-serious condition in which gluten gives rise to symptoms ranging from bloating and nausea to brain fog and joint pain.

The global gluten-free products market soared to virtually $15 billion in 2016, and is still growing. In 2013, the FDA issued a set of rules that defined a “gluten-free” food. Manufacturers had one year to bring their labels into compliance.

The gluten-free diet is now so popular, said pediatric gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano of Massachusetts General Hospital, “that it presents a unique business opportunity. I believe producers are making mistakes simply because they haven’t done the homework to educate themselves.”

Fasano is especially concerned because studies show that up to 40 percentage of celiac sufferers on a gluten-free diet may be inadvertently exposed to gluten, often due to contamination from other products. “The gluten-free diet is not the panacea we once believed, ” he said. “Too many on this diet still have intestinal inflammation.”

Chef Myron’s soy sauce, for example, contains water, soybeans, wheat and salt. “The verbiage on their gallon jugs, which are used widely in the food service industry, state that the wheat has been processed to allow this food to meet the FDA requirements for a gluten-free food, ” Thompson said.

Indeed, according to Chef Myron’s explanatory statement,the fermentation process breaks down gluten so that “the trace remaining is less than ten proportions per million.” Chef Myron’s salesperson Alyssa Baleno confirmed this to HuffPost.

But Thompson said the FDA does not permit any wheat-based soy sauce to be labeled gluten-free. Period.

“In order to construct the gluten-free claim the manufacturer of the soy sauce would have to make sure all the ingredients meet the definition of gluten-free before fermentation, ” Thompson said the FDA clarified to her in 2017.She said testing of fermented or hydrolyzed foods is less reliable than for products with intact gluten.

Also of concern are claims by purveyors of wheat-based sourdough bread that the sourdough starter has hydrolyzed and therefore has “neutralized” the gluten.

A 2011 study followed six patients with celiac cancer for 60 days, and found that those feeing baked goods made from wheat flour that had been hydrolyzed by sourdough lactobacilli and fungal enzymes did not have symptoms or intestinal inflammation. To make the bread, however, the flour had to be “supplemented with gluten-free structuring agents.”

This is not the case with commercial sourdough breads, said Thompson, who has had three artisanal sourdough breads tested. A product must be below 20 parts per million to be labeled gluten-free, and the breads she tested( PurBread, Leaven Bread and Dan the Baker Sourdough) operated as high as 100,000 ppm.

The good news, said Thompson, is that the FDA has responded to her emails , noting that they take food labeling issues very seriously and that they would like to meet with her. HuffPost reached out to Carol D’Lima, a food technologist in the FDA’s Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, but didn’t receive a reply.

“The FDA would never approve an insulin replace that had intrinsic danger to diabetics, ” said Fasano. “A gluten-free diet is for celiacs what insulin is for diabetics. The FDA has to approach this issue with the same stringency.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *