'Gluten-free' labeling standards kick in

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'Gluten-free' labeling standards kick in
Gluten-free products are displayed for sale at the Bob's Red Mill and Natural Foods store in Milwaukie, Oregon, U.S., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, a pioneering manufacturer of delicious and safe gluten free products, produces over 400 products, primarily whole grains as well as beans, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, spices, and herbs. Photographer: Natalie Behring/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHICAGO - DECEMBER 27: Anheuser-Busch's Redbridge beer is shown December 27, 2006 in Chicago. The beer is aimed towarded people with wheat allergies and others who choose a gluten-free diet. Redbridge is made from sorghum rather than the traditional ingredients, wheat and barley. The new offering is one of many beer makers have rolled out to offset a steady decline in sales of their traditional brands. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
'Gluten Free' appears on the packaging for General Mills Inc. Betty Crocker brand cake mix displayed for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Many people today try to avoid gluten due to dietary restrictions or health concerns. Muffins baked with Namaste Foods Gluten Free Perfect Flour Blend yields good browning but an interior that is not as pleasant looking. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
'Gluten Free' appears on the packaging for PepsiCo Inc. Quaker brand rice cakes displayed for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
'Gluten Free' appears on cans of black bean soup at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. On Aug. 2, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration defined Ògluten-freeÓ as food that contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Food makers will have one year to ensure labels on their cans and boxes meet the standard. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
'Gluten Free' appears on the packaging for General Mills Inc. Betty Crocker Bisquick brand pancake and baking mix displayed for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The logo for the Celiac Disease Foundation appears on the packaging for General Mills Inc. Betty Crocker brand gluten-free cake mix displayed for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
'Gluten Free' appears on the packaging for 5 Sisters brand pasta sauce displayed for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Gluten-free products sit on display for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
'Gluten Free' appears on the packaging for General Mills Inc. Betty Crocker brand cookie mix displayed for sale at a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to define the term 'gluten-free' when voluntarily used in food labeling, according to a notice published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2013, file photo, a variety of foods labeled Gluten Free are displayed in Frederick, Md., Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. Starting this week, "gluten free" labels on packaged foods have real meaning. Until now, the term "gluten free" had not been regulated, and manufacturers made their own decisions about what it means. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, file photo, gluten-free products are seen on a grocery store shelf in Washington. In homes across the country on Thanksgiving Day, tables will be set to accommodate everyone from vegans and vegetarians to those trying to eat like a caveman. Increasingly complicated Thanksgiving feasts reflect the growing ranks of Americans who are paying closer attention to the food they put in their bodies. (AP Photo/Carole Feldman, File)
This undated handout photo provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows a gluten free labeling on a box of pretzel chips. Consumers are going to know exactly what they are getting when they buy foods labeled "gluten free." The FDA is at last defining what a "gluten free" label on a food package really means after more than six years of consideration. Until now, manufacturers have been able to use their own discretion as to how much gluten they include. Under an FDA rule announced Friday, products labeled "gluten free" still won't have to be technically free of wheat, rye and barley and their derivatives. But they almost will: "Gluten-free" products will have to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. (AP Photo/FDA)
** FOR USE WITH AP WEEKLY FEATURES ** Purely Decadent Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Cookie Dough ice cream from Turtle Mountain, shown in this May 21, 2007 photo, gets rid of the dairy while providing a satisfying taste. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
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By MARY CLARE JALONICK

WASHINGTON (AP) - Starting this week, "gluten-free" labels on packaged foods have real meaning. Until now, the term "gluten-free" had not been regulated, and manufacturers made their own decisions about what it means.

This new requirement is especially important for people who suffer from celiac disease and don't absorb nutrients well. They can get sick from the gluten found in wheat and other cereal grains.

Under a rule announced a year ago, food manufacturers had until Tuesday to ensure that anything labeled gluten-free contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten - ensuring that those products are technically free of wheat, rye and barley. That amount is generally recognized by the medical community to be low enough so that most people who have celiac disease won't get sick if they eat it.

Currently, wheat must be labeled on food packages but barley and rye are often hidden ingredients.

Celiac disease causes abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea, and people who have it can suffer weight loss, fatigue, rashes and other long-term medical problems. Celiac is a diagnosed illness that is more severe than gluten sensitivity, which some people self-diagnose.

Ten years ago, most people had never heard of celiac disease. But awareness and diagnosis of the illness have grown exponentially in recent years. It's not entirely clear why. Some researchers say it was underdiagnosed; others say it's because people eat more processed wheat products, such as pasta and baked goods, than in past decades, and those items use types of wheat that have a higher gluten content.

The standard will ensure that companies can't label products "gluten-free" if they are cross-contaminated from other products made in the same manufacturing facility. The rules don't apply to restaurants, but the Food and Drug Administration is encouraging them to comply.

Gluten-free foods have become big business in the last several years. Millions of people are buying the foods because they say they make them feel better, even if they don't have celiac disease.

Alice Bast of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness says the gluten-free trend has been good for those diagnosed with celiac because of the increased variety of options in the grocery store. But she says it also may have prompted some companies to lose focus on the people who need those foods the most.

The new regulations are "raising awareness that there is a disease associated with the gluten-free diet," she said.

Steve Hughes, CEO of Boulder Brands, which owns leading gluten-free food companies Glutino and Udi's, says his company's products all have 10 parts per million of gluten, less than the new standard. He praises the FDA regulations for being a "stake in the ground" that can increase the integrity of the gluten-free market.

"If consumers can't have confidence in the products long-term, it's going to hurt the overall trend," he said.

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