difference between gluten-free claims and gluten-free certifications

Whether you’re familiar with the “CANS” label reading acronym, or you just want to know what difference is between seeing “gluten-free” and “certified gluten-free” on a food label, this post is for you. Today, we’ll be diving into the key differences between gluten-free claims and gluten-free certifications.

Just a reminder that I, a dietitian specialized in celiac who’s had celiac for over 10 years, dive deeper into this and I teach you all of the basics of reading a food label in the USA in my TOTALLY free label-reading class. Check it out here!

USA Gluten-Free labeling Laws 101

In the United States, the FDA’s final ruling is that if you use the voluntary claim “gluten-free” on your food item,  then it must have less than 20ppm of gluten in it.

Building on that, the FDA ruled that in order for a food item to be gluten-free it also must:

  • not contain any gluten-containing grains
  • not contain any gluten-derived ingredients that have not been processed to remove the gluten
  • not contain a gluten-derived ingredients that has been processed to remove gluten but the gluten content does not <20ppm

This ruling applies to all gluten-free claims such as: “no gluten”, “free of gluten”, “without gluten”, “zero gluten” etc.

What is a Gluten-free Claim?

Basically, a gluten-free claim is when you see any of the following verbiage on a food label:

  • gluten-free
  • no gluten
  • free of gluten
  • without gluten

If a food item has a gluten-free claim, the manufacturer must ensure it’s gluten content is <20ppm.

Usually, a gluten-free claim means the food is safe, EXCEPT when it comes to oats (we have General Mills in-part to thank for that).

What is a Gluten-free Certification?

A gluten-free certification is when a 3rd party tests a gluten-free food and confirms that food is gluten-free.

This is one of the key differences between a gluten-free claim and a gluten-free certification.

The gluten-free testing is not only being asserted by the manufacturer but is now being confirmed by a 3rd party.

Anything with a gluten-free claim (even if it has oats) should be safe.

Gluten-Free Certifiers

There are a few 3rd party certifications on the market and each one has their own testing parameters. Let’s talk about how they apply to United States food labeling.

Again, if you see any of these certifications on a food item, it’s safe. Very rarely are these products mislabeled.

If you do see something that does look mislabeled or has “facial misbranding”, file a complaint with the FDA.


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