Manufacturers that cater to the growing gluten-free consumer market increasingly are pursuing gluten-free certification for their products. This certification can provide the seal of approval some consumers want when selecting gluten-free food.
Three organizations the Gluten Intolerance Group's Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA), and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) currently certify products and companies as gluten-free.
The programs have different standards and test for different levels of trace gluten in the foods they certify.
The Gluten-Free Certification Organization, for example, tests foods to make sure they contain less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Gluten Intolerance Group Executive Director Cynthia Kupper reports that most products test lower than that, and some have no detectable gluten in them.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness program also tests foods to 10ppm.
The Celiac Sprue Association, meanwhile, requires foods to have less than 5ppm, a more stringent standard (less gluten is better, obviously), and also requires foods to be free of oats (even gluten-free oats).
In comparison, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's gluten-free label rules call for foods to contain less than 20ppm of gluten.
Programs Require Inspections, Ingredient Reviews
Manufacturers need to clear various other hurdles before receiving a program's seal of approval.
For example, the GFCO requires yearly certification, a process that includes a review of ingredients, product testing and a plant inspection. The CSA, meanwhile, performs facility inspections and product testing, and also reviews product packaging to make certain it's free of gluten ingredients and components.
The NFCA program, which the organization runs in conjunction with Quality Assurance International, requires product reviews, onsite inspections, testing and ongoing compliance activities, including random testing.
Once a manufacturer receives certification, the programs allow the products in question to display a seal of approval.
Applying for and receiving gluten-free certification from one of the organizations can cost a manufacturer money, since they're generally billed for the audits, facility inspections and testing required. Therefore, companies that seek this certification tend to be quite committed to serving the gluten-free market.
Trusting Certified Gluten-Free Foods
Generally speaking, yes. If a manufacturer has gone to the trouble (and expense) of having its products certified gluten-free, it's very likely that manufacturer will adhere strictly to those gluten-free standards once the inspectors have gone home.
In fact, many of the manufacturers who go through the process and receive certification tend to be smaller organizations that cater specifically to those who cannot eat gluten. Many owners of these companies are celiacs or have people with celiac or gluten intolerance in their families, and so they're extremely motivated to provide safe food.
The programs do have different standards, so if you're easily glutened even by foods labeled gluten-free, you might want to consider sticking with products that display the Celiac Sprue Association's Seal of Recognition. Those products contain less than 5ppm of gluten.
Buying certified gluten-free products increases your odds of avoiding a reaction, especially if you're sensitive to extremely low levels of gluten. Of course, it doesn't guarantee you won't have a reaction it's only possible to test commercially for 5ppm of gluten, and some very sensitive people may react to less than that.
In practice, you should use certification as a guideline another tool by which you can judge potential new products. But in the end, always use your own body's reaction to the product as the final verdict on something new.