While gluten-free dieting might be popularly perceived as a temporary health fad, it actually relates to a genetic health condition known as Celiac disease. The disorder is catalyzed by eating the glutenous proteins in wheat, rye and barley. So whether or not it’s hip to cut gluten from your diet, Celiac disease will continue to affect the lives and diets of thousands — if not millions — of people.

Thanks to attention received from the medical community and in the media, a sizeable demographic of consumers — particularly individuals who are diagnosed with the genetic disorder — have voiced their dietary restrictions. While many bakeries have made an attentive effort to cater to these individuals, truly providing gluten-free food requires a strict separation of non-gluten production from glutenous items or ingredients. Despite the current lack of enforced regulation, illegitimately claiming that products are gluten-free can pose serious health risks to individuals diagnosed with Celiac disease.

The FDA has not yet developed a regulation to define the term “gluten-free”; however, they approve of the term’s usage, as long as it is used in a non-misleading manner. Also, the FDA has proposed a regulation to define and permit the use of the term. As the number of individuals diagnosed with Celiac disease continues to grow, the requirement for strict FDA regulation is becoming increasingly apparent.

Based on recent FDA proposals, it seems likely that testing the gluten levels of products will be the discerning method for approval. In most recent proposals, for a product to be considered gluten-free, it will need to contain less than 20 parts per million. While some gluten-free bakeries conduct testing in-house, a select few will send products to labs to ensure the safety.

Production control

Properly baking gluten-free bread is much like producing any other type of gluten-free product. For starters, the levels of gluten in the product should be evaluated by a test or at a lab, and the production facility should be entirely separated from glutenous ingredients. Contact with other products containing gluten should be eliminated.

As public awareness for Celiac disease continues to grow, the number of individuals diagnosed with the disease also is on the rise. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 97% of people with Celiac Disease are not diagnosed.

In many cases, individuals with Celiac disease can have extremely sensitive — and severe — reactions to gluten-based products. Consequently, for a bakery to legitimately claim the availability of gluten-free products, it should produce them in a carefully controlled and monitored facility. Even minor contact with gluten can compromise the safety of a product for someone with Celiac disease.

“I won’t introduce gluten into my facility because that fine coating of gluten containing flour gets in the air, in everything and on everything,” says Maureen Burke, chef and owner of One Dish Cuisine, GF wholesale bakery in Baltimore, MD. “It can get into your duct work and through your system. It’s just not worth it to have the chance that you cross-contaminate, even if you have it in a separate area of the facility.”

Diagnosed with Celiac disease in 1988, Burke has prioritized the health and safety of her customers. In fact, if the gluten levels of its ingredients are not tested by the manufacturer, One Dish Cuisine sends its end product to an independent lab for testing. All of One Dish Cuisine’s products test below detection levels for gluten, which is below 4 ppm.

One Dish Cuisine prioritizes the well-being of their customer above all else. One of the reasons One Dish Cuisine successfully limits the levels of gluten in its products is because it has implemented strict policies and ingredient standards. These necessary precautions make gluten-free baking expensive, time-consuming and tedious.

“I can’t just pick up the phone and call a very large supplier and say I need these supplies delivered. I have to hunt and peck around for manufacturers who carry these specialty products and will sell me the ingredients or flour that I need in bulk,” Burke says. “So you have to deal with so many different suppliers in order to just function, and the ingredients have to meet strict standards to qualify as gluten-free too. And they’re not local, so we end up paying huge shipping and freight. That’s just one of the reasons gluten free products are very expensive.”

Given the expense of ingredients and shipping, coupled with the need for a completely separate and controlled production facility, gluten-free baking is unquestionably an expensive endeavor. That being said, it is not a label you can carelessly assign to any of your products.

While these strict precautions may seem excessive for people who are mildly gluten intolerant or who have voluntarily cut gluten from their diets, controlled production facilities are absolutely necessary to avoid endangering individuals diagnosed with Celiac disease.