A growing number of restaurants across the nation have been offering gluten-free menus in recent years. But do they meet the first ever gluten-free definition announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? Most likely, many will not.

After six years of deliberation, the FDA announced on Aug. 5, 2013 a new regulation and uniform standard for the term “gluten-free,” which must be met by Aug. 5, 2014.

The new definition states that the gluten-free term can only be used if the food item is “inherently gluten-free and does not contain 1) a gluten-containing grain, 2) a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour), or 3) a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food. Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm.”

The 20-ppm benchmark is the key to this ruling, as it is the level that health researchers around the world agree is the safe amount of gluten that will not adversely affect those with celiac disease.

Currently, many restaurants state that their gluten-free menu is not for those with celiac disease but only for those with gluten sensitivity. They also sometimes state that they can’t guarantee there is no gluten present in the “gluten-free” meal. Generally, this means that the menu item is free of ingredients that contain gluten, but the restaurant is not taking the additional steps necessary to protect against cross contact with gluten.

Cross contact means that a non-gluten item comes in contact with, or touches, an item with gluten. Even a speck of gluten as small as the size of a grain of sand can travel through utensils, cookware, prep tables, frying oil, etc., and get into food, which can cause harm to someone with celiac disease. There is even some evidence that gluten can be spread airborne, especially by flour products.

After Aug. 5, 2014, the FDA states that “Any food product labeled ‘gluten-free’ that does not meet the criteria established in the final rule, including a food that contains 20 ppm or more gluten, would be deemed misbranded and would be subject to regulatory enforcement action.” Restaurants can take the following steps to help ensure that they do meet the criteria:

1. Get commitment from management

Beckee Moreland, director of gluten-free industry initiatives at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), recommends that management take the GREAT Kitchens course (Gluten-free Resource Education Awareness Training).

“This way, management will understand what it takes to identify potential gluten sources, develop protocols and procedures to protect against cross contact, and train the front of house and back of house staff,” explains Moreland, who is passionate for the cause because she herself has celiac disease. “Then once management makes the commitment, the restaurant can move forward with confidence because they understand the process and the need for education and training. And restaurants that follow through with their commitment will receive the benefits of a loyal following from those with celiac disease and their family and friends, as well as the bigger market of those who are gluten sensitive but don’t have celiac disease.”