Coeliac Disease the Gluten Free Diet: Food Sense - Labelling and Shopping

Coeliac disease food sense, about the gluten-free diet: labelling and shopping. See below for 2 tables of safe and non-safe foods.

The key aspect of successful, long-term management of coeliac disease (CD) is a diet free from gluten. When you are diagnosed you should be referred to a dietitian – or a paediatric dietitian in the case of a child. However, there may be a delay before your first consultation, so you will need to try to get to grips with the basics of the gluten-free diet (GFD) right away.

The gluten-free diet

A GFD is a diet that excludes the following gluten-containing grains:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • rye.

It also excludes:

  • all varieties of wheat (e.g. durum, einkorn, emmer, kamut, spelt)
  • all forms of wheat (e.g. bran, bulgur, couscous, rusk, semolina, wheat protein, wheat starch, wheatgerm)
  • hybrids of the gluten grains, such as triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid)
  • some oats and oat products.

So the gluten-free diet must exclude all products containing the grains listed above and all products containing ingredients derived from them – with very few exceptions. It therefore excludes, for example, ordinary breads, pastas, cakes, biscuits, many cereals, and manyflour-containing products and pre-prepared meals.

The GFD includes all fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, non-gluten grains, meats, fish, natural dairy products and eggs, and products and ingredients derived only from these foods.

The wheat problem

Although there are several grains you need to avoid, it is wheat that you’ll encounter most regularly. It is widespread in the Western diet, partly because flour-based products such as breads and pastas are staples, and partly because of wheat’s additional role as a stabilizer, thickener or ‘filler’ in processed foods. It may be used to ‘dust’ products and prevent them clumping together, and can turn up in surprising places. Wheat-based or wheat-containing products may include:

  • most flours, breads and baked products – both sweet and savoury
  • many cereals
  • most pastas, some noodles
  • processed meat and fish products – burgers, pies, sausages, pâtés and battered products such as fish fingers 
  • processed vegetarian products – battered vegetables, pâtés, some tinned soups
  • some processed dairy products, such as cheese spreads, thickened milks and creams
  • confectionery, including chocolate bars, cereal bars, sweets, chewing gum and liquorice
  • miscellaneous products such as stock cubes, gravy granules, condiments and blended seasonings.

Food and drink labelling

Because so many foods may contain gluten, you will need to master the art of reading their labels. Labels on pre-packed products contain vast amounts of information, much of which many people ignore, or misunderstand, or both. As a coeliac, you cannot afford to do either.

Some information is required by law; some is optional. Compulsory information includes the food’s name, a list of its ingredients, its weight or volume, its use-by or best-before date, and contact details of the manufacturers – although there are occasional exceptions. Nutritional information is required when health-related claims are made (e.g. ‘this is a low-fat product’).

Optional information includes serving suggestions, recipes, nutritional information (when no health claims are made), recommended dietary guidelines, and allergy statements or boxes.


The ingredients listing is arguably the most useful section. It presents all ingredients used deliberately in the product’s manufacture, in descending order of weight.

The list obviously includes all whole foods. These include names of vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts, for instance. It also includes ingredients derived from whole foods, and whose sources may not be provided or immediately obvious (e.g. ‘vinegar’ or ‘sugar’).

Further, the list also may include general collective terms, the details of which may not be supplied or clear either (e.g. ‘flavourings’ or ‘spices’) and of course any additives and colourings, possibly as E numbers.

And then there are compound ingredients, which may themselves have their own ingredients, sometimes given in brackets [e.g. ‘salami (contains pork, salt, spices, seasonings)’].


According to European legislation, certain foods must always be named on the ingredients list – not only when they are present as whole foods, but also when they have been used to manufacture an ingredient or are found in a composite or collective ingredient.

There are 14 such foods or food groups. They are all examples of food allergens. These are foods that trigger food allergies. The best known is peanut, a food allergen that can trigger an allergic reaction in 1–2 per cent of the population.

Although CD is not a food allergy, for clarity and simplicity gluten is often referred to as a food allergen too, and gluten-containing grains are one of the 14 that must be labelled as such.

