Have you ever eaten a meal that was totally gluten free? The only honest answer to that question is “I doubt it.” There are no measurement devices able to detect the total absence of gluten. If anyone develops one, it will be a scientific curiosity rather than a useful tool. The experts agree that “free” in this case means “free enough to be safe”.
A food is considered “gluten free” if it contains less than twenty parts-per-million. (FYI: One part-per-million is the equivalent of one inch in sixteen miles or one second in two years.) America’s Food and Drug Administration has not ruled on this subject but seems to be leaning in that direction.
In practical terms, our goal is to do everything we possibly can to reduce our intake of gluten but not to be overly concerned about the few specks of gluten we might be accidentally consuming.
Unfortunately, we need to use the term “gluten free” rather than a more accurate term like “gluten safe” simply because most of the people we are talking to will understand even less well than they do now. A more pressing problem is that the computer search engines tell us the most commonly-used terms, not necessarily the ones that are most accurate. Entering the term “gluten safe” will generate very few responses.
The way we use words affects how we view life, how we make decisions, and how people react to us. I am beginning a series that I am calling “Gluten Free Jargon” which I will publish every-other-day until I run out of terms that cause confusion. My next article will be about the word “gluten” which, believe it or not, means different things to different people.