Allergen advisory statements for wheat, gluten in medication, & restaurants and gluten-free claims: Celiac Disease Awareness Month 2020

Allergen advisory statements for wheat, gluten in medication, & restaurants and gluten-free claims: Celiac Disease Awareness Month 2020

As stated in an earlier post, during a pandemic is an interesting time to be raising awareness about a disease. Gluten Free Watchdog’s activities are a bit subdued this year but nonetheless important and hopefully helpful to the community. First up… an update on our 2019 initiatives.

Before moving on to Gluten Free Watchdog’s new initiatives for Celiac Awareness Month 2020, here is a status update on our 2019 initiatives—allergen advisory statements for wheat on foods labeled gluten-free, gluten in medication, and restaurants and gluten-free claims.

Last year Gluten Free Watchdog sent letters to FDA about 1. Consumer confusion and allergen advisory statements for wheat on labeled gluten-free foods and 2. Misuse of the term gluten-free by restaurants. These letters are available at:

When GFWD spoke with a senior staff member at FDA, we were advised that the celiac community must prioritize. Our takeaway from this conversation—from the FDA’s perspective, the celiac community was asking too much. We should not expect to see the gluten-free rule enforced (more on this next week) AND also have gluten-free claims on restaurant menus comply with the codified definition AND have allergen advisory statements for wheat on labeled gluten-free foods clarified. Needless to say, there has been no movement by FDA on these two initiatives.

What has Gluten Free Watchdog been doing to help?

Allergen advisory statements for wheat on foods labeled gluten-free: From our perspective, these statements are the number one area of gluten-free consumer confusion. Every week folks send us photos of products they believe to be misbranded because the label includes both a gluten-free claim and a may contain wheat statement. Bottom line: Allergen advisory statements for wheat are allowed on foods labeled gluten-free. These statements are not federally regulated, they have no standardized meaning, they are voluntary, AND based on our retrospective database analyses, their presence or absence is not an indication of gluten level. This is why FDA should strongly consider regulating allergen advisory statements.

Gluten in medication: In July of 2015, GFWD filed a Freedom of Information request with FDA for testing data from an FDA commissioned study on gluten levels in medications. This request hasn’t been fulfilled and we continue to pester FDA. As of April 30, 2020 this FOIA is number 47 in the queue. Needless to say, the FDA appears to be stalling. GFWD is considering action to hasten this process. For more information about this FOIA, see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/gluten-levels-in-medication-foia-request/

Use of gluten-free claims by restaurants: GFWD started testing restaurants in late 2019 to assess the accuracy of gluten-free menu claims. To date, we’ve tested menu items from PF Chang’s, Legal Sea Foods, and California Pizza Kitchen. We will continue restaurant testing when appropriate.

Next up: An update on gluten-free facial misbranding and FDA & USDA enforcement of gluten-free claims

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