What Does 'Gluten Free' Mean In The UK?

What Does 'Gluten Free' Mean In The UK?

We read the term "Gluten Free" on a multitude of products these days, but what is actually meant by the term gluten free when it comes to UK specifications. It isn't quite as clear cut as it may first seem!
Just lately I have seen so many people saying "how can this be gluten free" over various products so I thought I would do a blog to explain what the term "Gluten Free" means in the UK.

The term Gluten Free is a legally binding term in the UK, if something is labelled as gluten free it has to meet some very stringent guidelines. For a product to be labelled as gluten free it has to contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or less of gluten, therefore gluten free here isn't completely gluten free, you can still find very tiny amounts of gluten in gluten free products. According to Coeliac UK "Research shows that this tiny amount of gluten is not toxic to people with coeliac disease and they can eat unlimited amounts of products with gluten at a level of 20 ppm or less."

Other countries have different guidelines when it comes to gluten free but most of the world does follow the 20ppm rule. However if you are in New Zealand or Australia, they have a limit of 3ppm. At the moment nowhere has a 0ppm rule despite a lot of Coeliacs calling for it.

Back to the UK though, to be labelled gluten free products have to be less than 20ppm, to prove this they have to go though tests and analysis to prove they are below 20ppm. Food standards agency have to see "due diligence" on the management of any gluten containing ingredients on the premises to ensure cross contamination is avoided.

In the last few years there have been many products appearing that well and truly confuse some Coeliacs, especially the likes of gluten free beer that contains barley. You are told you need to avoid all wheat, barley, rye to then find gluten free products that contain one of those items. I understand how it's confusing.

When it comes to barley it can be hard to judge if it is gluten free, there are cereals in the regular aisles out there that are safe despite containing barley malt extract yet other items with barley malt extract are not safe. These ones are not easy to judge if they are safe, if you are a member of Coeliac UK, check their food checker to find if they are safe, if you aren't they stay clear.

It's slightly different when it comes to gluten free beer containing barley though. Regular beer which comes from barley isn't safe it will 100% be above the 20ppm threshold. However gluten free beer containing barley is brewed until it falls below the 20ppm level, therefore making it safe for Coeliacs.

There has also been many items popping up that contain gluten free wheat starch, Schar waffles and Juvela bread are the two that come to mind, these work along the same principles as the barley, the wheat has the gluten removed from it so it falls below 20ppm, again making them safe for coeliac. There's a bit more info on that in this blog at Coeliac UK, also don't forget if you have a wheat allergy, any wheat starch including gluten free, is a no go.

Of course some people find they can't even tolerate even barley or wheat processed to be <20ppm, this is suppose to be rare though, 20ppm is the official safe level for Coeliacs, if you react to barley which has been processed below that level you will more than likely be told that you have an allergy to barley or wheat alongside having Coeliac.

So if you see beer containing barley marked gluten free, it is safe for Coeliacs! And don't forget gluten free in the UK does not mean it is completely 100% gluten free, it can still contain minuscule amounts but be safe for Coeliacs.

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