All the foods and ingredients have been chosen on the basis that they are the most commonly and dangerously problematic ones for people who react to foods. The full list is:

  1. celery (and celeriac)
  2. cereal grains containing gluten – barley, kamut, oats, rye, spelt and wheat, or their hybridized strains
  3. crustaceans (e.g. crab, lobster, prawn)
  4. eggs
  5. fish
  6. lupin
  7. milk (including milk sugar, or lactose)
  8. molluscs (e.g. mussel, snail, squid)
  9. mustard
  10. nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, walnuts)
  11. peanuts
  12. sesame seeds
  13. soya beans
  14. sulphur dioxide and sulphites.

To give an example of a food being used to manufacture an ingredient, let’s take ‘sugar’.

The source of ‘sugar’ as an ingredient does not need to be specified as ‘cane sugar’ or ‘beet sugar’, because neither cane nor beet is on the list of 14 allergens. However, malt vinegar, produced from barley, must say so. This may be represented, for example, as ‘malt vinegar (from barley)’. Another example might be ‘couscous (wheat)’.


There are some exemptions to this legislation, to allow for derivatives of the 14 allergens that have undergone so much processing or refining that they are no longer considered a threat. As far as the gluten grains are concerned, these exemptions are:

  • wheat-based or barley-based glucose syrups, including dextrose
  • wheat-based maltodextrins
  • cereals used for distillates and spirits in alcoholic beverages.

These are all considered safe for coeliacs. In practice, some manufacturers may declare the source grain – for example, by printing ‘wheat dextrose’ or ‘maltodextrin (from wheat)’ or ‘distilled vinegar (from barley)’ – but this does not mean you need to avoid it.

Note that a single-ingredient product, such as a packet of rye, does not need to carry an ingredients listing, as this is considered obvious.

Allergy information and alert boxes

Although not a legal requirement, many food manufacturers are now adding allergy information boxes to their products. These serve as at-a-glance alerts to the inclusion of any of the 14 allergens – and they emphasize and repeat their presence in the ingredients listing.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that if such a box is used, it should mention each of any of the 14 allergens present. For example, if a product declares wheat and peanuts in its ingredients, any box should state ‘Contains wheat and peanuts’ – and not just ‘Contains peanuts’ (unless the ingredient is an exemption, as above).

However, this recommendation is only ‘good practice’ and not a legal requirement.

As useful as the allergy box can be, then, do not base a decision about a food’s safety solely on it. A good rule of thumb is this: use an allergy box to exclude a food if wheat, rye or barley is mentioned. In their absence, check elsewhere as well.

Ingredient checklist

Ingredients can read more like a list of laboratory chemicals than foods, and you can’t be expected to understand all of them.

Table 1  Gluten-free diet - safe and non-safe ingredients
Safe ingredients  Not gluten free
Artificial sweetener Barley
Aspartame Barley flour
Carrageenan Barley malt, malted barley
Caramel Barley malt extract or flavouring (unless product complies with Codex standard
Cellulose Modified wheat starch
Codex wheat starch Oats, oatbran, oatmeal (unless confirmed gluten-free
Corn flour / malt / starch Rye
Dextrin Rye flakes
Dextrose Rye flour
Distilled vinegar (all) Wheat
Glucose, glucose syrup Wheat bran
Guar gum Wheat flakes
Hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) Wheat protein
Isomalt Wheat rusk
Maize, maize starch Wheat starch (unless it is Codex wheat starch)
Methyl cellulose  
Modified starch  
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)  
Rice malt or rusk  
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)  
Xanthan gum  

May contain …’ and other warnings

Examples of so-called advisory or ‘defensive’ labelling include ‘may contain traces of wheat’ or ‘made in a factory which also handles wheat’.

Such labelling may be used by manufacturers for two reasons: to warn the public that wheat (or other allergens, often nuts), although not intentionally added, might have accidentally contaminated a product or one or more of its ingredients somewhere along the harvesting, transporting or manufacturing line; and also to disclaim any liability should a customer suffer a severe reaction.

Manufacturers are advised that advisory labelling should be used only when, following a risk assessment, they believe there is a real risk of cross-contamination.

Coeliac UK says that it can contact manufacturers to talk through the risk, and it does sometimes list such products in its annual handbook, the Food and Drink Directory following discussions with the manufacturers about the production facility and measures to minimize cross-contamination. If you’re concerned, contact the charity or the manufacturer for information about suitability. It may well be that the product is all right.

