Given the length of this section, feel free to skip ahead to the specific information that you may require.

Awareness Level of Celiac Disease and Gluten varies highly across Europe
Fool-Proof Gluten-free Safe Foods
Shopping for Processed Food on a Gluten-free Diet in Europe and in Germany
Recognizing Allergens in Processed Foods
The Legal Definition of Gluten-free in the EU
What about Gluten-free Shopping with Safe Lists from the Local Celiac Assocation?
What if I need to take medicine?
Recognizing Gluten in Alcoholic Products
Trace Declaration
When you should take the Trace Declaration Seriously?

Awareness Level of Celiac Disease and Gluten varies highly across Europe

You can safely travel gluten-free to Europe – and in this section you will find information on how to shop beyond the certified gluten-free products.

The gluten-free options in the UK, in Spain, the Netherlands and in Italy rank among the best in Europe and probably in the world (aside from the US, where they tell me some areas, like California and Seattle, have grown into a gluten-free paradise). In all of these countries the average Joe and Jane is quite gluten-aware and knows where it is found. Many have also at least heard about contamination and how to avoid it, a huge perk when travelling to these countries.

Scandinavia is also a great place to travel on a gluten-free diet, as there is high awareness of celiac disease in these countries – unless you are allergic to wheat or oats. Sember Gluten-free Oats Crisp BreadScandinavian celiacs relies heavily on gluten-free wheat starch and gluten-free oats, something not every celiac digests well.

Fria Gluten-free Wheat-Starch Based Cinnamon Rolls

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Fool-Proof Gluten-free Safe Foods

In Europe, when a product doesn’t carry a list of ingredients it means you have a plain product (e.g. milk) and that the name on the packaging is sufficient for the consumer to recognize what is contained in it.

So, these are your staple safe foods: plain fruits and vegetables and plain dairy products (such as milk or plain yoghurt) or raw products that you have to cook yourself, such as kidney or garbanzo beans in which you could recognize and pick out glutinous grains if any got lots within a package.

Ready-made Vegetable in Packages

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Shopping for Processed Food on a Gluten-free Diet in Europe and in Germany

Of course you’re not going to live off bread, pasta and cookies alone while travelling on the road. You will require all sorts of other products, some of them processed.

Recognizing Allergens in Processed Foods

The EU has a somewhat transparent food labelling law, which requires food manufacturers and other businesses to label a total of fourteen of the most common allergens, among them gluten, in their products. (For more information on this law and what is included in the list of fourteen allergens, check with the EU directly.)

EU law states that if a product contains one of the fourteen allergens, it must be declared in the list of ingredients, in bold writing. This is legally binding and companies have been quite compliant. Of course, there is an odd mistake or two, but this is not the norm and experienced ingredient list readers can usually spot a mistake easily. We then contact the manufacturer and abstain from eating the product until there is a satisfactory answer.

This labelling law has applied to all packaged food sold since 2005 and works quite well. It’s a blessing and I’m glad I obtained my diagnosis after the fact, because this law makes life for people with allergies much easier! Recognizing gluten on a label without the help of a list is a key skill to develop when you have celiac disease or a related health concern. Since 2014, the ingredients must be written in font of at least 1,2 mm in height. Allergens are to be declared in bold. I know a lot of people, most of them older than fifty, who take their magnifying glass food shopping. There are also apps for “magnifying glasses” on your phone, perhaps you will find them helpful.


For gluten, German independent self-help groups have established a list of 15 prohibited ingredients. This list is widely used within Germany and since the labelling legislation applies to all of Europe, I also consult it during my travels abroad (in the other languages, of course).


Most people with food allergies I know select safe products based on the list of ingredients, taking the declaration of allergen traces into account only where it is sensible (more on that later on in the corresponding section).

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What about Gluten-free Shopping with Safe Lists from the Local Celiac Assocation?

In Germany, you can also shop according to the safe list issued by the German Coeliac Society, but I find it takes way too much time and it’s not too practical to go to the supermarket with a thick and heavy book (actually it’s two, one lists all gluten-free certified products).

Safe List published by the German Coeliac Society

Plus even if you have the safe list on your phone (e.g. through an app), recipes and preparation methods of a product is always subject to change – a fact that could bypass the safe list. In the EU the only legally binding document is what it says on the product itself, not on some list, so you’re really better of reading labels instead of relying on the information by a third party (this point obviously applies to all allergen recognition apps and websites – they are not reliable!).

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What if I need to take medicine?

The EU labelling legislation does not pertain to medicinal products. This means that even if a pill or a sirup includes a list of ingredients, you cannot be one hundred percent sure that it’s gluten-free, because the way allergens are to be declared in medicinal products differs from that of food, as I understand particularly when it comes to starches and aroma (yes, I know, this makes very little sense to us consumers and I’ll let you ponder about that for a while). Anyway, there are three solutions for this problem:

a. The medicine you have purchased at the pharmacy actually says “gluten-free” on it.

b. Contact the manufacturer. But check their website, they may have information on the subject in their FAQ or available through their search function.

c. Consult the safe list for medicinal products issued by the local coeliac society. The German version looks like this and is automatically sent to all members every year. It obviously only contains the information the pharma companies actually send to the coeliac society upon request, so you may still need to call or e-mail the manufacturer even after consulting this book.


