Law on gluten-free
- A law on the labelling of gluten-free foods which sets out which food products can be labelled ‘gluten-free’ and ‘very low gluten’ was published in January 2009.
- Manufacturers were given three years to implement changes and the law became mandatory in January 2012.
- Only foods containing 20 parts per million (ppm) or less can be labelled gluten-free.
Labelling terms covered by the law
Only foods that contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or less can be labelled as 'gluten-free'.
This may apply to specialist substitute gluten-free products like breads, flours and crackers, including foods that contain gluten-free (Codex) wheat starch, as well as processed foods which are made from naturally gluten-free ingredients like soups, ready meals and snacks. The ‘gluten-free’ label may also be used for uncontaminated oat products that contain no more than 20 ppm. Research shows that this tiny amount of gluten is not toxic to people with coeliac disease and they can eat unlimited amounts of products with gluten at a level of 20 ppm or less.
Very low gluten
Specialist substitute products (such as breads and flour mixes) that contain gluten-free (Codex) wheat starch with a gluten level between 21 and up to 100 ppm may be labelled ‘very low gluten’. There aren’t any foods currently labelled ‘very low gluten’ in the UK but you may find products labelled like this in other European countries.
About the law
The first law around the use of the term gluten-free was published in January 2009 and introduced in January 2012. The Codex Alimentarius standard for gluten-free foods provides the level of gluten tolerated by people with coeliac disease that is used for food labelling purposes. The European Commission based the law on gluten-free on the revised Codex Standard, published in 2008.
Gluten-free (Codex) wheat starch
Gluten-free (Codex) wheat starch is a specially manufactured wheat starch which is washed so it has a level of gluten within the Codex standard (20 ppm or less). The ingredient was first introduced as a basis for substitute products like flour and bread to improve the quality and texture of the products. It must always appear in an ingredients list if it has been used.
Testing for gluten-free
The law does not specify that tests have to be done to prove foods are gluten-free, but recognises that good practice will involve testing. The exact nature of the testing will depend on the nature of the business. There is however a recommended test for analysing the level of gluten in foods. The authorities need to see due diligence and management of gluten to avoid cross contamination so that businesses can be sure that their procedures can produce gluten-free food. For more information on producing gluten-free food for manufacturers and caterers have a look at our Food Industry section.