LUBBOCK, Texas — Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration releases formal standards for gluten-free product labeling, United Supermarkets will continue using its own guidelines.
Not only are all 250 products that currently carry a “gluten-free” shelf tag made without gluten-containing ingredients, they are also manufactured and processed in a separate gluten-free facility.
“We're using the strictest criteria so that there's no chance of cross-contamination,” said Tyra Carter, United's corporate dietitian.
The FDA is proposing to define “gluten-free” to mean: A food that does not contain a prohibited grain like wheat, rye or barley; or any ingredient derived from a prohibited grain that has not been processed to remove gluten; or any ingredient that has 20 parts per million (ppm) or more of gluten.
The FDA put the proposal up for public review last year, and is currently evaluating comments. A final ruling could come by August. Once that happens, manufacturers can label their products as “gluten-free” only if they meet the proposed regulatory definition.
Once federal standards are in place, United likely will adopt them, said Carter.
“If the FDA comes out with a set level [of gluten ppm] that would not create any problems with someone who has celiac disease, we would most likely go with that definition,” she said.
United's gluten-free selections are currently identified with shelf tags, as are organic and heart-healthy foods.
“Right now, we have no criteria from the FDA, so we're using our own,” she said.
United's gluten-free rules have been controversial among some manufacturers who feel that as long as their products do not contain gluten, they should receive gluten-free shelf tags. But United does not waver from its mandate that all gluten-free products must be manufactured in a separate manufacturing facility.
“Many companies are disappointed that they cannot get gluten-free status, but we're very strict,” Carter said.