Gluten-Free Food Labeling: Dealing with the New Regs

Meeting the demand for gluten-free foods became problematic for some restaurants when federal labeling requirements were introduced last fall. In August 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created a legal definition of gluten-free, stating that and food labeled “gluten-free,” and “no gluten” or “free of gluten” cannot contain more that 20 parts per million (20mg per kg) of gluten in the food. The deadline for compliance hits in August 2014, though restaurants are encouraged to comply with the new definition as soon as possible.

Menus & Communication

A popular response to the FDA guideline is to change menu language to reflect less specific gluten-related claims. Alternate nomenclature used includes gluten-friendly, gluten-conscious, gluten-sensitive, and menu items for wheat/gluten allergies. A few restaurants have announced they will begin using the term gluten-friendly (vs. gluten-free) beginning early this year.

Other approaches include adding disclosures about the potential for cross-contact and/or further defining gluten-related terminology so it cannot be confused with gluten-free claims. Relaying caveats that remove the guarantee of gluten-free content in menu items can alleviate pressure for restaurants.

Preparation and Cross-Contact

Some restaurants are reviewing and modifying preparation and cooking procedures in order to reduce cross-contact risk. When restaurants cannot revamp procedures to eliminate of minimize cross-contact, one approach towards compliance is to significantly downsize a gluten-free menu to reflect only menu items that undergo minimal preparation and are less likely to be exposed to gluten. While this is the least favorite option of many operators since guests’ choices are restricted, it can reduce the cross-contact risks posed with multiple preparation steps.

From Wisconsin Restaurateur 8.1 (2014): 4o. Print.