An estimated 3 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains. One in 20 adults has a gluten sensitivity. For them, grocery shopping can be tricky because there is no regulation over what can be labeled “gluten free.”
The Food and Drug Administration is now one step closer to changing that. It opened a 60-day public comment period Wednesday on a proposed rule that would set a low upper-limit to how much gluten can be in foods labeled “gluten free.”
Annsley Klehr, a Mount Airy woman who just set up shop as a consultant for those with celiac disease, said that definition would make it easier for the newly diagnosed.
Klehr remembers being overwhelmed when she learned she had celiac disease five years ago.
“I stood in the Whole Foods line looking down the aisles, and just tears were streaming,” Klehr said. “I didn’t even know where to begin.”
Klehr had been suffering from stomach cramps, body sores and migraines for years before her diagnosis. Once she found out gluten was making her sick, she knew to avoid things such as pasta and bread, but she did not know she could not always trust labels.
“The company is just labeling gluten free to let you know that there are no gluten products in there,” Klehr said “However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not processed in a plant with gluten and it could be cross-contaminated even though it says gluten free.”
Klehr got sick from eating flour that was labeled as gluten free but was cross-contaminated.
Dr. Ritu Verma, a gastroenterologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said with the low upper limit for gluten in the FDA’s proposed rule–20 parts per million–that shouldn’t happen.
“You cannot have a factory that’s baking regular and gluten-free foods at the same time,” to meet that limit, Verma said.
The rule will give the agency authority to test food and ensure compliance with the standard.
A local bakery owner said the threshold would not affect her business because her entire kitchen is gluten free. But some of her suppliers might have to revamp production processes or stop putting “gluten free” on their labels.