Gluten-free and NGCI from July 2016
- The law has changed but gluten-free still means foods that are 20 ppm or less.
- The law impacts the use of the statement ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’ (NGCI) and other factual statements.
EU legislation covering the use of the term gluten-free was published in January 2009 and came into force in January 2012. The legislation provides a framework for gluten-free labelling and states that the term can only be used on packs of food or foods sold in catering which contain 20 ppm or less of gluten. Recent changes in the legislation at European level have affected how some wording can be used on menus and on product labelling.
What are the changes?
Changes to European legislation take effect this year which affect gluten-free labelling. Regulation (EC) No 41/2009 provided a legal framework around the term gluten-free and is repealed from 20 July 2016. From this date, rules relating to gluten will be provided by Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (FIC), and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 828/2014 but national provisions will allow enforcement at UK level.
The definition and requirements associated with gluten-free do not change, so gluten-free still means gluten-free. The level of gluten allowed in gluten-free foods is still 20 ppm or less. But the move does mean that there are changes to the way that the statement ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’ (NGCI) and other factual statements can be used.
How can ‘NGCI’ be used by food businesses?
From 20 July 2016 NGCI cannot be used against individual products or dishes. However food businesses can use NGCI in menus when listing a group of products/ dishes or in menu titles, to indicate that all the items in question do not have gluten containing ingredients. NGCI can also be used in describing positive lists of everyday foods or a selection of products available for sale in a shop or online.
What happens to products labelled NGCI or menus which are signposting to individual dishes using NGCI?
By 20 February 2018, food businesses are expected to bring their menus into compliance. Where this is not possible, Food Standards Agency advice is for food businesses to discuss approaches on reaching compliance with their enforcement officers.
Why was NGCI introduced?
The factual statement ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’ was introduced as an option for food businesses to provide factual information about the absence of gluten-containing ingredients in foods and has been primarily used by caterers who felt they could not guarantee gluten-free in a commercial kitchen environment.
Is NGCI useful to consumers?
We have asked our Members about the usefulness of the NGCI statement and how often it is used. On packaged foods the statement is not relied upon and consumers tend to use the ingredients lists more often as alternative statements to gluten-free led to confusion. The term can be useful to signpost to consumers a group of products or dishes that do not contain gluten as a deliberate ingredient.
Is it possible to produce gluten-free meals in a catering environment?
It is possible to produce gluten-free meals within a commercial kitchen environment. We commissioned a research project to investigate the levels of gluten found in meals served for people with coeliac disease. The project also looked at the controls that were in place, the processes used to produce gluten-free meals and information on the training provided. The project involved a variety of catering establishments including a school, hospital, workplace canteen, independent restaurants and large restaurant chains. The results from this project were very encouraging, with 95% of samples testing as gluten-free in line with the law. This project enabled us to produce our online training module, face to face training course, flipbook and poster. We also commissioned research looking specifically at producing meals in kitchen environments where wheat flour was being used, and the results from this were also encouraging. This research was recently published and more information can be found in our Research section.
How do I put processes in place to produce gluten-free meals?
Many of the processes that are in place as standard food hygiene practices, and those required for compliance with the Food Information Regulations are the same as those required to safely prepare gluten-free meals. For example supplier checks, personal hygiene and cleaning processes, and cross contamination controls. Using the statement NGCI requires food operators to check ingredients did not contain gluten and to take into account cross contamination, so it may be that if you are currently labelling NGCI you may be able to look at the possibility of labelling gluten-free.
Coeliac UK’s Gluten-free Standard provides information on the processes that need to be in place to produce gluten-free meals. For more information visit our pages on Gluten-free Accreditation.
Do I have to test every meal if I have a gluten-free menu?
It is not practical to test every meal you serve. The law doesn’t state how often you must test or specify how you achieve gluten-free. However it is important to consider ingredients, suppliers, all stages of production, packaging and labelling. The frequency of testing required is not specified as these requirements will depend on the risks of contamination, ingredients and processes used, and will vary depending on your operation. Carrying out testing of final dishes as well as looking at worst case scenario testing can be a good way of assessing whether the processes you have in place are sufficient to produce gluten-free food within the legal limits. It may be that more substantial testing initially is a good place to start as this could highlight any fluctuations in the level of gluten and allow you to look at possible causes and address these. It may be that following this you could move to less frequent testing once you are happy that processes you have in place consistently produce meals within the 20 ppm limit.
Is there a standard for gluten-free catering?
Yes. Coeliac UK in conjunction with researchers and an independent auditing company developed a set of standards for gluten-free catering. The standard covers all aspects of gluten-free preparation as well as ensuring training is in place and covers the following areas:
- Knowledge of the law – caterers must know about the laws on gluten-free and general food safety.
- Choosing and using the right ingredients – making sure caterers know the right ingredients to use, and ensuring they are using reputable suppliers.
- Storage – ingredients and finished dishes are stored correctly to avoid cross contamination.
- Preparation – cross contamination risk is controlled at all stages of preparation, for example using clean oil for frying, clean water for boiling, clean surfaces.
- Cleaning – clean utensils and surfaces.
- Personal hygiene – hands washed between use of gluten-containing and gluten-free ingredients.
- Communication – there must be a system in place to ensure that customers are provided with correct information.
- Training – Training must be provided for all staff on all aspects of preparation and serving of gluten-free food.
- Quality assurance – caterers must ensure that processes, documentation and training are kept up to date and carry out regular internal checks.
- Complaints – customer complaints must be logged and investigated with reference to procedures in place.
The GF audit standard forms the basis of Coeliac UK’s accreditation scheme which allows the use of the trademarked GF symbol for those who sign up to the accreditation scheme. The standard is available on the right hand side of our page on Gluten-free Accreditation.
What about UK legislation covering gluten-free?
UK legislation has to be laid down to allow enforcement in the UK. The approach taken by Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is to draft an amendment to the Food Information Regulations to reflect this change in the European legislative framework and to provide for the enforcement of Regulation (EU) No 828/2014. Consultations were published by Food Standards Scotland, FSA Northern Ireland and FSA Wales to draft domestic regulations to provide the enforcement of Commission Regulation (EU) No. 828/2014. The regulations came into force on 20 July 2016 and copies are available on the right hand side of this page.
The Food Standards Agency has recently held a consultation on the implementation of EU Regulation (EU) No 828/2014 in England. Coeliac UK have responded to the consultation and a copy of the response can be found on the right hand side of this page.
Where can I find out more information?
The Food Standards Agency has produced a fact sheet which is available on the right hand side of the page. Please contact our Food Policy team if you have any questions.