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What's going on with gluten-free food labelling?

Do you dread supermarket shopping? Is it because you know you'll need to spend hours reading labels on the back of food packets?

Coeliac reading labels on food packets to see if they're gluten-free
And now for the small print...

Gone are the days when you could breeze into a shop, load up your trolley with the things you'd like and then casually saunter to the checkout.

Now it's a minefield of squinting at tiny print on the back of packets, not to mention navigating the tricky world of 'may contains' and 'made in a factory that handles'.

And just when you thought you'd seen everything, along comes a curveball.

I've marked out 5 of the worst contenders here.

1. Oats

If oats are listed as an ingredient, you'll need to check they're certified gluten-free. But 5% of coeliacs (including me) react to avenin and can't have them. This means I can't just pick up a packet with the label "gluten-free". I still have to scan the packet to be sure there are no oats, gluten-free or otherwise.

With this product they've stated 'oats' in the ingredients but there's nothing to indicate whether they're gluten-free. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

2. Confusing clarification

Gluten-free or is it?
Apparently this is legal

Here we have a clearly labelled gluten-free product...that then has a disclaimer about being a factory that handles wheat. This kind of labelling concerns me but apparently it's actually still legal.

A furious debate erupted in a coeliac group when I mentioned it and we were split into two firm camps: those who thought it was entirely fine (and didn't know what the fuss was all about) and those who were nervous. I swerved eating this pudding, but only after buying it (because of the big 'gluten-free' symbol) and spotting the wording at a special Saturday night dinner.

I then had to watch my husband eat both.

3. Too hard to read

Badly printed allergen information
I can make out mustard!

There's nothing like finding a lovely-looking food but not being able to read the bloomin' ingredients. And although seeing a 'gluten-free' sign means you don't have to read on if you're a coeliac, that doesn't mean it's okay for people who have to avoid other allergens.

So what's the worst one I've found? You'll be hard-pressed to find a more badly thought-out packet than B-Free's Pitta Pockets. White text on a clear background? Yep, it's time to start squinting.

4. The foods that should be gluten-free but aren't

Pudding rice may contain wheat
Pudding rice should be okay, right? Wrong!

Two words:



(yep, you've guessed)


Enough to strike fear into the heart of any forlorn coeliac.

Just when you thought the food was safe (because, hey, the ingredients don't mention gluten) you look at the allergen warning and see they've added, "Made in a factory that handles wheat". Even worse, it's often on food that should be naturally gluten-free (like ground almonds or rice).

Grrr. Back on the shelf. The search for food goes on...

5. Complex wording

It's the politician of labelling.

If may contains weren't bad enough, there's the downright odd. Check out the wording on the back of this pack of cherries. What image does it bring to mind? My brain hurts!

Thankfully, there are plenty of brands out there who know how to label things appropriately. And the best of the best will be given a gold crown in this year's new category at the FreeFrom Food Awards: Best Labelling for a FreeFrom Product. You can read more here.

What about you? What have you seen on the backs of food packets that's furrowed your brow? Do share with me on Facebook in Coeliac Haven! (Not joined yet? Quick! Request now and be part of the conversation!)


Hi! Great to have you here...

My name's Ali and I help people on gluten-free diets have a better, easier and healthier lifestyle. 

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