It’s a Great Time to be Gluten-free….. Or is it?
Shoppers and Trends
September 24, 2013
Guest Columnist, Yvonne Gifford, CEO, Glutenfreeda Foods, Inc.
It is a great time to be gluten-free! That seems to be the mantra of the day as living a gluten-free lifestyle becomes easier and literally more palatable each day. Once purely a diet remedy for people with Celiac disease, today a gluten-free diet is being adopted for a variety of reasons by those seeking a healthier lifestyle to those looking for the next weight loss diet. The once “niche market” of people with Celiac disease affecting 1 in 133 people has now exploded into mainstream with numbers estimated at 45 million people now eating gluten-free foods.
The gluten-free wave has captured the attention of an unprecedented number of new entrepreneurs, established food companies (whose mission is not the production of gluten-free food but who’ve identified and badged some of their products “Gluten-free” in hopes of capturing market share) and companies who although not gluten-free in scope, are now purposely producing gluten-free products. This is both a blessing and a potential serious problem for those of us with Celiac disease.
There is no disputing how wonderful it is to be able to enjoy many gluten-free foods that in the not so distant past did not exist in a gluten-free version. But unlike organics or kosher preferences, for many, eating gluten-free is not a choice but rather a mandatory lifestyle. Eating gluten-free means consuming products that are truly gluten-free, that are processed and handled by companies that understand cross-contamination and the importance of thorough and frequent testing both in their facilities and from ingredient suppliers.
Unfortunately, not all manufacturing facilities producing gluten-free products are following strict procedures to ensure that their products are indeed gluten-free. The recent announcement by the FDA of the national adoption of the less than 20ppm standard is a good first step in regulating the space but more needs to be done to ensure that manufacturers labeling their products as gluten-free understand cross-contamination and how to prevent it. The best way is of course, is to manufacture, process or co-pack products in a dedicated gluten-free facility.
Many companies now producing “gluten-free” products have purchased a gluten-free certification symbol used on packaging obtained from gluten-free organizations across the country in an effort to assure the public that their products are gluten-free and have been tested to less than 20ppm. The concern is that not all of these certifying groups perform on-going verification past the initial set up transaction. There is no program requirement for testing of ingredient suppliers or any restriction on co-producing gluten and gluten-free products in the same area. The non-affiliated group, The Gluten-free Watchdog, is perhaps the only group performing random 3rd party testing of badged gluten-free products. Over the past few years they have identified several gluten-free products (carrying the gluten-free certification badge) that have tested well above 20ppm. This is a serious concern for people with Celiac disease. As the awareness and popularity of the gluten-free market continues to increase, more and more companies will continue to enter the space for a piece of the gluten-free pie. More companies, more gluten-free products in virtually every category on the surface might sound like a dream come true for people on a gluten-free diet, but unlike organics or even kosher foods, if manufactured or handled without strict procedures in place, the consumption of alleged gluten-free foods that in fact contain higher than acceptable levels of gluten can have dire health affects on some consumers.
In this confusing environment, the safest course of action would seem to be to take a step back and do what we Celiacs do best; read labels and contact manufacturers instead of relying on an organization’s certification badge. Trusting a product manufacturer with one’s health is not something that should be taken lightly, but rather, something that is earned. A dedicated gluten-free facility or area and on-going frequent testing of all incoming ingredients, work-in-progress and finished products is the only way to ensure a product is safely, gluten-free; badge or no badge.
You might say, the market is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success.
Glutenfreeda Foods, Inc. is a unique wheat/gluten-free food manufacturer that produces quick, convenient gluten-free products that taste absolutely authentic.