Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, said the new federal definition standardizes the meaning of gluten-free across the food industry and food manufacturers have a year after the rule is published to bring their labels into compliance.
A food must meet all of the requirements of the definition and must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The rule also requires foods with the claims "no gluten," "free of gluten," and "without gluten" to meet the definition for gluten-free, Hamburg said.
The FDA said it recognized many foods currently labeled as gluten-free might be able to meet the new federal definition already.
The term gluten refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains. In people with celiac disease, food containing gluten triggers production of antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine.
Such damage limits the ability of celiac disease patients to absorb nutrients and puts them at risk of other very serious health problems, including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, growth retardation, infertility, miscarriages, short stature, and intestinal cancers, Hamburg said.