No Gluten Containing Ingredients and the law

No gluten containing ingredients (NGCI) sample menu in respect of the allergen laws July 2016

Nearly ten months on and the term NGCI (No Gluten Containing Ingredients) is still misunderstood. Just to clarify the FSA have issued this guide which explains in detail where the term No Gluten Containing Ingredients (NGCI) can be used and where it can’t.

Fundamentally there are two ways in which consumers buy food – pre-packaged and loose. For pre-packaged goods the labelling law is as follows:

Gluten Free

A food item can be labelled gluten free if the manufacturer has conducted tests on the food (or at least batches of it and procedures are in place to ensure the gluten free integrity of the food) and the food contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

Very Low Gluten

Low gluten means that the pre-packaged food contains between 20 and 100 ppm of gluten. However, it must contain gluten free wheat starch. Again this has to be proven by testing.

Anything above 100 ppm is not considered safe for coeliacs and thus cannot be labelled gluten free.

No Gluten Containing Ingredients

No Gluten Containing Ingredients is used where the food is sold loose – as in say a deli or in a restaurant/cafe/pub etc. situation. It is impossible to label the food gluten free (as it can’t be taken, mushed up and then tested), so the term No Gluten Containing Ingredients was born. Just to clarify to label a menu item gluten free or gf (or any other code/symbol) is not legally allowed – shame most of the food service industry aren’t aware of this!

As of the 20th July 2016, establishments are allowed to either have a separate menu (or a separate specifically labelled section of a menu). They are not allowed to label a specific dish as No Gluten Containing Ingredients on a ‘mixed’ menu unless it is in a separate section. The food service industry must comply with this by 20th February 2018.

What isn’t properly policed though are the processes food establishments take to ensure contamination is minimised. There is so little understanding of gluten, how it can be avoided etc (how many times have I heard that it can be killed by heat – it’s not a bacteria, it is a protein!). Unfortunately Environmental Health and Trading Standards departments are responsible for policing this and they are extremely under-resourced.

Changes to Allergen laws as of 20th July 2016

Are the Allergen Laws changing in July 2016

On the 20th July 2016, the gluten labelling laws are changing. This is to keep them in line with Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (FIC); and implementing Regulation (EU) No 828/2014 on the requirements for the provision of information to consumers on the absence or reduced presence of gluten in food.

What are the changes?

The rules surrounding the terms ‘gluten free’ and ‘very low gluten’ are not changing they’re simply being reassigned to a new piece of legislation. What do we know about these two terms? The term gluten free should only be used if you can consistently prove that the food item/dish contains less than or equal to 20 parts per million gluten; and in the case of very low gluten it should only be used if you can consistently prove that the food item/dish contains less than or equal to 100 parts per million gluten. However, the new rules do make a distinction between foods that are naturally gluten free and foods that have been specially manufactured to be gluten free e.g. gluten free foods that are available on prescription. The new rules will allow the following statements in respect of naturally gluten free foods: ‘suitable for coeliacs’ and ‘suitable for people intolerant to gluten’; and for specially manufactured foods: ‘specifically formulated for coeliacs’ and ‘specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten’

What about No Gluten Containing Ingredients (NGCI)

We spoke to the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) today and this is what they said: “for non-prepacked foods, “no gluten containing ingredients” (NGCI) cannot be attributed to a single dish e.g. Cottage pie (NGCI). However, if you have a menu with sections listing starters, main courses and desserts, we consider a section on NGCI choices permissible. We also consider it acceptable to use NGCI in menu titles provided that all the items do not use gluten containing ingredients, such as “No gluten containing ingredients menu” or statements such as “All dishes on this menu do not use gluten containing ingredients”.

So, what does this mean in practical terms for restaurants, pubs, hotels, cafes, events caterers, etc.? Put simply, if you have best practice procedures in place you can present your coeliac diners with a separate menu that says: “The following dishes have been prepared using no gluten containing ingredients”. You could also present the same menu on a blackboard using the same statement: the following dishes have been prepared using no gluten containing ingredients; or if your servers have particularly good memories they can present the list of dishes verbally and once again say they have been prepared using no gluten containing ingredients.

No gluten containing ingredients (NGCI) sample menu in respect of the allergen laws July 2016
No gluten containing ingredients (NGCI) sample menu

What you cannot do under the new legislation is say, for example, “the beef dish has been prepared using no gluten containing ingredients” on a menu with other allergen containing dishes. You also cannot (and this has always been the case in food-serving establishments) call something on your menu ‘gluten free’ – unless you can substantiate this. There will be a transition period for compliance due to the short notice of the legislation.