Food Standards Agency
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Gluten advice for consumers

The Agency has produced a factsheet to help people who have an intolerance to gluten (a protein found in cereals) understand a new food labelling law, which came into force on 1 January 2012. Gluten intolerance is a serious illness that can result in damage to the digestive system so foods are not absorbed properly, which can lead to poor growth, anaemia and bone disease.

The new law has introduced rules on how food can be labelled with claims about gluten. The law covers all food on sale, whether it’s in a packet on a supermarket shelf, on a menu, in a restaurant, or at a deli counter.

Any business that makes claims about gluten content has to ensure this food is labelled accurately and clearly, and must stick to the defined strict low levels. This makes it easier for people with an intolerance to gluten (coeliacs) to be sure of what foods are safe for them.

The regulation

The new food labelling regulation means that food can be labelled as:

Gluten-free – Suitable for people with coeliac disease (these foods can have no more than 20 parts of gluten per million).

Very low gluten – Must contain no more than 100 parts of gluten per million, and must contain ingredients that have been specially processed to reduce their gluten content, so will be mostly found on specialist products. Coeliacs can eat small amounts of these foods but they should get advice from a dietitian or health professional about how often they can eat them.

The new rules mean the phrase ‘suitable for coeliacs’, can only be used alongside the terms ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’ and can’t be used on its own.

The term ‘No gluten-containing ingredients’ may be used on food where gluten has not been intentionally added, but a small amount may be present from contact with other food. This phrase is not controlled by the law, and it cannot be guaranteed that this food is gluten-free. Some coeliacs may choose to eat small amounts occasionally, but should seek advice from a dietitian or health professional before they do.

The Agency has also provided a factsheet for caterers on how to provide information to customers on the new rules. This will assist caterers and those in the hospitality industry to understand the new descriptions.

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