Alcoholic beverages

Alcoholic drinks of greater than 1.2 per cent strength are subject to less strict labelling regulations, and an ingredients list is optional. However, any of the key food allergens must be declared in the name of the product, in a list of ingredients or in an allergy statement or box. In practice, this will usually apply only to brewed drinks – that is, all beers – given that spirits distilled from gluten cereals, such as whisky, are gluten-free (GF) and exempt from such labelling. Most beers will be off-limits to coeliacs, then, but increasing numbers of GF beers are becoming available. For alcoholic drinks weaker than 1.2 per cent, standard labelling regulations apply.

Gluten labelling and Codex standards

The FSA says: ‘There is no requirement for gluten itself to be indicated in the ingredient list but if manufacturers choose to use an allergy information/alert box it would be best practice to declare both gluten and the name of the cereal.’

In other words, where you may only see ‘wheat’ in the ingredients list, you are likely to see something such as ‘gluten (from wheat)’ or ‘contains wheat gluten’ in the allergy box, if one is included.

But how is the absence of gluten conveyed?

European legislation passed in January 2009 set out strict standards for the use of terms on products that do not contain gluten, and specified that manufacturers comply to these standards by January 2012 (most are expected to be compliant from 2011). They have been brought in for consistency and to help coeliacs manage their risk of exposure to gluten more confidently. Note that these particular rules apply to both pre-packed and non-pre-packed foods alike, and foods from restaurants and other outlets as well.

These vital new standards are known as the Codex standards for gluten, named after an international body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, created 50 years ago to set up food guidelines.


In practice, it is difficult for manufacturers to achieve an absolute ‘zero’ level of gluten in their products – and even if they could, zero levels are impossible to confirm by laboratory analysis.

Any products whose ingredients have been processed to remove gluten will usually have residual traces of it – as will some other foods that are naturally free of gluten but that may pick up trace contamination during production processes.

Research suggests that coeliacs can tolerate foods containing up to 20 parts of gluten per million (20 p.p.m. – or 0.002 per cent), with no damage to their mucosal lining or side effects.

Manufacturers can make a ‘gluten-free’ claim for any product they sell or serve if they can demonstrate that it meets this criterion.

‘Very low gluten’

Products containing between 20 and 100 parts of gluten per million (20–100 p.p.m.) can be labelled ‘very low gluten’ according to the standards. This is more common on products available in northern Europe, and applies to foods whose ingredients have been processed to remove gluten only – not ‘normal’ foods that happen to be naturally free from gluten, for which a ‘very low gluten’ claim cannot be made.

Gluten at these levels may cause health problems for some coeliacs, so it is not intended that food in this category be consumed in large amounts, but they are probably safe at least occasionally for many.

‘Suitable for coeliacs’ and ‘suitable for most coeliacs’

These labels may be used to supplement ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’ claims, respectively – but they cannot be used without them. Alternative phrasing – ‘suitable for those on a gluten-free diet’ – may occasionally be seen. Coeliac UK’s Crossed Grain logo, depicting a line through an ear of wheat, can be used for the same purpose and under the same conditions, if manufacturers purchase rights to use the symbol. Some supermarkets use their own, similar logos.

gluten-free diet - the crossed grain logo of Coeliac UK

Figure 1 The Crossed Grain logo of Coeliac UK. Registered trademark to CUK
‘No gluten-containing ingredients’

If a food manufacturer or food outlet is unable to confirm ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’ status for a product – i.e. that it contains 100 p.p.m. of gluten or less – it can instead declare that it does not contain any gluten-containing ingredients, provided that it has ensured reasonable steps against unacceptable levels of contamination (steps that it may explain on the label, or make available via leaflets or on its website).

In such cases, claims about suitability for coeliacs or the quantity of gluten present cannot be made, and it is up to individual coeliacs to judge the likelihood of contamination based on available information and any more they can obtain.

Note that because the revised 2009 Codex standard reduced the permissible level of gluten from a previous standard of 200 p.p.m., there may be some foods that were previously able to make a gluten-related claim that from 2012 will no longer be able to. Such foods might, potentially, then carry the ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’ statement instead. If you have been eating such a product without problem, it is likely you will be able to carry on – but it is worth checking with the manufacturer or Coeliac UK. In some cases the advice may be to swap to an alternative, confirmed ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’ product.

