FDA's 'gluten-free' regulations take effect

New standards for products purporting to be “gluten-free” are now in effect, giving federal regulators authority to take action against firms who cannot back up the claim. 

As of this week, any packaging labeled gluten-free or language characterizing the foodstuff within as "without gluten," "free of gluten," or containing "no gluten" must adhere to the regulations.

Chiefly, the products must have less than 20 parts per million of gluten, a mixture of proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye and barley. 

An estimated 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease, which is associated with an intolerance to the gluten commonly found in pasta, bread and baked goods. For some, eating too much could be life threatening. 

The Food and Drug Administration finalized the regulation last August but gave manufacturers a year to bring their products into compliance. 

"This standard ’gluten-free’ definition eliminates uncertainty about how food producers label their products,” said Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA's division of food labeling and standards. “People with celiac disease can rest assured that foods labeled 'gluten-free' meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA.” 

The agency warns that some products — particularly pasta — have a longer shelf life, raising the possibility that products distributed before the enactment of the regulations could remain in stores for some time.