If a Product Does Not Contain Gluten Ingredients, Why Isn’t It Labelled Gluten-Free?

The Canadian Celiac Association Answers the Facebook Question of the Month

Why doesn’t procduct X have a “gluten-free” claim on it? There are no gluten ingredients listed.

CCA LogoIn Canada, not having gluten ingredients is just one of three criteria for a gluten-free claim. The other requirements are that the food must meet the criteria of a food for special dietary use and it must not contain gluten from uncontrolled contamination in the ingredients or manufacturing process.

A food for special dietary use is “… a food that has been specially processed or formulated to meet the particular requirements of a person a) in whom a physical or physiological condition exists as a result of a disease, disorder or injury;”. In other words, a gluten-free food must be specifically made for someone with celiac disease.

A jar of jam may not contain any gluten ingredients but it cannot be labelled “glutenfree” unless the manufacturer takes specific steps to confirm that there is no gluten.  Because a product must meet all three of these requirements to make a “gluten-free” claim, there are many products on the market that are safe for someone with celiac disease, even though they do not carry a gluten-free claim.

Low Risk
Some of these products are essentially unprocessed including fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, dairy, and meat. Others are products where no gluten ingredients are used in most or all of the products in the category including jams and jellies, butter, yogurt and cheese.

High Risk
There are some products that are at a higher risk for gluten contamination. The CCA recommends that you look for a “gluten-free” claim on those products. They include baked goods, breakfast cereals, flour and nuts. For lower risk products, we recommend that you make your decision based on the ingredient labelling information provided on the package.

Confusing May Contain Warnings Explained

By Sue Newell

A large food retailer in Canada adds “May contain wheat” warnings to virtually all of its house brand products.  Snack foods imported from some countries regularly list all 12 priority allergens on their ingredient lists. Products with a gluten-free claim also carry “may contain wheat” warnings (and this is encouraged by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency).  Almost all the ingredient labelling regulations in Canada are set by regulation but precautionary labels remain in the “optional” category.  No wonder people are confused about the words “May contain”.

In the last two years, products have appeared in our stores carrying both a “Gluten-free” claim and a “May contain wheat” warning. According to Health Canada, this labelling rule is acceptable in situations where the product meets the criteria for a gluten-free claim (no gluten ingredients, product made specifically to be gluten-free, and no gluten contamination at levels above 20 ppm) but may have levels of gluten contamination below 20 ppm. The “May contain” warning is provided as a service to people with a true wheat allergy. There are no maximum safe levels for allergy warnings.

So what should someone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity do with these products? Here are our recommendations:

  1. “Gluten-free” claims must be true so they take precedence over any precautionary “May contain wheat” claims. Go ahead and eat the product.
  2. If there is no “gluten-free” claim, but there is a “May contain” warning for any gluten grain, do not eat the product.

The fact that “May contain” labels are voluntary triggers fear for some consumers. Product manufacturers are “responsible for the safety of their products, including addressing potential risks associated with the presence of allergens”.  In other words, if the risk is significant and not controlled, they must inform consumers.

Meeting Health Canada: As the voice for people with CD and GS, CCA representatives recently met with Health Canada in June. CCA is also involved in stakeholder consultations related to prescription drugs, natural health products and new beer standards. We will continue to advocate for ways to make labelling more clear for consumers.

Understanding Gluten Labelling In Canada – Free Webinar May 17th

Gluten-Labelling Webinar

As part of our Celiac Awareness Month activities, the CCA is launching its first of several webinars to support the Canadian celiac community.

Pre-registration is required. The webinar is FREE. 

Contact information is required in order to participate. Space is limited.

DATE: Wednesday, May 17, 2017     TIME:   7 – 8pm OR  9 – 10pm EDT

Title: Is that safe for me? Understanding gluten labelling in Canada 

Presenter: Sue Newell

Here’s what you’ll learn:

1. Understand the requirements for a gluten-free claim in Canada

2. Understand the elements of risk analysis for gluten contamination in food

3. Identify the package elements used to determine the gluten risk for food

4. Understand the core elements of certification

To register: Click or paste on one of the following links:

7 – 8pm EDT – https://zoom.us/webinar/register/1919e53d6f0fd9717510d14dfea9e911

9 – 10pm EDT – https://zoom.us/webinar/register/ba967167c899f16966858a512be5123a

How to Read the Ingredient List for Gluten

gluten-free label

Wheat – Rye – Barley – Gluten – Oats

If you see any of the words above on the ingredient list or CONTAINS statement, the product is NOT OK.

Fast Factsgluten-free label

  • As of August 2012, food manufacturers must declare gluten sources in the ingredient statement
  • Gluten-containing ingredients must be listed in either the Ingredient list OR the CONTAINS statement
  • Avoid packaged foods with no ingredient listing
  • Oats are safe to eat only when they are listed as “gluten-free oats”

Where to look:

Step 1: Find the ingredient label on the package

Step 2: Look for a CONTAINS or MAY CONTAIN statement (at the bottom of the ingredient list)

If you see a CONTAINS statement:

  • PRODUCT IS NOT OK: If you see wheat, rye, barley, oats or gluten listed
  • PRODUCT IS OK: If the CONTAINS statement does NOT include a gluten ingredient
  • If there is a CONTAINS statement, you can stop reading now. If not, look for a MAY CONTAIN statement.

If you see a MAY CONTAIN statement:

  • PRODUCT IS NOT OK: If you see wheat, rye, barley, oats or gluten listed
  • If MAY CONTAIN statement does not include a gluten ingredient, then go to Step 3

Step 3: If there is no CONTAINS statement, read the ingredient list:

  • PRODUCT IS NOT OK: If you see wheat, rye, barley, oats or gluten listed
  • Product IS OK: If you do not see any gluten containing ingredients

Let’s get food labeling legislation unstuck!

By Gwen Smith, Editor – Allergic Living magazine

Dear B.C. and Alberta Chapters of the CCA,

As you’ve probably heard, Canada’s allergy groups and the CCA wrote to Prime Minister Harper at the end of October urging him to keep his government’s promise to pass the new food labelling legislation that would require food manufacturers to identify gluten and priority allergens clearly on package ingredient lists.

That promise was made in July 2008 and, after a lengthy review process, the new label regulations were ready to pass in February 2010. But instead of being moved forward into law, they’ve stalled.

To assist the groups’ effort to press the government to honour this vital commitment, Allergic Living magazine last week launched an online write-in campaign so that individuals can easily send a templated letter by e-mail to the Prime Minister. It copies the Health Minister, the President of the Treasury Board (where the legislation sits now) and the Minister of Agriculture (CFIA is under his wing).

In just one week, over 1,800 people have sent letters, with their own comments added. See: http://www.allergicliving.com/petitions/food-labelling/

We would greatly appreciate it if you could spread the word to your chapter about this online campaign. The more letters we can get to the PM, the more the government takes notice. We hope that grassroots support will finally lead to the passing of vital legislation.

In fact it was Marion Zarkadas, today a member of the CCA’s advisory board, who worked to draft the original version of these regulations in the 1990s. In 2006, she told Allergic Living – “If this goes through this year, nobody in the whole world will be happier than me.”

Well, that didn’t happen. But today, we’re closer than we were in 2006, closer than we’ve ever been to seeing the regulations through. They have passed the first phase (Canada Gazette 1) and all the consultations. All that’s needed now is the political will to see that the regulations are enacted.

This is why we need everybody’s voice to FINALLY push these regulations forward.

Thanks so much in advance – and do send along links if you are able to spread the word. We’ll post them on our Forum.

Best regards,

Gwen Smith
Editor, Allergic Living magazine