Gluten Free Certification
Gluten Free Certification:
How it Works and What it Means to YOU
Gluten free product certification differs from the guidelines for gluten free product labeling being proposed at the FDA. Certification is voluntary, the process can be tedious, and the producer of the product certified must pay certification fees.
FDA labeling, when a final decision is rendered, will be mandatory.
While the gluten free community awaits the FDA’s decision on specific guidelines for labeling, three organizations have taken matters into their hands establishing guidelines of their own and offer product certification to manufacturers for a fee.
(For comparison as you read about the amount of gluten acceptable according to these certification organizations, the FDA’s gluten free labeling rules call for foods to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.)
Let’s take a look at each of these groups, their guidelines, and the certification process to help shed some light on what it means when we, as consumers, see a gluten free “seal of approval” on a product in the supermarket.
The Gluten Free Certification Organization
(Learn more about the GFCO HERE.)
This organization falls under the non-profit group, the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. (That’s their logo you see up top.) When you see that logo it means they’ve certified that product contains less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
Companies who apply for this certification undergo an application and auditing process. Once a certification contract is granted and fees are paid, the company is able to display the certification logo on their product packaging.
Certifications are renewed annually. During the contract year, periodic testing for gluten in the manufacturing facility, plant inspections, random testing, and random end-shelf testing of certified products occurs.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
(Learn more about the NFCA HERE.)
The NFCA is a non-profit organization focusing on increasing diagnosis of Celiac disease and related disorders requiring a gluten free lifestyle. This group requires products contain less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten for their certification.
The process is very similar to that of the GFCO, including manufacturing facility testing, plant inspections, and random product testing.
The NFCA suggests their certification program is superior to others because they use third party verification by Quality Assurance International (QAI is the leading US certifying agency for organic products), with whom the NFCA collaborated to provide this product certification program. You can learn more about QAI HERE.
The Celiac Sprue Association
(Learn more about the CSA HERE.)
The CSA directs its efforts to helping individuals with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities through research and education. It is the largest non-profit support group for Celiac patients in the US.
With the most stringent labeling guidelines, the CSA requires foods to have less than 5 ppm and requires foods to be free of ALL oats, even those certified gluten free in order to carry their seal.
The CSA Recognition Seal Program represents products tested using the most sensitive ELISA test (a highly sensitive biochemical laboratory test) currently available in the US.
A company with a product bearing the CSA Recognition Seal adheres to strict manufacturing practices and procedures, product testing, and agrees to produce top quality gluten-free products for Celiac patients and gluten sensitive individuals.
So those are the three to look for.
Now that you know the basics about what companies must go through in order to have their products carry one of these certification seals, you’re probably wondering what it what it means for you and me at the consumer level when we’re in the supermarket and want that box of gluten free crackers.
The bottom line is these endorsements provide an extra layer of protection and peace of mind for those of us who must eat gluten free foods for medical reasons.
If a food manufacturer endures the application and auditing process involved in certification and adheres to the strict manufacturing practices and testing involved in maintaining certification, they are very likely serious about providing a safe product to the consumer.
While there is never a guarantee someone will not have a reaction to a product – certified or not – these certification programs certainly decrease the likelihood of being contaminated by gluten.
Of course, some individuals are extremely sensitive to even the smallest amount of gluten and can react, even at the 5 ppm level. That’s why each of us must use these certifications as guidelines, be judicious when trying new products (start out eating a very small amount until you’re sure how it agrees with your unique system), and leave the ultimate decision to what our bodies tell us.
At the end of the day, if a particular food, regardless of label or certification, doesn’t agree with your unique system, it is not something you should consume.
I hope this gives you an idea of how products we see in the supermarket end up with one (or more) of those certification seals. But, more than that, I hope this helps you make informed decisions as you strive to live the best gluten free life possible!