Gluten-free goal: Get under 20 p.p.m.

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sin-glutenThe U.S. food industry finally has a gluten-free rule to follow. Heeding the rule may involve trusting ingredient suppliers, or those who pay attention to farmer contracting, certification, handling practices and transportation issues. As evidenced by increasing sales and national surveys, reasons to enter the gluten-free category remain plentiful.

The Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 2 published a new regulation defining gluten-free for voluntary food labeling. It requires for a food with the gluten-free term on its label to contain less than 20 parts per million (p.p.m.) of gluten. The F.D.A. ruled gluten refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of those grains.

According to the F.D.A., gluten must be avoided by people with celiac disease, a chronic inflammatory auto-immune disorder estimated to affect up to 3 million Americans.

People without celiac disease are buying gluten-free products, too. According to Packaged Facts, the U.S. gluten-free market reached $4.2 billion in 2012 after experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 28% from 2008 to 2012.

According to a Mintel report issued in September of this year, the $10.5 billion gluten-free food and beverage industry in the United States grew 44% from 2011-13. About 24% of consumers currently eat, or have someone in their household who eats, gluten-free foods, according to Mintel.

“Perceptions of gluten-free foods have moved from being bland, boring substitutes for gluten-containing products to everyday items that appeal to those with and without a gluten allergy,” Mintel said.

Mintel predicts the gluten-free food and beverage market in the United States will grow 48% between 2013 and 2016 and reach $15.6 billion.

Patrick O’Brien, marketing manager, bakery and snacks, for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., gave a reason for the differences in gluten-free market projections during an Oct. 24 webinar put on by Sosland Publishing and Baking & Snack, a sister publication of Milling & Baking News. Mr. O’Brien said Packaged Facts tracks traditional products that normally include gluten. Other reports may include gluten-free products that traditionally are gluten-free.

“All signs show that the (gluten-free) trend is going to continue,” Mr. O’Brien said.

He added four types of consumers buy gluten-free products: those with celiac disease; those with gluten intolerance or wheat allergies; those with health concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis or ADHD; and those who have a “free-from” lifestyle and want to avoid certain items, not only gluten.

The gluten-free category, while offering sales opportunities, comes with potential consequences. Failing to meet the 20 p.p.m. mark may not only draw the F.D.A.’s attention. It also may sicken consumers. For people with celiac disease, a tiny bit of gluten may cause a reaction with symptoms that last for hours or days, said Alice Bast, president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, Ambler, Pa., during a presentation July 16 in Chicago at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition.

Gluten may enter the supply chain at many points.

Unexpected sources of gluten include spices, especially from international sources, and fermented ingredients like enzymes and bacterial cultures, said Joe Baumert, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, when he spoke July 16 at the I.F.T. event.

Ms. Bast said airborne flour in bakeries may lead to gluten cross-contact as might utensils and toppings in the preparation lines at delis.

Good manufacturing practices should be followed in the laboratory, said Jennifer Williams, senior applications scientist at Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, Colo., at the I.F.T. event. Gluten-free items should be in sealed containers and kept on separate shelves. Documentation should be required from ingredient suppliers. Penford offers gluten-free starches for use in grain-based foods.

Didion Milling, Cambria, Wis., achieved certification for its corn products from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, Auburn, Wash. The G.F.C.O. requires companies to have no more than 10 p.p.m. of gluten in the gluten-free products, which is half the amount tolerated by the F.D.A. ruling, said John Deininger, quality assurance manager at Didion Milling.

“The certification simply provides another level of confidence to guarantee that our products are gluten-free,” he said.

Didion does not process any gluten-containing grains. Didion Milling purchases locally grown whole corn, Mr. Deininger said. The corn is delivered using transportation vessels that are free of any other grains. Didion Milling has the ability to track batches of whole corn from farm to finished product.

“Corn products are a gluten-free alternative with a flavor and texture profile that consumers already enjoy,” Mr. Deininger said. “It is also label-friendly and available at a value-added price compared to specialty alternatives.”

Todd Giesfeldt, R.&D. senior product manager at Didion Milling, said, “Corn flour brings protein and starch to the recipe, making it a great ingredient for pasta applications. Viscosity-controlled corn flour provides a more uniform product in kneading machines and automated dough processing equipment. Our pre-gels — corn flour that’s been heat- and moisture-treated to give it specific properties — have great binding properties and provide stabilizing functionality. It all depends on the formula you’re putting together.”

Ingredion, Inc. showed how its ingredients may be used in gluten-free products through a cranberry oatmeal breakfast cookie prototype that uses Homecraft GF 20, a tapioca flour and rice flour system. Novation 4600 corn starch provides batter viscosity and moisture retention. Hi-Maize 260, a resistant corn starch, delivers 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.

Ms. Bast, who has celiac disease, said the quality of gluten-free products has improved over the past 20 years, back when the pasta’s texture was gummy and the bread was crumbly. Nutrition also has improved.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “We have come a long way.”

Source: Food Business News