What You Need to Know

Gluten Intolerance Group

Not all gluten-free certifications are the same.

By Cynthia Kupper

Proving itself to be much more than a focus for those with celiac disease or a passing health fad, the gluten-free foods market experienced an annual growth rate of 36 percent over the five-year period leading up to 2015. That year, the market reached $1.6 billion, according to research firm Packaged Facts, which also noted that, “Gluten-free foods are gaining popularity partly because manufacturers and marketers are aligning new product developments with other emerging trends in the food and beverage industry. These trends include clean labels, marketer transparency, and the use of plant proteins and ancient grains.”

Although food manufacturers are seeking to capitalize on the growing consumer demand for gluten-free foods, they must also be vigilant to avoid mistakes in labeling foods as gluten-free. Mislabeling has the potential to not only cause consumers with celiac disease to become seriously ill, but also raises a risk of fines, expensive or involuntary recalls, damage to brand reputation and possible litigation.

To avoid these risks and provide reassurance to consumers, many food manufactures enlist the aid of third-party gluten-free certification organizations. However, third-party certifiers are not all alike. Typically, they adhere to either ISO 17065 or ISO 17021, which are very different standards.

Certifications Explained

In particular, ISO 17065 is an International Standard that specifies requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services. The observance of ISO 17065 is intended to ensure that the certification body certifies products, processes (management systems and production procedures) and services in a competent, consistent and impartial manner. On the other hand, ISO 17021 is an International Standard that specifies requirements for bodies certifying management systems. The observance of ISO 17021 is intended to ensure that the certification body certifies management systems in a competent, consistent and impartial manner.

Gluten Intolerance Group chart 5When a gluten-free certification organization conforms to ISO 17065, that conformity relates to the gluten-free certification of the management system and the products of the company receiving certification. A certification conforming to ISO 17021, on the other hand, is limited to the certified company's management system.

A certification organization conforming to ISO 17065 will specify the gluten ppm standard to which products must conform to be certified, which may even be more stringent than the FDA mandated 20ppm for products labeled gluten-free. By contrast, certification of a management system alone pursuant to ISO 17021 only certifies that the management system is adequate to produce safe, gluten-free products. It does not certify the ppm levels to which products adhere, which may actually vary between companies with a certified management system.

Understanding the Difference

Recently, the Gluten Intolerance Group, performed an anonymous survey of approximately 100 known gluten-free consumers to learn their opinions and preferences when it comes to gluten-free labeling. The results are detailed in the charts below.

Gluten Intolerance Group chart 3As these responses clearly illustrate, most gluten-free consumers (64%) do not understand the differences between the gluten-free certification companies in terms of what they are certifying, but they strongly (76%) prefer a certification that includes testing the gluten levels of the product. Moreover, in excess of 90 percent indicated they believe it is the responsibility of gluten-free food manufacturers to understand the needs of the gluten-free community and work with a certification organization that tests the product.

The strong desire of gluten-free consumers for transparency and product testing shouldn’t go unheeded by food manufacturers or food retailers. Working with a third-party certifier adhering to ISO 17065 is a clear way to ensure that gluten-free product labeling meets consumers’ expectations and assumptions about the level of testing that the product on the shelf has received.

Cynthia Kupper is CEO of the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) and is a registered dietitian and expert in celiac disease management. GIG’s food safety certification programs, the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and Gluten-Free Food Services (GFFS), have been recognized leaders in the gluten-free community for more than 20 years. The GFCO certification logo is the symbol of trust for the gluten-free community, with more than 40,000 products certified worldwide. For more information, visit www.gluten.org.


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