‘May contain gluten’

Manufacturers are advised not to use a ‘may contain gluten’ warning on a product that contains a gluten-containing ingredient (such as barley malt flavouring) but that is able to meet either a ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’ standard, because this could be misleading.

Remember in this case that wheat, rye or barley will have to be mentioned in the ingredients listing, according to food allergen labelling legislation. This is to alert people with a wheat, rye or barley allergy, as opposed to CD. 

Additionally, say the FSA, ‘Where there is no deliberate gluten-containing ingredient in products labelled as “gluten-free”, it is best practice not to use a “may contain gluten” statement.’ 

A question of malt

Malt refers to cereal grains, usually barley, that have been sprouted and then heated and dried. Barley malt or malted barley is not suitable for coeliacs.

The sugar-rich syrup derived from malted grains is called malt extract and its flavouring is malt flavouring. Barley malt extract and barley malt flavouring each contain small amounts of gluten. They are used mainly in breakfast cereals, but also in other foods such as ice creams. Neither is exempt from food labelling and so must always be declared, and ‘barley’ may appear in an allergy alert box too.

However, in some cereal brands it is used in such small amounts that total gluten levels are below the Codex standard, and therefore considered safe for coeliacs. Coeliac UK devotes a special page to such cereals in their Food and Drink Directory. (In this case, the barley may not be declared in the allergy box, as that might confuse consumers.)

Some specialist ‘free-from’ producers make breakfast cereals such as corn flakes using rice malt or without malt at all.

Some products, such as malted drinks and malt beer, use high levels of malt products and these are unsafe.

Malt vinegar is made from barley malt, which is fermented twice – first to produce a kind of ale, and then to convert it to vinegar. It is used in pickles, condiments and sauces, and like malt extract must be declared. It contains only trace quantities of gluten, and as it is used in such small amounts, it is safe for all but the most sensitive coeliacs.

Malt whisky is safe.

‘Wheat-free’ and ‘free from wheat’

This declaration does not necessarily mean free from gluten: the product could contain rye or barley, for example. Sometimes, it is used inappropriately on products containing spelt, which is a form of wheat.


For the purposes of allergy-labelling legislation, oats are considered gluten grains. However, evidence suggests that the ‘gluten’ in oats (called avenin) is not toxic to most people with CD.

It is thought that reactions to oats are more likely to be due to contamination from wheat flour, occurring at some point during harvesting, milling or transportation. Some manufacturers of oats will make a declaration on their products – ‘produced in a factory also handling wheat’ – telling you that they could be contaminated.

Because single-ingredient products don’t need to have an ingredient listing, and because allergy boxes are optional, a packet of oats need not carry any additional information other than its name.

Accordingly, pure and uncontaminated oats manufactured or processed under strict conditions can make a ‘gluten-free’ claim if they meet Codex standards. Coeliac UK lists such oats and oat-containing cereals in its Food and Drink Directory.

Any products using oats as an ingredient and making a ‘gluten-free’ or ‘very low gluten’ claim must use oats that meet the Codex standard too.

Food shopping

Shopping for a GFD can be frustrating and time-consuming, but the situation is improving, with increased ‘coeliac awareness’ of manufacturers, improved labelling protocols and the wider availability of GF foods.

Just been diagnosed? Plan carefully for your first major shop, and go when you have time to devote to it, perhaps during a quiet period when you won’t feel stressed. Draw up a list: if you forget to buy a specialist GF product at a major supermarket, you may not be able to find it at your local store. It is important to understand labelling basics before you set off. If you do the bulk of your shopping at the supermarket you can continue to do so: it’s unlikely you’ll have to change your routine drastically.

The ingredients for everyday GF meals – baked potatoes and beans, rice dishes, ‘meat and two veg’, homemade vegetable soups – will probably be on your menu, but don’t be afraid to try new naturally GF foods.

Been diagnosed a while? Perhaps you’re stuck in a rut of eating the same old meals, and haven’t evaluated your diet for some time? Again, consider investing more time at your supermarket and other, smaller food stores. You may be surprised at the quantity of alternative and GF food now available.

