What does gluten-free actually mean?


You are seeing more and more food products labeled as “gluten-free” but what does that actually mean? A few years ago there were very few gluten free products available but nowadays you can find everything from gluten free gingerbread men to pasta. Within the last year, the definition of what can and can’t be labeled as “gluten free” has changed. This could lead people to ask many different questions regarding gluten, such as “is there gluten in mayonnaise” and so on, to ensure the safety of themselves or others that could suffer from celiac disease.

Gluten naturally occurs in some grains, including: barley, rye, and wheat. It wasn’t until August 5 of 2014 that manufacturers were required to comply with the FDA’s definition of gluten free before they were allowed to label a product as such.

So, what is the FDA’s definition? Keep in mind, this definition only applies to packaged foods. To be gluten free, a product must not contain any type of wheat, barley, rye (or crossbreeds of these grains). It most not include an ingredient “derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten” or an ingredient “from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten.” (1) Also, if a food naturally doesn’t have gluten in it, then it can be labeled as gluten free.

It’s important to note that not all food and food products fall under the FDA’s umbrella. The FDA does not monitor alcoholic beverages which may contain these ingredients (alcohol is monitored by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Animal products like meat and poultry are regulated by the USDA.

Regulations apply if the food is labeled as “gluten-free” “free of gluten” “no gluten” or “without gluten”. Just make sure to always read the packaging. Additionally, if you’re selling your own food products commercially as part of a small business, you must also make sure your packaging is clearly labeled with any allergens; it’s not only big brands that are regulated. The easiest way to do this is to use a company like Ctpboxes.com, where you can get information like allergens printed onto the label.

Here is a partial list of products that may contain wheat:

Bread – any type made with white flour, wheat flour; bread crumbs
Cereal extract
Cracker meal
Flour – atta, club, common, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, graham, kamut, maida, semolina, spelt, triticale, triticum
Gluten – wheat gluten, vital gluten, vital wheat gluten
Malt, malt extract
Noodles, pasta

Wheat can also be found in:

Artificial flavoring, natural flavoring
Caramel color
Glucose syrup
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Monosodium glutamate, MSG
Soy sauce, shoyu, tamari, teriyaki sauce
Textured vegetable protein
Vegetable gum

You can find the entire list here.



  1. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm363069.htm
  2. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm367654.htm

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