Gluten-Free Travel to Europe: To Know Before You Go

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in Celiac, Travel & Dining
Published: May 30, 2019
Photo: Getty

This sidebar on gluten-free food labeling, celiac disease associations and language aides, accompanies Allergic Living’s Guide to Gluten-free Travel in Europe.

Gluten-Free Food Labeling

European regulations require 14 top allergens to be labeled on foods. Importantly for  the celiac traveler, these include gluten-containing cereals (spelt, kamut, rye, barley and non-GF oats). Europe uses the Codex Alimentarius international food standards, which allow “gluten-free” claims only for foods that contain less than 20 mg/kg (20 parts per million) of gluten. The standard aligns with the FDA’s “gluten-free” definition, and is in place across Europe.

Some products may contain unfamiliar ingredients, such as gluten-free wheat starch. Keep in mind, if the product is labeled gluten-free in Europe, it must have tested less than 20 ppm for gluten.

Watch out for labels that say “very low gluten.” This is a newer European standard for products with no more than 100 mg/kg (100 ppm) of gluten. This level may work for some diets, but this is above the safe threshold for those of us with celiac disease.

Language Helpers 

In addition to learning “please” “thank you,” and “where is?” in the local language, be sure to memorize phrases such as “gluten-free” and “I have celiac disease” or “I am celiac” (a common phrase in Europe).

An essential tool to carry is a gluten-free translation card. Websites such as Celiactravel.com have free downloadable cards in 60 languages, while Allergy Translation or Select Wisely websites let you buy customized cards for your food intolerances and allergies.

A great smartphone tool is the Google Translate app, which allows you to hover your camera above a menu or a package’s ingredients and get an English translation on your screen. You can also type English into the app and get a translation to show a server. Keep an eye out for other helpful travel apps. (Be sure to get an international phone plan or local SIM card.)

Celiac Associations

Almost every European country has an association, which are an absolute must for the gluten-free traveler. In particular, the Federation of Associations of Celiacs of Spain (FACE at Celiacos.org) is a wealth of information, including a guide to GF packaged goods in Spain, regional restaurants and their FACEMOVIL smartphone app to help you navigate gluten-free.

The Coeliac UK website is full of travel tips and has a list of restaurant groups and hotels that have earned gluten-free accreditation.

Online Resources

UK: Coeliac.org
Ireland: Coeliac.ie
Italy: Celiachia.it
Spain: Celiacos.org
Full list of AOECS websites: aoecs.org/members

Erin Smith is a gluten-free blogger and advocate. Learn more about her travels at Glutenfreeglobetrotter.com. First published in Allergic Living magazine; learn about the new e-magazine here.