What is the Gluten Codex Alimentarius?

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 to develop food standards and guidelines to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair trade food practices.

Since creation the Codex Alimentarius, also known as the food code, has become the global reference point for consumers, food producers/processors, food control agencies, and the international food trade.

Food code origins

Assyrian tablets and Egyptian scrolls have been found describing methods to be used for correct weights, measures, and even labelling of foods. The Romans inspected their beer and wines for purity, having established a food control system to protect consumers in ancient Athens. In the Middle Ages, Europe also passed laws for quality of food and drink products, e.g. the German Reinheitsgebot in 1516 for beer purity.

During the latter part of the 19th Century food chemistry became recognised as a way of determining the purity of a food. This allowed detection of hazardous chemicals or other substances often used to adulterate food or drink.

By the early 20th Century there were many independent food quality standards existing with different countries all adopting different standards. However, it was desirable to have one constant standard that all countries could adopt and so the Codex Alimentarius Commission was established.

Gluten Codex Alimentarius

Codex Standard CXS 118-1979 applies to foods for special dietary uses that have been formulated, processed, or prepared to meet the special dietary needs of people intolerant to gluten.

Food labeled "gluten free" may not contain wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut, or crossbreed varieties with a gluten level exceeding 20 parts per million (ppm). The gluten codex alimentarius initially adopted in 1981 was higher but revised in 2008 to the lower level of 20 ppm.

Important for wheat allergy or wheat intolerance sufferers to note: Foods containing wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut, or crossbreed varieties that have been specifically processed to remove gluten to levels not exceeding 20 ppm can be considered "gluten free" according to the Gluten Codex Alimentarius. Read the full codex - CXS 118-1979, Standard for Foods for Special Dietary Use for Persons Intolerant to Gluten. But they will still contain wheat, albeit with the gluten "washed" out.

To put 20 ppm into perspective, 20 ppm of gluten is equivalent to 20 milligrams (mg) of gluten per kilogram or per litre of product (or 0.0007 ounces per 2.2 pounds of product). Determination of gluten levels is made using tests such as the ELISA Systems Gluten Assay, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

For more information on Codex Alimentarius visit Codex Alimentarius International Food Standards.

The information on this page is not to be taken as medical advice