Return to Blog April 28, 2023

What Makes Something Gluten-free?


Consumers place a tremendous amount of trust in the gluten-free certification process. To place a safe product on the store shelf, food manufacturers rely on exceptional quality assurance standards at every link in the supply chain.

From source to storage to the manufacturing facility, gluten-free ingredients require elevated standards to eliminate the risk of gluten cross-contamination.

What Does Gluten-Free Certified Mean?

Gluten-free certification is a detailed process designed to protect consumers with gluten allergies. Those most at risk are individuals with celiac disease, which includes roughly 1% of the U.S. population. The FDA and similar regulatory bodies in international markets have worked to quantify and standardize the definition of “gluten-free” to help make consumers confident they’re safe.

To achieve gluten-free certification, FDA regulators have set a limit of fewer than 20 parts per million. While the ideal number would be zero, it’s nearly impossible to ensure some infinitesimal amount of gluten in finished food products.

How Does the FDA Define Gluten-free?

Clear communication is central to effective regulation. The FDA allows gluten-free labeling when manufacturers can show products meet these criteria:

  • The food does not include any wheat, rye or barley in any amount.
  • No ingredients have had gluten removed through processing.

Foods misrepresenting gluten-free certification are subject to disciplinary action by the FDA.

Gluten-free vs. Certified Gluten-free

The term “gluten-free” applies to food products that meet the FDA’s 20ppm criteria. Certified gluten-free products meet additional requirements established by one of three third-party agencies that mandate specific testing not required by the FDA. In most cases, the FDA allows manufacturers to test their own products to ensure they meet regulations. That’s not enough for third-party agencies, most of which require regular testing and mandatory testing for re-certification every year.

The independent certifying agencies are:

  • Beyond Celiac
  • Gluten Intolerance Group’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization
  • Celiac Support Association (CSA)

How to Prevent Gluten Cross-contamination in the Supply Chain

There are real-world consequences for failing to ensure gluten-free ingredients are accurately labeled. This challenge forces many of our customers to label finished products as being manufactured in a facility that processes gluten. In most cases, the limited exposure is enough to disqualify products from earning the gluten-free certification.

Reducing the risk of cross-contamination rests on stringent quality control and quality assurance standards at every step in the supply chain, including utilizing specialized warehousing and transportation. It’s one of the key differentiators that Tilley has invested in over the past decade to serve our customers better.

The Rise of Dedicated Gluten-free Manufacturing Facilities

Gluten-free food manufacturers have turned to proprietary or leased facilities for dedicated gluten-free products. These facilities don’t process gluten ingredients and substantially lower the risk of cross-contamination. It’s a smart investment, with the gluten-free products market expected to grow at 9.2% CAR through 2030.

Consumers have prioritized healthy food products to lower the risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and more. Digestive health disease, including irritable bowel syndrome, continues to drive demand for gluten-free products in the U.S. and other markets.

Bakery products lead segment growth, accounting for 29% of revenue in 2021 and growing at 10.9% CAGR through 2030.

Manufacturers are diversifying and expanding product portfolios to provide more gluten-free products, many of which meet other dietary qualifications, such as paleo and vegan. That’s led to an increased reliance on third-party R&D services to provide cost-effective formulations, especially for ready-to-eat products.

Investing in Gluten-free Ingredients with Tilley Distribution

We’re helping our food and beverage customers grow their gluten-free product lines to capture market share and meet changing consumer tastes. Our team provides a range of certified gluten-free ingredients backed by friendly customer service and expert technical support. Contact a Tilley representative today to get started.