This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 edition of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity. 10/30/2009 - The major concern in producing gluten and allergen-free foods is always that of cross contamination. In my view, the only safe way to produce gluten-free meals and products is in a rigorously controlled and totally gluten-free environment where all ingredients are strictly gluten-free and all benches, utensils and equipment, etc. are dedicated and remain in a totally gluten-free condition at all times. It must always be remembered that gluten-free should mean “ totally and absolutely gluten-free,” and that there should always be an uncompromising zero tolerance for any form of gluten contamination, no matter how slight.

In my view the same approach should be adopted for anaphylaxis inducing ingredients like peanuts, eggs, sesame seeds, shellfish and crustaceans: that it is best to exclude them entirely to eliminate the risk of accidental contamination. Any other approach requires extremely alert and well informed operators in combination with elaborate cleaning and testing protocols; all of which are prone to mistakes and failure.

It is my view, that many people are too cavalier in their approach to the matter of gluten contamination, taking the attitude that “a little won’t hurt.” Many manufacturers, particularly restaurants, small bakers and pizza makers etc., for example, are often asked about making gluten-free products and see this as a means of expanding their businesses. Something many of them attempt without properly trained staff and without fully understanding the implications and risks of undertaking such a project. However, there are also many worthy exceptions to this comment: the difficulty is in finding them.

In flour and bakery situations gluten is always present and is often used as an ingredient. Typical suburban bakeries tend to have flour and hence gluten everywhere. Flour and gluten are insidious and can float in the air for many hours after use and can be dislodged by banging doors and draughts. Benches, tins, trays, dough rollers, dough dividers, bread slicers, utensils, belt ovens etc., are often contaminated with gluten and many of these items are difficult to clean thoroughly. Bakeries are inherently difficult to keep clean and maintain in a gluten-free state.

Deep fryers are also fraught with difficulty. For example, potato chips which are gluten-free by definition, can easily be contaminated with gluten from the gluten residues left in the deep fryer by cooking such products as crumbed calamari, veal schnitzel, chicken schnitzel, spring rolls, battered fish and the like in the same deep fryer. The only way to produce gluten-free potato chips is by having and maintaining an exclusively gluten-free deep fryer where only gluten-free batters and crumbs etc., are used. Extreme care must also be taken with bench surfaces and all utensils, aprons, towels etc., used and in washing hands.

Other contentious areas are colorings, flavorings, salad dressings, thickeners, gravies, sauces, for both savory and dessert applications, as these often introduce gluten contamination to otherwise gluten-free meals and foods. If already applied to a meal these can never be fully removed by attempting to scrape them off. The meal should always be totally replaced with a sauce or whatever free meal or course.

In my view, the consumer’s safety and well being should always be paramount: the consumer should not be imposed upon and they should be given an informed choice as to what they consume at any time. This is the basis upon which we run our business. Avoidance of all the above problems requires well trained and aware staff working under well informed and aware management in a clean and well controlled environment.

As always, welcomes your comments (see below).