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Gluten content of imported gluten-free foods: national and international implications

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Coeliac disease (CD) is the only common disease for which strict dietary compliance is the sole treatment. Sensitivity to gluten varies between patients with CD, so that restricting levels in food to under one part per million (ppm) would protect the maximum number of patients.1 In a daily diet of 500 g food, 1 ppm is equivalent to 0.5 mg, the amount in 1/5000 of a slice of wheat flour bread containing 2.5 g gluten.

International food codes require that foods labelled “gluten-free” (GF) contain less than 20 ppm gluten; in Australia and New Zealand, however, a “no detectable gluten” standard applies.24 Current laboratory techniques have a reporting limit of 1 ppm, and a detection limit of 0.5 ppm gluten in food. We assessed the compliance of imported GF-labelled foods with the local food standard, as well as the international capacity of industry to comply with Australian standards, given commercially available analytical reporting and detection limits.

A total of 169 GF-labelled food items manufactured overseas were purchased from four retailers in Perth, Western Australia. The countries of origin were in Europe (nine countries), Asia (nine), and North (two) and South America (five); the food categories included crackers, bread and biscuits (41 items), cereals, flour and grains (37),…