In the United States, there are 4 major organizations that offer gluten free certification for food & supplements. They include Gluten Free Certification Organization (GIG), Beyond Celiac, Gluten Free Food Program (connected to National Celiac Assoc.), and NSF. Many appear unfamilar with NSF, therefore I spent a day touring their Ann Arbor facility, and interviewing their staff.
Who is NSF?
NSF International, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers third party gluten free certification. Originally known as the National Sanitation Foundation, they have been ensuring consumer safety since 1944. In the 50’s they created “standards for the sanitation of soda fountain and luncheonette equipment.” Today they are an international company that tests products for many safety factors.
Where is NSF and What is Their History of Certification?
I recently had the chance to tour their Ann Arbor headquarters. It contains 150,000 square feet of laboratory space. They take the integrity of their work and the privacy of the companies they certify very seriously. Therefore I wasn’t allowed into individual labs. A few times they covered up work stations as we walked past in the hallways.
In 2004, NSF acquired QAI, one of the largest certifying organizations of organic foods and products. QAI had a long history of certification standards, since 1989. NSF created their gluten free certification standards from the organic testing protocols from QAI. In addition, NSF and QAI had gluten free standards of 20 ppm per million long before the FDA did.
What is NSF’s Process for Gluten Free Certification?
There are 5 steps to gaining gluten-free certification through NSF.
1) Application – Companies must submit an application, necessary documents & a signed application.
2) Product Review – NSF reviews the product, which includes product labeling, raw ingredients and the company’s allergen procedures and protocols.
3) Onsite Inspection – A team member travels to the manufacturing plant and visually inspects the premises to make sure all things disclosed in the paperwork are accurate.
4) Sample Testing – Staff take a random product sample while on premises. NSF staff then send back to the lab to verify it contains less than 20 ppm of gluten content.
5) Certification – Once a product is certified, the NSF certification mark can be used on packaging. It is also allowed on advertising literature and on the company website. Certification is an ongoing process. NSF audits businesses every year. Also, they make unannounced visits to verify that companies are maintaining their standards.
How Easy Is It To Get Certified thru NSF?
If you think this is a stringent process, you’re right. Brandon Rudolph, one of the writers of the gluten-free certification protocols, told me that many businesses never get past the second step. As someone with Celiac Disease himself, Brandon fully understands just how important this process is.
Have you seen the NSF certification mark on products? It’s a blue circle with the letter “NSF” written in the center, in white. The NSF gluten-free certification logo also includes a white ring around it with the words “certified gluten-free.” Some products that bear this logo inclue Toffee-Tastic gluten-free girl scout cookies made by Little Brownie Bakers, and Twin Lab children’s Wicked Smart Gummies.
Why Is Third-Party Gluten Free Certification Helpful?
Living with Celiac Disease can cause trust issues when it comes to food. Even though the FDA has finally defined what gluten-free means, it may not always mean that producers (or consumers) understand. Gluten can show up both in ingredient sourcing and in food production.
When we’re trying a new product, we don’t necessarily know the manufacturer personally, or their level of gluten free knowledge. Having a process, audited by an outside organization, we can trust is beneficial. It may make items cost more due to the certification process costs they incure, but I think it’s worth it to keep our health.
But Still Read the Label
Please know that, while certification logos are helpful, these processes aren’t fool proof. Companies sometimes add gluten ingredients to their products, even certified products. (They get recalled. Malt and barley are most often the culprit, or wheat in soy sauce.) Also, brands that are not certified occassionally use the logos without the organization’s permission. At the end of the day, you will always be your best advocate for your health. Read the label.
Read my post entitled, “Gluten Free Defined,” to learn about other third party gluten free certification organizations.
Do you tend to buy certified gluten-free products? What certification marks do you trust? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.