Early in the pandemic, there was significant concern that our food supply chain would suffer disruptions. Food manufacturers petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow, if needed, “minor” and temporary unlabeled substitutions in the foods they make, arguing that changing product labels for such substitutions would be a significant burden to industry that could interrupt the supply of food to the consumer. The FDA agreed to the temporary change with a guidance entitled “Temporary Policy Regarding Certain Food Labeling Requirements During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Minor Formulation Changes and Vending Machines”.
There was concern in the celiac disease patient community that, though the guidance does explicitly state that substitutions cannot be made that affect health or safety, unlabeled substitutes allowed under the temporary policy might contain gluten. CEO Marilyn Geller wrote to the FDA asking for clarification. They responded earlier this week with the following message:
Because FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, we directly state in the COVID-19 Food Labeling Flexibility Guidance that such flexibilities are not to be used when they may pose a health or safety issue. This would include the introduction of an ingredient containing gluten. Substitutions, in any amount, are not appropriate without a corresponding label change when the substituted ingredient is one that may cause a safety concern.
Over the years, we have established a strong working relationship with the FDA to ensure that the voice of the celiac disease patient community is heard. During both pandemic and non-pandemic time, the FDA is not allowing introduction of unlabeled gluten into regulated food products.
For more information about COVID-19 and celiac disease, please visit: https://celiac.org/coronavirus-information/