The Gluten Free Label Reading

When shopping for packaged foods, always read ingredient lists carefully to determine whether or not an item is gluten-free.

If any of the following are on an ingredient list, the item is not gluten-free:

    • Wheat
    • Rye
    • Barley
    • Oats unless the oats are certified gluten-free1
    • Malt2
    • Brewer’s yeast

Identifying rye, barley, oats, malt and brewer’s yeast is straightforward, since these are virtually always listed by their recognizable names. But looking for wheat can be a little trickier.  This is because derivatives of wheat, such as “modified food starch,” also contain gluten.

Looking For Wheat

Label reading for wheat has become much easier since the “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” (FALCPA) was passed in 2004. This regulation requires that the top 8 allergens be clearly identified, wheat being one of them. This means that derivatives of wheat such as “modified food starch” must clearly indicate that “wheat” is the source. “Wheat” can either appear in parentheses in the ingredient list or in a separate “contains” statement.



FALCPA applies to the majority of packaged food products, those regulated by the FDA. However, products regulated by the USDA are not required to comply with FALCPA. The USDA regulates meat, poultry and egg products, and mixed food products that generally contain more than three percent raw meat or two percent or more cooked meat or poultry (e.g. soups, chilis, frozen entrees).

Even though USDA products are not required to comply with FALCPA, it’s estimated that 80 to 90 % of these products voluntarily comply. If you see a “contains” statement or other indication that a USDA-regulated product is complying with FALCPA, then you can simply look for the word “wheat.”

If there is any doubt about whether a product is complying with FALCPA labeling, the following ingredients may be derived from wheat and need to be avoided or investigated:

    • modifed food starch
    • starch
    • dextrin


1 Oats are  inherently gluten-free, however since they are typically grown and processed in close proximity to wheat,  they can easily become cross-contaminated with gluten. However, some growers/manufacturers are now selling certified gluten-free oats.

2  ”Malt” includes ingredients using malt, such as malt vinegar and barley malt extract.  However if you see the word “malt” used in a compound word such as “maltodextrin,” this does not indicate the presence of malt and the product is safe to consume.


Check ingredient lists every time you shop since manufacturers may change ingredients in a product at any time.