Restaurants and Gluten-Free Menu Claims
In Honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Gluten Free Watchdog is writing a series of articles (the goal is one per day during the month of May) related to the gluten-free diet–currently the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.
When the FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule was finalized in 2013 there was a lot of confusion around whether restaurants were included under this rule. It didn’t help matters that the FDA was a bit slow in providing a definitive answer.
With a lot of help from former FDA Consumer Safety Officer Rhonda Kane, MS, RD, we were able to get the FDA to agree to a statement posted on glutenfreedietitian.com http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/restaurants-and-gluten-free-labeling-claims/
All of the following are true:
- FDA requirements for gluten-free claims apply to ONLY packaged foods that are subject to FDA labeling regulations.
- BUT, FDA guidance suggests that any use of an FDA-defined food-labeling claim on restaurant menus should be consistent with the regulatory definitions.
- Restaurants should not use an FDA-defined nutrient content claim for foods sold in restaurants unless those foods meet regulatory requirements for the claim.
- A gluten-free claim is an avoidance claim and FDA has publicly expressed its opinion (in the Federal Register and in a guidance document) that it takes a similar approach to gluten-free claims made for foods sold in restaurants.
- If restaurants or other retail food establishments wish to make “gluten-free” claims (or the synonymous claims “no gluten” “free of gluten” or “without gluten”) for any of their menu items, these foods should meet all of the requirements FDA has established for a food labeled gluten-free, including not containing 20 parts per million or more gluten, whether or not the presence of gluten is due to accidental cross-contact occurring in the kitchen.
- If restaurants cannot ensure that the foods they prepare fully comply with FDA’s definition of gluten-free, restaurants should not refer to their foods as being “gluten-free.”
- If a restaurant manager confirms that a menu item bearing a gluten-free claim is made with an ingredient prohibited by FDA regulations on gluten-free food labeling, or if any persons sensitive to gluten become sick after consuming restaurant foods claimed to be gluten-free, it is important that these cases be reported to both the overseeing state agency and to FDA (see Consumer Complaint Coordinators listed by state at https://www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/
Bottom line: Restaurants are NOT covered under FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule BUT FDA does not want restaurants using an agency-defined labeling term incorrectly. Restaurants should not label menu items gluten-free if the menu item when delivered to the consumer is not in compliance with the rule.
A note about Rhonda Kane, MS, RD: Rhonda’s dietitian colleagues know what a gem she is and how lucky we were to have her at FDA. But you still don’t know what you have until its gone. For me personally the FDA is much harder to navigate now that Rhonda has retired. What many folks may not know is that Rhonda tirelessly worked on the gluten-free labeling rule. This rule is not perfect but it is far better than it would have been had Rhonda not been involved. Rhonda is one of my heroes.