I’m confused! What should the label say?

People with coeliac disease are told to avoid any foods with gluten in the ingredients list, or with a may contain gluten statement, but are there exceptions?  What do I need to know to read the label properly?

Australia’s Food Standard Code regulates foods that can be sold in Australia and how we label them. It applies to all foods, imported or manufactured here.   Changes over the years, conflicting needs of manufacturers and consumers, and technical complexities, have combined to make a code that is not always easily understood.  To break it down, here are the 4 main things people with gluten intolerances and coeliac disease should know. 

  1. The majority of food allergies are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, soy, lupin and wheat. The code requires that these 10 foods always be declared on labels when present. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and strains of cereals containing gluten, were also always to be declared in a bid to help those with Coeliac Disease, and were always to be avoided.
  1. In 2016 the Code was changed as our knowledge evolved. Requirements for some ingredients to be declared once they had been significantly processed, were removed. This included highly processed wheat products that no longer contain gluten, such as glucose/dextrose made from wheat (subject to low limits) and distilled alcohol from wheat.  People with coeliac disease are now advised that alcohol and glucose/dextrose from wheat are ok for the majority to consume. There is a very small percentage of people with coeliac disease who may be affected by glucose syrups but they are not the norm.  The change also didn’t change anything for the top 10 food allergies, so wheat must still be disclosed whether the end product contains gluten or not. 
  1. A gluten free claim requires foods to contain no detectable gluten, oats/oat products, malted cereals containing gluten, or products of such cereals. Current technology can detect up to 3ppm so this is Australia’s default standard, whereas many other countries list 20ppm as their set limit.  In practical terms this means all food claiming gluten free in Australia, must be tested with nil gluten detected. A gluten free claim can be made even when the products are produced in factories containing gluten, or even if some ingredients are derived from gluten cereals such as wheat.  There is no gluten in these products and they are safe for people with coeliac disease.
  1. A Coeliac Australia endorsement is the GOLD STANDARD for gluten free. It means the society formed to protect you, has checked and double checked everything.  The product may or may not be produced in the same factory as products with gluten, and it may have ingredients derived from wheat, but the society has been satisfied with the processes used in manufacturing and sourcing.  There is no gluten in these products and they are safe for people with coeliac disease.

Important: What is not included in the Food Standards Code?

Some food labels use 'may contain' or 'may be present' statements about allergens. May contain statements are voluntary statements made by manufacturers and are not regulated by the Food Standards Code.  

It is up to the manufacturer to decide whether or not to include “may contain statements.” The use of the statement can stop the consumption of something cross contaminated with gluten, but can also limit the consumption of product that is actually ok.  It is recommended to contact the food manufacturer directly and ask about their practises if you wish to consume these products, as there is always a risk.  GF Pantry customers are lucky.   If the product is not specifically marked gluten free, GF Pantry asks all the hard questions before stocking the product.  Is it made in a gluten free facility? Are the ingredients sourced through a gluten free supplier? Is gluten free testing conducted? Are there any chances of cross-contamination? You can be confident that everything at GF Pantry has been checked and is gluten free.

Complaints about suspected undeclared allergens in foods should be directed to the local food enforcement agencies.  In many cases this is actually your local council, but many people also advise Coeliac Australia of gluten issues so they can help fight the good cause.

If you wish to understand more about our labelling and allergen laws, a good place to start would be with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

Coeliac Australia also has a fact sheet on their position relating to Glucose syrup derived from wheat.

Alcohol is not covered by the same labelling standards as food.  For more information on drinking safely, got to our alcohol blog (and of course drink responsibly.)

And after all that, don’t forget that fresh fruits and vegetables are all naturally gluten free, so eat as much of those as you want, even if they don’t have a label!