Consumer research survey reveals significant knowledge gaps related to gluten.

  • In August 2013, FDA published a final rule defining the term “gluten-free” for the purpose of food labeling.  Naturally, many food manufacturers sought to capitalize on the newly-defined term in the marketplace.
  • A recent consumer research survey conducted on behalf of NSF International suggests that many American consumers harbor fundamental misunderstandings about gluten and its presence in the food supply.  For example, many participants believed that rice (47%) and potatoes (34%) contain gluten.  Many (41%) were unaware that beer might contain gluten.  One-quarter of the participants equated “wheat-free” with “gluten-free.”  A majority of participants were unaware that spices, flavorings, and dietary supplements may contain gluten.  Finally, more than half of the participants believed that “gluten-free” labeling meant that products were verified to be free of all gluten (despite FDA’s tolerance of up to 20 ppm gluten in “gluten-free” foods).
  • The survey results indicate that the average American consumer may be less knowledgeable about gluten than one might anticipate.  Data such as these are particularly relevant to companies that manufacture and market “gluten-free” foods or that hope to capitalize on consumer understanding about gluten in the food supply.  Despite FDA’s definition of the term, it appears that “gluten-free” labeling may not necessarily be conveying the message that the food industry, or even the Agency, intends.