The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), a non-profit organization with a focus on gluten-free food safety, is recognizing Celiac Awareness Month throughout May by reinforcing the importance of label transparency on food products, which is crucial for those with celiac disease and others in the gluten-free community. In the U.S., 3 million people have celiac disease, which is a medical condition that requires a strict gluten-free diet. For those with celiac disease, even a small amount of gluten may cause serious illness.
Research conducted by GIG in 2021 indicates that 7 percent of U.S. shoppers are rigidly restricting gluten in their homes, while 23 percent of shoppers are avoiding gluten in their homes. Gluten-free consumers rely on the accuracy of food labels to ensure that the products they purchase are safe to eat.
Many products have labels and ingredient lists with misleading information about gluten content. Well-intentioned manufacturers can often cause confusion for consumers by labeling items with unclear terms and phrases such as:
- Without gluten
- Made without gluten
- No gluten-containing ingredients
- No gluten
- Low gluten
- Free of gluten
- Naturally gluten-free
- Produced on shared equipment
- May contain gluten
- Other “may contain” statements.
Labels that use unclear terms about products’ gluten content can be problematic. The aforementioned terms do not provide assurance that manufacturers have taken steps to prevent cross-contact in addition to using gluten-free ingredients. Of particular concern are allergen statements, such as “may contain” or “produced on shared equipment,” as gluten-free consumers often rely on such statements to determine the gluten-free status of a product. Labeling a product as “gluten-free” is the best way to inform consumers that a product meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) threshold of 20 parts per million (ppm) or less of gluten.
Additionally, the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) guarantees that any product label that includes the GFCO mark contains 10 ppm or less of gluten, assuring consumers that the product’s manufacturers have adhered to rigorous product testing and safe manufacturing policies. Research indicates that 82 percent of consumers who rigidly restrict their gluten consumption consider certification to be an important feature when seeking gluten-free products, with GFCO certification preferred.
“Celiac Awareness Month is an excellent opportunity for raising awareness about the everyday struggles the gluten-free community faces in order to live a safe, healthy life,” said a GIG representative. “By providing transparent labeling and through proper certification, businesses [can] build trust with gluten-free consumers and foster their loyalty by reassuring them that their health and dietary needs are a priority.”