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Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Gluten Free Certification Organization: Follow Up
A recent thread on the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup message board prompted quite a discussion about the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO). GFCO is a program of the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG). Cynthia Kupper, the Executive Director of GIG, took the time to address our thread and thoroughly answer many of our outstanding questions. Please see her Q&A below.

"I can only address the GFCO program and FDA. My knowledge of the CSA Seal of Recognition program is limited to the information made public through comments provided by CSA to the FDA."

Q: Do you know if GFCO plans to work with other programs, i.e. NFCA's G.R.E.A.T. program, to do trainings and establish standard protocols throughout the collective food industries?

A: GIG and GFCO do work in partnership with various members of the food industry already. Many agencies are working within and with the food industries to provide education and training related to gluten intolerances. Some of us are working together in this effort.

Q: Is it true that only people who work for the Orthodox Union and have no business conflicts are eligible to be trained to be GFCO inspectors?

A: GFCO contracts with third-party auditors, including the Food Services Inc, a part of the OU and other independent auditors who have expertise in manufacturing processes.

C: Right now smaller food companies don't have any easy route to certification from anyone.

R: GFCO's ultimate target is the raw materials suppliers, supplying ingredients to the companies making GF foods. Our goal is to make the food safe from the beginning of the food chain as well as the end product. GFCO works with companies of all sizes and has a small business package. GFCO works with small businesses and new companies to find a way to provide consumer confidence and assurance in their products.

Q: What is the GFCO Process for Certification?

A: Companies who certify with GFCO must complete an application. A risk assessment, independent audit and report are completed. If a company qualifies to be certified, a contract which includes: requirements for onsite testing, random testing from a point of sale; and unannounced plant inspections is signed. GFCO also maintains the right to take action to protect the consumer from fraudulent GFCO claims or Standards violations.

Q: If the FDA comes out with a definition of gluten-free being < 20 ppm, would we then be able to trust any product that declares itself gluten-free even if it is free of a certification label?

A: Yes. Any product labeled GF after the FDA regulation goes into affect will have to meet the standards set by the FDA. 20 ppm is a very safe level for celiacs and it is virtually impossible to consume that level of gluten, based on eating GF products.

Q: Would there still be a purpose to having certification by GFCO or CSA?

A: Yes. Certification is voluntary, as is labeling a product GF. Companies who certify their products believe in meeting higher standards and welcome third party oversight. External oversight is healthy and provides a higher level of accountability for manufacturers. Let?s face it, the FDA is understaffed and will not be able to provide adequate oversight for all companies.

C: The two companies out there CSA and GFCO do not make it convenient, easy, or cost-effective for small companies and almost impossible for non-dedicated facilities.

R: GFCO does work with small companies to make certification cost-effective. The challenge is to also make the program cover its own expenses. Companies who understand the value of third-party certification for organic or kosher also understand the value of GF certification. The overall cost of certification is pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, certification may be out of the reach of small companies just getting started?but call GFCO?you may be surprised what can be done.

It is possible to certify non-dedicated facilities! There are a number of factors that go into certifying products in non-dedicated facilities, but it is do-able. GFCO audits and consults with co-packers on a regular basis. Many GF products are safely produced in non-dedicated facilities at no detectible gluten in their products.

Q: What about testing methods?

A: the Haven Flow-through is just one testing method available. Some are based on Skarrett and others on r-5 sandwich Elisa methodology. It is the r-5 that is being supported by CODEX. At this time we do not know what the FDA will use. There is on-going debate in the analytical community about the need for using both methods rather than just one. Each has its strengths and weaknesses when seeing specific gluten proteins. GFCO uses both methods.

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