Food Labeling Laws - UK

It is now believed about 1 in 100 (1%) of people in the UK have coeliac disease or refer to themselves as gluten intolerant.   However, most people are not diagnosed until later in life and there are about 1 in 8 that are not even diagnosed.  With these figures in mind, there has been an increased need to improve on the current labelling laws within the UK.   Major changes were made in 2009 and further changes will come into effect from 13 December 2014.   Food labelling is critical to people who suffer from coeliac disease.   It is important for those with food allergies to be able to choose foods with confidence, knowing that eating that food will not have any health consequences due to it containing an unknown allergen.

Besides the gluten-containing grains, there are a total of 14 foods that have to be declared on food labels.   This is a requirement if any ingredients are made from them, or used at all in pre-packed foods.  This also includes alcoholic drinks.   Remembering that some allergen-containing foods are so highly processed that they no longer contain detectable gluten for example, glucose syrup (wheat) does not contain any gluten.

Here is a list of the 14 allergens that must be declared on food labels:

celery;
cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley and oats);
crustaceans;
eggs;
fish;
lupin;
milk;
molluscs;
mustard;
nuts;
peanuts;
sesame seeds;
soy beans;
sulphur dioxide and sulphites over 10mg per kg or per litre.

 

 

Currently the rules only cover pre-packed food i.e. products found mainly on supermarket shelves that have labels.   On the 13th December 2014, the labelling laws will change.  The rules will build on this requirement and include non-packed or pre-packed food for direct sale i.e bulk sales of items from health food shops, or from markets etc

 

Oats

Oats is an area that is debated world wide as to its suitability to be included in a gluten free diet. Medical experts at this stage do not have enough evidence to determine if all people with coealic disease should avoid oats. Oats contains a protein similar to gluten and a lot of people with coeliac disease can not eat oats. Cross contamination is also a high risk. This can be from harvesting or transportation.  

If you have coeliac disease you would be best to avoid oats. However, you will see oats label “gluten free” if they contain gluten levels of less than 20 ppm. It may be wise to speak to your doctor before you include oats into you diet. 


Baby Foods 

Under the law, all baby foods for babies under six months old must have a statement on their labels about whether they contain gluten. All baby formulas are gluten free. 


This has been recommended to help families with a history of coeliac disease to be able to avoid gluten. The Department of Health has stated gluten should not be given to infants under the age of six months old. 

 

The Difference between Gluten free and Wheat Free

'Gluten free' means the product contains no wheat, rye, oats or barley and therefore contains no gluten. 'Wheat free' means that the product does not contain any wheat but it could contain gluten . A wheat free product can contain other grains such as barley, oats or rye therefore containing gluten.

 

Production Lines and "May Contained" statements

Products containing gluten (i.e. normal cookies) that are made on the same production line as products that contain NO gluten (i.e. they are making gluten and gluten free products using the same machinery), and products that are labelled "may contain gluten" are not considered safe for a gluten free diet and should be avoided.

Except, if the contained statement (you will find this underneath the ingredient list) states "May contains wheat" but the only ingredient from wheat that is listed in the ingredients list is either glucose syrup (wheat), dextrose (wheat) or caramel colour (wheat) then there is no detectable gluten in this product and therefore safe to eat.

 

Either/Or statements on Products

Sometimes companies will make an "either/or" statement on products. It would look like this - "Maltodextrin (wheat or maize)". This means the product could contain wheat or maize as the manufacturer has not specified which one and if the product is not marked as gluten free, it should be avoided.

For more informtion see Food Labeling - General