Hospital meals may not be gluten-free 08/23/2010 - People following a gluten-free diet due to celiac-disease or other conditions, who are facing a hospital stay, might want to cheek with their hospital dietitian and staff to make sure that the 'gluten-free' meal they receive is, in fact, gluten-free.

That's because, even hospitals can make mistakes. Let's face it, if they can occasionally amputate the wrong limb, remove the wrong organ, or give the wrong drugs, they can accidentally slip an item containing gluten into a gluten-free meal.

That's exactly what happened to Don MacMillan, a 68-year old Canadian man whose recovery from gall-bladder surgery was marked by a hospital mix-up that sent him a standard meal instead of the gluten-free meal he required and requested. 

Still weak, three days after surgery, and hungry from three days of intravenous and liquid nutrition, MacMillan was looking forward to eating his first solid food. Still, he didn’t want to take any chances.

He was suspicious of the hospital's lunch of chicken à la king and a cookie. Fortunately for MacMillan, he was both suspicious and vocal.

‘You sure what I’m being fed is gluten free?’ he asked the assistant.

She answered that it was, but MacMillan asked her to please double-check. After checking in with the kitchen, she admitted that they had made an error: the meal was not, in fact, gluten-free.

“She told me it was OK, but I just didn’t trust her ... so I asked her to verify," MacMillan added.

Quintin Wight, spokesman for the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, said what happened to MacMillan occurs more frequently in hospitals and nursing homes than is reported.

“I sympathize with him greatly because this is a situation that we’ve heard about on and off over many years,” said Wight.

“I’m not sure how it arises in the hospitals because the dietitians certainly know what gluten-free food is, but it doesn’t seem to get to the kitchen staff. These are organizations that should know better," he added.

No one needs extra dietary or immune challenges when recovering from surgery. People who plan a hospital stay, and who require and request a gluten-free meal due to celiac disease or other conditions, can do themselves a big favor by taking steps to confirm the gluten-free status before eating the meal provided.

Rule of thumb: Just because the meal is labelled gluten-free, doesn't mean it is gluten-free. When it comes to special meals in the hospital, trust, but verify.

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