What Does 'No Gluten Ingredients' Mean on a Food Label?

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Question: What does the statement 'no gluten ingredients' mean when it appears on a food label?

Answer: There's no official or legal definition for the term "no gluten ingredients" on food labels. In fact, fewer companies are using it these days, now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its final rules for gluten-free labeling.

    However, manufacturers generally use the term "no gluten ingredients" when the product in question does not include any gluten-containing ingredients, but hasn't been tested for gluten or may be at risk for gluten cross contamination due to the way it was processed.

    What 'No Gluten Ingredients' Really Means

    Under the FDA rules released in 2013, manufacturers who label foods "gluten-free" must make certain that those foods contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. In order to make sure foods meet those standards, manufacturers test them and follow other manufacturing and ingredient sourcing protocols.

    If a manufacturer doesn't want to test a product for gluten, or if that manufacturer is concerned that a product might not consistently meet that FDA standard of 20 parts per million, the company might decide to use the term "no gluten ingredients" instead of "gluten-free." For the consumer, it signals a bit more uncertainty about the gluten-free status of the product.

    In fact, several companies that produce both gluten-free products and gluten-containing products use the term "no gluten ingredients" for products whose ingredients don't include gluten, but which may be at risk for cross contamination or aren't tested for gluten.

    Other companies label their products "no gluten ingredients" as a form of legal protection — the products may actually meet the FDA's "gluten-free" standards, but using the phrase "no gluten ingredients" doesn't promise as much, just in case.

    To Buy or Not to Buy

    So should you purchase products that are labeled "no gluten ingredients"?

    Honestly, it depends how sensitive you are and how careful you want to be. Some people can eat food products made on production lines that are shared with gluten-containing products and not get sick, while others even need to avoid products made in the same facility.

    Before you do buy a product with the "no gluten ingredients" label, take a good look at the ingredients label to see if you spot any so-called allergen disclosures (i.e., a statement like "Made on equipment that also processes wheat"). Companies often will say if a product is made on the same lines or in the same facility as wheat-containing products. (Read more on this: Should you eat foods made in a shared facility or on shared equipment?)

    If you don't see anything problematic or potentially risky on the product label, you'll need to use your own judgment on whether to consume the product.

    If you're particularly sensitive, you may want to steer clear, or at least sample just a small amount at first to minimize any potential reaction. If, on the other hand, you rarely have trouble with glutenings, you might be fine.

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