Food directories

Coeliac UK’s annual Food and Drink Directory lists around 10,000 safe products and is an invaluable guide. Updated every January, it is divided into sections: prescription products, ‘free-from’ products, everyday products and supermarket own-brand products. Monthly updates are made available via various means.

It is not exhaustive. Not all companies are willing or able to provide the information required by the charity – even those whose products carry confirmation that they are suitable for coeliacs. Therefore, products not listed in the Food and Drink Directory may well be safe. It is important to read labels and, if necessary, it may be worth ringing the manufacturers’ helplines for advice. Many manufacturers and smaller supermarkets whose products do not appear in the Food and Drink Directory can send you lists of safe foods.

The Coeliac Society of Ireland produce the Food List, the Irish equivalent of the Food and Drink Directory.

‘Free-from’ foods

So-called ‘free-from’ foods are foods manufactured to be free from one or more commonly problematic food allergens that would normally be expected to be present in the food. Usually, this means gluten-free, dairy-free or wheat-free – but egg-free, nut-free and soya-free foods are increasingly popular too.

It is these foods on which you’re most likely to find the term ‘gluten-free’, and many of them feature in Section 1 of the Food and Drink Directory. Many supermarkets also have lists of their own-brand ‘free-from’ foods, which they can send you by post or email.

The ‘free-from’ sector boomed during the late ‘noughties’ (the years from 2000 to 2009), with huge year-on-year growth, and many manufacturers now specialize in these niche ranges. Supermarkets, pharmacies and health-food stores stock a range of such products, and in larger branches you’ll find ‘free-from’ sections devoted to foods for restricted diets, including many own-brand foods. Smaller independent stores may also stock them, and will boast more unusual offerings.

It hasn’t always been like this. As recently as the early part of the millennium, the selection was pretty grim for coeliacs, with poor-quality breads, which were heavy and grey-tinged and easily fell apart – never mind the odd taste. Now, some of the breads are light, tasty and barely discernible from standard loaves. Then there’s the sheer variety: baguettes, ciabattas, rolls, pittas, white, brown, stoneground, multi-grain . . . And it’s not just breads: there are abundant GF biscuits, cakes, desserts, flapjacks, noodles, pastas, sandwich wraps, pastries, fish fingers, sausage rolls, pizza bases . . .

Growth is predicted to plateau in the second decade of the century, but innovation and continued demand is likely to keep the market buoyant, as CD diagnoses and interest in the GF lifestyle continue to rise and stronger competition drives further The Coeliac Society of Ireland produce the Food List, the Irish equivalent of the Food and Drink Directory. improvement. New technologies – improved methods for ‘deglutenizing’, for instance – and the bolder use of more exotic GF grains – such as teff and quinoa – hold only promise for the present and future coeliac gourmet.

Such is the interest in the ‘free-from’ sector that it even has its own awards – the annual Free From Food Awards. Begun in 2008 by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, editor of food allergy and intolerance portal, winners and nominees have, in recent years, included such innovative products as teff bread flour, cheesebread mix, Victoria sponges, falafel mix, chickpea spaghetti and pastry cases.


There are downsides to ‘free-from’ foods, though.

  1. First, they can be a little dearer, given that development costs and production methods are more expensive and difficult.
  2. Second, they’re not always the healthiest of products. Some can be heavily sweetened and processed and may require a host of additives and preservatives. They’re terrific in helping you make the transition to the GFD after diagnosis when everything is confusing and you may be fearful of what you can or can’t eat, but it’s probably wise not to come to rely on them too much in the long term.
  3. Third, manufacturers are occasionally guilty of making an in-appropriate virtue of their ‘free-from’ status – products proclaiming ‘allergy-friendly’ should be treated with the same caution as any other food you’re evaluating. A wheat-free product may be friendly to someone with a wheat intolerance, but it may also be hostile to a coeliac if it has rye or barley in it. No food is ever wholly ‘allergy-friendly’; it depends entirely on the consumer, not the product.

Table 2 below gives a checklist of safe foods, foods that must be checked, and foods that are not gluten-free.

Table 2  Gluten free diet table  Food checklist of safe, must be checked and not gluten-free foods. This table is intended as a guideline to safe and unsafe foods – and foods that usually need to be checked. Never use this list independently of careful reading of the label – which you must always do – because occasional exceptions arise and recipes and production methods change.


