Navigating the Aisles: Where Can I find Gluten-Free and Non-GMO Foods?

Navigating the Aisles: Where Can I find Gluten-Free and Non-GMO Foods?

December 11, 2013

Patty Packard  MS, RD
Director Nutrition & Regulatory
Vestcom International 

Have you ever received a question regarding how to identify gluten-free or non-GMO foods in the store? Do you know how to answer these questions? The latest information on identifying gluten-free labeling can be found in the final definition FDA released on August 5, 2013. The FDA maintained the definition of <20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten to declare an item as gluten free.

While there was no change to the level of gluten that a product can contain, FDA clarified which products can be identified as gluten free. They have given food manufacturers until August 2014 to change their packaging to comply with the new definition.

  • Foods that are inherently gluten free, such as eggs and carrots, may now use the claim gluten free.
  • Any variation of gluten free such as “free of gluten,” “without gluten,” and “no gluten” are considered equivalent and must meet the  <20 ppm criteria.
  • An advisory label statement, such as “made in a facility that also processes wheat,” is allowed on foods labeled gluten free, provided that the statement is truthful and not misleading.  

So how does one identify a product that is non-GMO? This is a more challenging answer, since there are not universally agreed upon criteria to establish a product as non-GMO.  However, two places you can guide consumers to limit GMO intake is to look for products that are either certified “USDA Organic” or that carry the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal.

The USDA Organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms in agricultural production. However, the USDA Organic seal only verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content.  Therefore, a product could have 5% of GMO-containing ingredients.

The Non-GMO Project Verified seal has established extensive criteria to identify non-GMO products. Their criteria are aligned with the European Union guidelines. While the goal of this organization is to have zero GMOs in a product, the project does allow up to 0.9 percent of GMOs.

As retail dietitians, we want to accurately answer our customers’ questions on regulatory issues. It is easy to develop a response when there is guidance provided, such as in the case of gluten free. However, sometimes the regulatory world is not as black and white and the answer lands in gray territory, such as non-GMO. As trusted sources of nutrition information, it is important to base answers on science and facts and not let the emotion of a hot topic influence our answers.