How Does GFCO Certify Gluten-Free Food?
Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG)’s mission is to make life easier for everyone living gluten-free. We are a non-profit operated by people and parents of children with celiac disease and gluten-related disorders. Making sure gluten-free food is safe for all of us is our top priority! A key part of making that possible is our GFCO certification.
GFCO is GIG’s product certification program. Every product with the GFCO certification mark is carefully reviewed to make sure that they are safe. Did you know that more than 60,000 products are certified through GFCO? Those numbers are growing every day!
It’s important to note that GFCO does not certify gluten-free brands or manufacturing facilities. GFCO certifies physical products displaying the GFCO certification mark.
The GFCO certification process stands for an 80-step verification process – the GFCO Standard. This process has become the “gold standard’ of gluten-free certification. Here is what is involved in this process!
The Application Process
Any company that makes food, beverages, nutritional products, supplements, or personal care items may apply to have its products certified through GFCO. They submit initial paperwork to let us know who they are, where they work, and how they operate.
The most important part of the application process is the review of the submitted products and their ingredients. Every ingredient used in certified products is reviewed by the GFCO team to make sure it is safe to use in gluten-free products. This involves steps such as:
- Reviewing the culture media of ingredients that are fermented,
- Making sure alcohols made from grains are properly distilled, and
- Ensuring that natural flavors don’t contain yeast extracts grown on barley.
Each ingredient is then assigned a risk factor to let the applicant know if it needs to be tested before it can be used in GFCO-certified products. Most ingredients are low risk and do not require testing such as fats and oils that do not have any protein. All grains are high-risk, and oats receive GFCO’s highest risk level. All high-risk ingredients must be tested per lot, prior to their use in finished products.
For established GFCO brands, we require ongoing regular testing of ingredients, shared equipment, and finished products using approved methodologies. The frequency of testing is affected by the risk level of the product’s ingredients and the risks in the manufacturing facility – like a shared facility. For whole grain products, we also require visual examination for gluten grains, as well as antibody-based testing.
Testing results must be provided to GFCO for review every quarter.
At any point, if there is any gluten detected above 10ppm in a product or its ingredients, GFCO-certified brands must provide those results to the GFCO team immediately, before the product leaves the production facility.
To have confidence that our manufacturers are testing correctly, they must also participate in proficiency testing. Yes, we even test them on how they test their product! This helps to ensure that they are knowledgeable about their testing methods and have the expertise to properly conduct the testing. This is a requirement in the GFCO Standard.
GFCO has developed protocols for addressing potential risks of cross-contact that have been adopted throughout the gluten-free industry. We confirm these steps are followed during annual, in-person audits at every manufacturing facility where GFCO-certified products are made.
These yearly, in-person audits are performed to make sure that each manufacturing facility is following appropriate steps to prevent gluten cross-contact. We check their records and evaluate their processes.
If something does not check out, we take immediate action. We require that every brand follows all steps to maintain each of its product certifications.
Surveillance and Sampling
GFCO also performs random sampling or “surveillance” testing on hundreds of GFCO-certified products each year, from retail stores, online stores, and directly from manufacturer websites. This creates an additional layer of review to help make sure the foods that reach you and your loved ones are safe.
As you can see, a lot of details are involved in the GFCO certification process. We care about your safety. We also have personal stakes in the accurate outcome of every certification. We follow science, use state-of-the-art equipment, and follow carefully developed steps to put safety first.