Must be checked

Not gluten-free

Grains, flours, starches

Rice, corn and maize, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, amaranth, teff

Flours and starches made from these grains – such as polenta (cornmeal) – from soya, chickpeas (gram), lentils and chestnut, and from tapioca (cassava), potatoes and other root vegetables (but see right)

Pure oats

Grains, flours, starches

Some flours produced from gluten-free grains (see left) may be contaminated if milled alongside gluten-containing grains

Oats and oat products

Grains, flours, starches

Wheat (including wheatgerm, bran, bulgur, durum, semolina, couscous, spelt, kamut), rye, barley, triticale, contaminated oats

All ordinary flours and flours made from the above grains

Pasta and noodles

Pastas and noodles from the above grains and flours, including pure corn pasta and rice or buckwheat noodles

Specialist GF pastas

Pasta and noodles

Some buckwheat noodles or spaghetti may contain wheat

Pasta and noodles

Italian pastas and wheat noodles

Bakery products

Baked goods made from above grains and flours

GF bread, biscuits and cakes

Bakery products

Meringues and macaroons

Baking powder

Corn tortilla wraps

Bakery products

All ordinary breads, pizzas, biscuits and cakes

Breakfast cereals

GF cereals and muesli mix

Pure GF oats

Breakfast cereals

Corn flakes, rice pops and other malted cereals 

Oats and oat mueslis

All other cereals not labelled GF and not clearly wheat-based

Breakfast cereals

All wheat-based cereals (Shredded Wheat, bran flakes)

Meat and fish

All fresh, frozen, smoked and cured pure meats

All fish and shellfish

Pure tinned fish

Meat and fish

Meat and fish pâtés and pastes

Sausages, smoked sausage and salamis


Prepared meat and fish dishes and ready meals

Tinned meats


Crabsticks and seafood sticks


Meat and fish

Meat and fish products in batter or breadcrumbs

Meat and fish pies and pasties

Fishcakes and fish fingers


Vegetables, fruit and nuts

All vegetables and fruit

Vegetable oils and fats

All nuts and seeds and their oils, such as peanut, hazelnut, sesame, sunflower, hemp

Pure ground almonds

Vegetables, fruit and nuts

Prepared salads

Ready-made potato products (e.g. instant mash, waffles, chips)

Tinned soups and vegetables

Fruit fillings

Roasted nuts and seed or trail mixes

Vegetables, fruit and nuts

Breaded vegetables and tempura

Vegetarian pâtés

Dairy products and eggs

Milk, yoghurt, cream, butter, unprocessed cheese


Dairy products and eggs

Thickened milks and creams

Processed, spreadable or cream cheeses

Coffee whiteners

Dairy products and eggs

Scotch eggs

Vegetarian and vegan foods

Plain tofu and bean curd


Vegetarian proteins


Vegetarian and vegan foods

Veggie burgers

Soya-based products

Ready-made vegetarian products

Flavoured or marinated tofu

Vegetable and nut milks (e.g. soya, hazelnut milk)

Soya desserts

Vegetable suet

Vegetarian and vegan foods

Oat milk


Fruit and vegetable juices

Teas, coffees

Wine, spirits, cider, GF beers


Drinking chocolate

Herbal teas

Cloudy drinks

Cola drinks

Coffee substitutes


Ordinary beers, ales and lagers

Malted drinks

Barley waters


Rice cakes and crackers

Natural popcorn


Crisps and related savoury snacks

Tortilla chips




Honey, jam, marmalade, sugar syrups (treacle, molasses)

Yeast spreads


Nut butters

Lemon curd


Sauces and seasonings

Vinegar (including malt)

Herbs, pure spices, garlic, salt and pepper

Sauces and seasonings

Stock and stock cubes, bouillon

Packet sauces, jarred sauces

Relishes, mustard products, marinades

Mayonnaise and salad cream

Blended seasonings

Curry powder, mix and sauce

Japanese soy sauce

Worcestershire sauce

Sauces and seasonings

Chinese soy sauce

Sweets and desserts



Most dark chocolate



Sweets and desserts

Chocolate products


Ice creams

Ready-made desserts


Custard powders



Sweets and desserts

Semolina puddings

Ice cream cones and wafers

Other foods

Plenty of foods not specifically aimed at coeliacs will of course be suitable. Some may not make a gluten-specific declaration because the manufacturers can’t afford or do not wish to pay for rigorous testing or the Crossed Grain symbol.

