Label Reading

Gluten-Free Label Reading

The gluten-free marketplace is booming and new gluten-free products are filling grocery shelves on a regular basis.

The key to gluten-free food safety is not only about learning how to identify gluten containing ingredients by reading food labels, but it is also about understanding which food products have a high risk for cross contamination with gluten. Tips include:

  • Stick to packaged and processed foods that have only a few simple ingredients, their labels are easier to read.
  • When in doubt, purchase products that are labeled gluten free
  • Look out for less obvious sources of barley, specifically malt and brewer’s yeast.
  • Whenever possible, purchase naturally gluten-free grains, flours and starches that are labeled gluten-free and also preferably certified gluten-free by a third party.
  • Avoid products that do not list the source of dextrin or starch on the product label.
  • Products labeled “wheat-free” are NOT necessarily gluten-free. Remember to read all ingredients
  • Avoid purchasing from bulk bins. Cross contamination can easily occur with scoops and gluten containing items.
  • Opt for fresh, whole foods that are naturally gluten-free instead of packaged and processed foods.

Special Cautions

Because a strict, lifelong gluten free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease, individuals with celiac disease must be aware of food products that carry an increased risk for cross contamination with gluten.

Naturally Gluten-Free Grains and Flours

Naturally gluten-free grains, flours and starches are at an increased risk of cross contamination. It is recommended that individuals with celiac disease should purchase grains, flours and starches that are labeled gluten-free. This recommendation also applies to mixed food products such as corn tortillas, buckwheat noodles and rice noodles.

Allergen Advisory Statements for Wheat or Gluten: What Do They Mean?

Label reading for gluten-free consumers has become easier in recent years. Thanks to the USA FDA gluten-free labeling regulation, passed in 2013, when a product is labeled “gluten-free” this means it should comply with the established definition of containing less than 20 ppm gluten.

However, another component of food labeling remains confusing: the allergen advisory statement. Allergen advisory statements are statements such as “made in a facility which processes wheat.” Allergen advisory statements are voluntary and are not defined by any USA federal regulation (although the FDA does state that these statements must be “truthful and not misleading”).

Other Names for Gluten

  • Atta (chapati flour)
  • barley (flakes, flour, pearl)
  • breading
  • bread stuffing
  • brewer’s yeast
  • bulgur
  • durum
  • Einkorn (type of wheat)
  • Emmer (type of wheat)
  • farro/faro
  • Farina
  • Fu
  • graham flour
  • hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • kamut
  • malt
  • malt extract
  • malt syrup
  • malt flavoring
  • malt vinegar
  • malted milk
  • matzo
  • matzo meal
  • modified wheat starch
  • oatmeal
  • oat bran
  • oat flour
  • whole oats (unless they are from pure, uncontaminated oats)
  • rye
  • rye flour
  • seitan
  • semolina
  • spelt
  • triticale
  • wheat bran
  • wheat flour
  • wheat germ
  • wheat starch

Label Reading: When Same Is Not the Same

Whether you are starting out on a gluten-free diet or a seasoned veteran, there is no escaping label reading. As a mother of a celiac child for over a decade, I can’t expound on the importance of always checking.

In a global city like Singapore where grocery shelves abound with products from all over the world, careful label reading is imperative on a gluten free diet! Eight years in Singapore has taught me never to get overly comfortable with the products I buy; formulas change, suppliers change, and one cannot simply rely on mere recognition of the product (even one you have been using for years).

The same product often can have a different recipe and different allergens depending on where they are manufactured due to local availability of products, production lines in a facility, and cultural preferences. Also, many major food companies such as ConAgra and Kellogg’s have manufacturing plants all over the world.

Sneaky Suspect #1: Pasta Sauce

Big jar, small jar, same thing right? Apparently not! Prego Traditional Pasta Sauce is my go-to pasta sauce when I’m making spaghetti and meatballs for the kids. Careful checking of the label, however, shows that there are different ingredients and allergens between the large and small jar!

The large family size Prego jar is a product of the USA and has a gluten-free label on it whilst the small Prego jar is a product of Malaysia and lists gluten on the ingredient list.

Large size Prego sauce manufactured in the USA is labeled gluten-free.
Smaller size jar of Prego manufactured in Malaysia is not gluten-free.

Sneaky Suspect #2: Breakfast Cereal

Many assume that since corn is a gluten-free grain, corn flakes should be gluten-free. Sadly, many cereal manufacturers sweeten their products with barley malt. Although that sounds “healthier” than using refined sugar, using malt adds gluten to the cereal, making it a bad choice for those who can’t ingest gluten.

In the USA and Australia, many major manufacturers have removed barley malt as an ingredient in of their cereals.  Unfortunately, this is not a global change. Kellogg’s cereal manufactured in South East Asia, for example, lists malt as one of the ingredients.

Ingredient Red Flags

Although many of most of these ingredients are gluten-free in the USA, labeling laws vary by country. It is worth double checking with the manufacturer if these ingredients are listed on your package. 

artificial colors
glucose syrup
hydrogenated good starch
vegetable starch
edible starch
natural flavor
smoke flavoring