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Recognizing Gluten in Alcoholic Products

Alcoholic products are an interesting territory when it comes to the EU labelling legislation. They don’t have to carry a list of ingredients, but need to label the 14 allergens. If and when you find a beverage and it doesn’t carry a list of ingredients: it’s gluten-free. At the supermarket this may be easy, but you will have to ask the people behind the bar when you’re drinking out, for example when you order mulled wine (Glühwein) at a Christmas market. I’ve never come across one that was not gluten-free, but I’ve heard other people have not been as lucky.


(Whiskey is a whole different story, I suggest inquiring with the manufacturer if gluten is included in the manufacturing process pre- or post-distillation. This is what determines whether it can be safely consumed or not: you can care less about gluten that exists in the whiskey pre-destillation, but should abstain from drinking one which has been “enriched” with gluten post-destillation.)


Contrary to what some breweries across Europe would like you to believe: beer should only be purchased with a certified gluten-free label. Please don’t trust any other source other than the certifying celiac association when it comes to this. There is a whole process and special test involved, the gluten-content in beer can vary and it’s never safe to drink regular beer if you have celiac disease. Order a glass of wine instead, get wild with the cocktails or enjoy some Schnaps – drinking beer is just not worth it!

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Trace Declaration

The declaration of allergen traces is, unfortunately, not legally regulated within the EU and thus not binding in any way. The legally binding portion of the ingredient list ends with the full-stop after the last ingredient and whatever comes after the full stop is up the manufacturer’s discretion.

Even what actually constitutes a trace is not clearly defined, although in theory it’s supposed to be under 20 ppm and thus safe for celiacs. I know the German Coeliac Society regularly conducts random tests of products contained in their safe lists, and traces are usually under 5 ppm (except for some products that I will talk about later).

Ingredient List with Trace Declaration

This is where it could get confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Bear with me!

A trace declaration on a product can mean a myriad of things.

One of them is that there aren’t actually any traces contained. The trace declaration just informs you that there is a theoretic possibility that the product in your hand could have come in touch with gluten some time during the manufacturing process. It can mean anything from the same machines being used to manufacture gluten-holding and gluten-free products (and being cleaned in between cycles, which they have to be anyway) or that there is a chance that a bag of wheat could have been carried through the front door of the factory and past the machines where only gluten-free products are made. In both case, depending on the product of course, the product should be safe to eat.

But here is the killer: if a product carries no trace declaration, it could mean two things: there are no traces contained and is thus safe to eat. Or: it actually carries traces of gluten, it is therefore unsafe to eat and the manufacturer just hasn’t declared them.

So, what can I still eat, you ask? Well: the likelihood of traces actually being contained in a product (regardless of whether traces are declared behind the full stop behind the list of ingredients or not) is low. The trace declaration is thus fairly safe to ignore. The choice is obviously up to you, but I don’t worry about the trace declaration (except for a couple of products where contamination with gluten is actually highly likely – more on that later. I thus regularly eat products with a trace declaration and have excellent antibody results and no issues.

(If you want to make really sure, you could in theory go shopping with the safe list of the German celiac association in hand AND consult the ingredient list, too. This is your safest bet, but I am aware of merely one person who goes through the trouble – and who in addition to these two sources also consults with the manufacturer, just to give you an idea of the amount of energy they are investing in the matter).

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When you should take the Trace Declaration Seriously

But, NOT SO FAST: Of course, there are exceptions, which is the case when a contamination with gluten is actually highly likely and as a result are probably contaminated beyond the 20 ppm limit (the legal definition of what is considered gluten-free in Europe).

These exceptions are: grains (e.g. lentils which can be contaminated in the field or during processing), flours and ground spices (contamination through using one and the same mill for grinding gluten-free and gluten-holding flours and spices) and baked goods (eating gluten-free products from a regular commercial bakery that bakes mostly gluten-containing goods is a no-no regardless of where you live!).


These products carry a trace declaration for good reason and you should take the declaration seriously and put the product back on the shelf. Moreover, as we learnt above: you should be cautious of these types of products even if they don’t have a trace declaration. As I mentioned, if they don’t have one, it doesn’t mean they are safe to eat!

Gluten-free Frozen Goods in the Netherlands

The logical consequence is that baked goods and flours (or any goods made from flours) should only be purchased with a gluten-free label or the term “gluten-free” (glutenfrei in German) written on the packaging.

Gluten-free Fresh Pasta from the Netherlands

The term gluten-free is protected by law and the manufacturer guarantees that the product abides to the EU-standard, even if it doesn’t carry the certification by a local celiac society (the license needs to be purchased, which is a reason to just write “gluten-free” on a product rather than printing the official seal on it).


Grains that aren’t certified gluten-free (regardless of whether they bear a trace declaration or not) should be sorted through – looking for kernels of wheat, rye, barley, etc. –  prior to further preparation or purchased according to the safe-list of the German Celiac Association (this is the moment where the availability of said list starts to make sense, no?). I only purchase all three of these things with a gluten-free certified label on them and even avoid snacks made with ground flour (this is where you get into the nitty-gritty of contacting the manufacturer to ask about the likelihood of contamination in the mill).

Gluten-free Shelf at a Dutch Supermarket

For all other items that I purchase at the supermarket from chocolate to tinned or processed diary or special vegetarian products, I just ignore the trace declaration and happily purchase the product if the list of ingredients is gluten-free.

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And now, let me emphasize: I read every! single! label! of any product that I out in my mouth. If a label is not available (e.g. when I’m visiting with someone or am gifted separately packaged piece of candy), I don’t eat it! No exceptions! Ever!