Thousands of such foods are listed in section 2 of the Food and Drink Directory – divided between branded foods and supermarket own-brands.

Product recalls and food alerts

Mistakes can occur in food manufacturing. Products can be mislabelled, or can get contaminated with food allergens and find their way on to the shelf before the error is detected. When noticed, though, the food industry leaps into action, and there are several ways in which messages will be conveyed to consumers.

Manufacturers may take out advertising in national newspapers, explaining the nature of the problem, the batch number or product code of affected foods, and advice on what to do if you have bought the product. Their websites will also carry the warning, and many issue email newsletters to customers – so if you come to rely on certain companies’ products, register with them or subscribe to their bulletins. (These tend to apply more often to nut contaminations, owing to the sometimes life-threatening nature of nut allergies.)

Read any conspicuous signs in supermarkets, recalling products, which may be located at checkouts or customer service counters or where the products in question are stocked.

Coeliac UK’s website carries all product recalls issued that are of concern to coeliacs. The FSA issues food alerts, including allergen alerts. Click to , where you can read and register to receive them.

Non-pre-packed food

The grey area remains non-pre-packed food sold loose at bakeries, salad bars, butchers and deli counters, for instance. Contamination may be a possibility here, by virtue of close storage, handling, or a ‘wandering’ spoon or knife. Cheese products may be sliced on or alongside machinery also used to slice, say, breaded ham, transferring contaminants between the two. If you can’t be confidently reassured by staff, it is best to avoid such foods.

The new gluten standards do apply to non-pre-packed foods, so any that do meet these standards will be permitted to carry the ‘gluten-free’ message on the counter. However, many will be unable to meet the stricter standards that will be in place by 2012, and might instead make statements such as ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’. Again, you must check with staff whether you can be reassured enough that the product is safe.

International foods

Although wheat is the dominant grain and source of starchy carbohydrate in Western society and cuisine, it isn’t in many overseas food cultures, in which it may be used much less frequently. Markets, stores and delicatessens devoted to international cuisines can offer an eye-opening array of foods for you to explore, albeit perhaps when you are feeling more adventurous and settled into GF life. Check out Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, Mexican mesquite flour, Korean sweet potato vermicelli, Chinese bean curd noodles, Vietnamese tapioca sticks . . .

Shopping online

The major supermarkets now act as internet retailers too and their sites allow you either to tick a ‘free-from’ box in order to filter out non-‘free-from’ foods and/or specify GF, or to enter ‘gluten’ in a search string, which should reveal available GF foods. Ingredients for items are shown and many carry allergy-related information too. Even has branched into selling GF products.

The advantages of shopping this way are clear: it’s time-saving, you can browse at leisure at all hours and you can buy long-lasting and heavy food products in bulk and have them delivered.

Weighed against this must be delivery costs, and perhaps having to plan ahead what you want to eat over coming weeks. It’s also not quite the same as browsing and examining a product close-up – unless you’ve bought the product before, it’s not always easy to know what you’re getting.

Online ‘free-from’ retailers, specializing in products for all those on restricted diets, are thriving. Check deliveries carefully when they arrive, though, as mistakes can happen.

Online ‘cottage’ industries

There has been remarkable growth in the number of small, often home-based or family-run businesses, operating mostly online, whose ‘shop front’ is essentially their website’s home page.

Many are owned and staffed by coeliacs, who understand the needs of those on the GFD all too well. Quality is usually high. Products are often hand-made, using mostly natural and sometimes locally sourced ingredients, low in additives. Some offer personal and ‘bespoke’ services – for instance, cakes for special celebrations, incorporating other dietary needs too (e.g. soya-free, nut-free).

Many are so small-scale, though, that they may not be able to afford tests needed to demonstrate they meet the Codex standards for gluten labelling, even if the ingredients they use do meet them, and they maintain a working environment free from gluten. Word of mouth and online chat forums are a great way to source recommendations.

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Gluten-free diet - eating and dining