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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    FDA Relaxes Food Labeling Rules During Covid-19 Pandemic

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    A temporary relaxation of food labeling rules won't affect gluten or other allergen ingredients, say FDA guidelines.

    FDA Relaxes Food Labeling Rules During Covid-19 Pandemic - Image: CC BY 2.0--Counse
    Caption: Image: CC BY 2.0--Counse

    Celiac.com 06/15/2020 - Usually, when a food manufacturer makes an ingredient change, even a minor one, to a food product, they must produce a new label for all the changed products. However, Covid-19 has changed that. Responding to calls from food manufacturers facing supply chain problems in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is relaxing some labeling requirements for certain ingredients in food in the U.S.

    The move will give food manufacturers the ability make small changes to the ingredients in a product without making label changes. That may mean adding, omitting, or blending ingredients to meet the product needs.

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    The FDA guidance on the matter states that such labeling changes "should not cause any adverse health effect, including those from gluten and food allergens."

    The guidance states that ingredients used as substitutes should not alter any voluntary nutrient or health claim on the label, such as gluten free, and that ingredients that are the reason for the label should not be changed.

    Basically, “Manufacturers should avoid substitutions that could result in a safety concern without making a conforming label change or providing other means to inform consumers of the change,” the new guidance says. The FDA wants to avoid any risk of allergic reaction due to any such substitutions, and the temporary rule change reflects that.

    The safety, claims, and prominence section of the guidance specifically states that no gluten ingredient can be used as a substitute for a gluten-free ingredient. The flexibility in labeling will continue for the duration of the public health emergency declared by the Department of Health and Human Services, including extensions. 

    The FDA notes that it may consider extensions, depending on how quickly supply chains return to normal.

    For questions, answers, and more information, read the FDA's page on Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 

    Edited by Scott Adams

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    While we have all needed to make adjustments, sometimes radical ones, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the relaxation of food labeling requirements is a serious concern for those with food allergies, dietary restrictions, and/or dietary preferences.  Even if a food manufacturer substitutes one gluten-free ingredient for another, without accurate labeling, people with multiple food allergies and/or sensitivities could unknowingly consume a harmful ingredient and end up having a serious reaction.  A simple swap from potato to corn starch or vice versa could send someone to the hospital with anaphylaxis.  High fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are gluten-free, but that does not mean that people want either in their food.  And what happens if the FDA decides to "temporarily" increase the threshold for gluten ppm?  Why not?  That would be just as ludicrous as allowing food manufacturers to not list their ingredients accurately. 

    The bigger problem is that without accurate labeling of all packaged foods, consumers will not know which products were produced using the labeled ingredients vs. the temporarily permitted "substitute" ingredients, so the effects of this "temporary" relaxation of the rules could have ramifications into the next year depending on the shelf life of the food product in question.  Of course, many processed foods are not healthy, but those of us who are vegan, vegetarian, non-GMO, nut-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, living with Celiac or other autoimmune diseases, or even simply committed to dietary choices for environmental health or religious reasons have a right to know EXACTLY what we are feeding our bodies with every bite. 

    Label it and label it accurately, every time, or don't sell it.  For some of us, our life or our child's life may depend on it.

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    After reading the information in our reference link you will notice that swapping potato starch with corn starch would not be allowed, as corn is included in the top 8 allergens that can’t be added without proper labeling. However, is isn’t clear if this could happen with some other allergens, so you have a right to be concerned. 

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  • About Me

    Scott Adams

    Scott Adams was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. In 1995 he launched the site that later became Celiac.com to help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives.  He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of the (formerly paper) newsletter Journal of Gluten Sensitivity. In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. Celiac.com does not sell any products, and is 100% advertiser supported.

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