Thursday, May 5, 2011

A piece of gluten-free cake

Jules Shepard & John Forberger building the cake
In the end it was piece of cake that drew Food and Drug Administration attention to the critical need for specific rules for using a gluten-free label on foods.

Make that an 11 foot 2 inch cake assembled before a grass roots crowd of gluten-free enthusiasts in a downtown Washington, D.C. hotel.

Mike Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, told the celiac disease and gluten intolerant audience at the 1in133 cake-building event that he has heard "loud and clear" that they want a definition for gluten free. "We absolutely understand why you are here and why it is important," he said. "We will get it done."

The FDA was supposed to approve a definition by 2008, but it's proposed 20 parts per million gluten-free standard has been in limbo for years. That leaves it up to individuals companies to decide what it means when they use a gluten-free label, from those that use rigorous testing to assure no gluten from cross contamination is in a food or get outside certification that includes testing to others that don't test at all.

Taylor said the delay in an FDA definition comes from a thorough scientific safety evaluation and peer review that has caused the FDA to take a hard look at the proposed 20 ppm cut off for foods labeled gluten free. While 20 ppm is still "on the table," Taylor said the FDA has been investigating whether lower levels should be considered.

When 20 ppm was proposed, the FDA said it was the lowest level for which there were scientifically validated tests that could consistently detect gluten in a wide range of foods. But testing has improved in the past few years, leading the FDA to examine whether it should look at lower levels.

"We want to get it right and we want it to be grounded in science," Taylor said. "This will be the basis for what it safe."

He predicted the FDA in a few weeks will finally release the long-awaited safety evaluation and open it to public comment.

While it's nothing new that release of the safety assessment is the next step in the long, arduous process of  getting a definition for gluten free, Taylor said the clamor for approval now has his attention. "Hopefully this will expedite it," he said.

Credit for the clamor goes to the organizers of the 1in133 cake event, which swelled from email and  Internet conversations between two people with celiac disease who had never met to a movement that has so far generated nearly 9,000 signatures on a petition to the FDA asking for action.

Couldn't resist taking pic with cake
It was all built around the publicity magnet idea of building the tallest gluten-free cake ever. And it was pulled off with spot-on planning and execution by Jules Shepard, owner of a gluten-free flour company in Maryland, and John Forberger, a gluten-free activist from New Jersey, with a little help from a lot of friends. Both could be found straddling icing-spotted eight-foot ladders as they worked feverishly to assemble and ice the tower of a cake right up to the last minute.

There had been a lot of guessing about how tall the cake would turn out to be. In the end it measured 11 feet 2 inches. Since "1in 133" had become such a rallying point for the gluten-free community, cake workers added another inch or so  before they took the cake apart to donate it to a Washington, D.C. soup kitchen.

Final height, appropriately, approximately 11'3.3"

Amy Ratner


Stephanie ODea said...


thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

This was so exciting to witness through the power of social media! I'm proud of everyone who worked so hard to make this effort a reality and honored to be a part of the gluten-free community! Thank you, advocates!

DorianTB said...

As a gluten-sensitive gal who loves to bake, this post put a smile on my face and hope in my heart. Loved the picture of the cake, too!

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Great recap! So sorry I couldn't be there, but so proud of all of you who did make it! It "is a big deal" and it's being recognized as such--woohoo!


Mollie Mahon said...

Seriously, let's get going on a gluten free label! This is an awesome post, I can't wait to pass it on to my friends. I wish I had been there! And in DC!? So close...