The new gluten-free FDA labeling guidelines went into effect August 15, 2014. Prior to this, there was no regulation on the term, unless a specific retailer demanded it from the vendor (Whole Foods has for years). If you want to dig into the weeds on the details, visit celiac.org for very informative FAQs, a fact sheet, and presentation from the NFCA. But, if you just want the quick and dirty, here are the 6 main points you need to know:
1) “Gluten-Free” is the only regulated label – any “no-gluten”, “free of gluten”, “without gluten”, “what the hell is gluten?” [kidding] will be considered misbranded.
2) The “Gluten-Free” label requires that no gluten-containing grains or derivatives (e.g. wheat flours) may be used in the product (this goes for all packaged food AND supplements).
3) For any unavoidable presence of gluten (e.g. from cross-contamination during processing or manufacturing), there must be less than 20 ppm of gluten (ppm=parts per million=20mg of gluten per kilogram of food=less than a crumb). So, it is possible you may still see a “Gluten-Free” labeled item that also includes a statement stating something like, “made in a facility that also processes wheat…”. However, the onus is on the manufacturer to ensure that any resulting contamination stayed below that threshold of 20 ppm. This is an approved level from the WHO (World Health Organization). It is somewhat controversial because it is thought that some people extremely sensitive to gluten could still react to levels below 20ppm, but there is no reliable testing available to test below this threshold. That is a more involved conversation in regards to ELISA test methods, so I will refer you again to the link above if it peaks your interest.
4) This ruling only applies to packaged foods – restaurant menus are not being regulated (although, they are encouraged to comply). So, interrogate on cooking methods and ingredients to your liking and pack your enzymes.
5) You will still want to check the ingredient lists for hydrolyzed wheat protein as there isn’t a clear ruling on hydrolyzed (or fermented) foods.
6) Labeling applies to beer too. Cheers!