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NFCA to Suspend Use of Amber Designation After Domino's Controversy 05/23/2012 - In April 2012, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness debuted its Tiered Credentialing system, whereby restaurants can be awarded varying levels of a gluten-free designation. The system has spawned much controversy, as many sufferers of celiac disease argue that there should be no flexibility with the gluten-free term. Many argue that a food either contains gluten, or it does not: leading people to believe gluten-contaminated products are gluten-free could be harmful to celiacs.

Amber DesignationThe issue came to a head when the NFCA awarded Domino's 'gluten-free pizza with an 'amber' gluten-free designation. The controversy is in the preparation: while Domino's may use gluten-free ingredients to make the crust, no extra effort is put forth to avoid contamination (hence, their 'amber' credential rather than 'green', which would be awarded to restaurants who take more care to avoid gluten contamination). Such contamination is almost assured given the volume of gluten flour present in a typical pizza restaurant kitchen, so many have argued that an 'amber' designation is really only useful to people who are gluten-conscious, but do not suffer from any form of gluten sensitivity. 

A number of celiac disease experts have come forth to denounce Domino's crust and the NFCA's endorsement of it. The NASSCD has even gone so far as to accuse Domino's of “exploitation”, given the gluten-free diet's recent surge in popularity. 

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Domino's or the NFCA might argue that their crust was never intended for those with celiac disease, and that the 'amber' designation indicates that, but as Dr. Steven Guanalini, president of NASSCD argues,“there should be no need for disclaimers. The threshold has to be set at the same level for everybody for the term gluten-free to be meaninful.”

In what may be viewed as something of a victory for the celiac community, the NFCA announced that in response to overwhelming public pressure, it is suspending use of its “amber” credential. According to their press release, they will "conduct a review to determine the most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination and the use of the phrase 'Gluten Free'". It is still unclear what this means for Domino's.

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11 Responses:

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said this on
24 May 2012 11:08:41 AM PST
Many foods that are labeled gluten-free are not actually free of gluten. I don't trust the labels, because there is no standard for what gluten-free actually means. So it can mean whatever a company wants it to, not what celiacs think it means. The FDA has really dropped the ball on truth in labeling. I have had gluten reactions a few times to products that were labeled as being gluten-free, when they were actually gluten light. Now, I avoid them, because they are not worth the misery and damage they can cause.

David Bennett
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said this on
28 May 2012 11:19:26 AM PST
As a mild coeliac, I think there should be SOME flexibility out there, but it has to be clearly understood and monitored. Here in Britain, gluten-free is now defined as <20ppm. There is also low-gluten, which I can tolerate in moderation, defined as <100ppm. OK, I'm "lucky", but the standards have to cover the whole spectrum.

I have no connection with Domino's - in fact, I don't really like pizza.

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said this on
28 May 2012 11:31:11 AM PST
I think all of us who actually have celiac disease know that "Gluten Free" on the label means absolutely nothing. All you have to do is get deathly ill a few times to learn that lesson. Always, always read labels, and realize that marketing is driven by greed and not altruism. And yeah, I'm a graphic artist and do food labels, I know this game pretty well.

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said this on
28 May 2012 7:15:47 PM PST
Domino's and many other companies that serve and sell food are definitely exploiting the term "gluten-free". I think it must stop. There should be one meaning for the term so that celiac sufferers can be sure of what is safe. The trendy folks who "go gluten free" because it is popular need to understand celiacs are not avoiding gluten to be hip, we need to not eat poison!

Susan Swearingen
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said this on
28 May 2012 7:31:10 PM PST
I am quite pleased to get rid of the amber designation. All I want to know is if I can eat it without compromising my health. If not, it is not gluten-free.

watermellon man
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said this on
28 May 2012 8:13:00 PM PST
I have celiac disease and I can tell you that you better be on your toes when you buy pizzas. Some places that sell "gluten-free" pizzas have flour all over the kitchen and it does get on your order.
Have you ever looked in a Dominos kitchen? I would not take a 3 item pizza from them even if they paid me. I don't need the misery.
A standard has to be set and if companies want to "jump on the money bandwagon" then they have to compete fairly and not screw us up.

BK Simmons
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said this on
29 May 2012 1:31:47 PM PST
I have made reading the total list of ingredients on packaging a PREpurchase requirement and especially if the food has toppings, sauces or unique contents. You have to learn what terms are used that may not be the norm. If in doubt, I either do NOT buy it or before I eat it, I call the manufacturer's dietary 800 number on the box and ask specific questions. If I am told that they do not know, I do not eat their product. After all, I am the one who suffers the consequences, not them. Keep a list of safe for you food products/ foods that have caused you to react.

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said this on
29 May 2012 2:30:08 PM PST
Very sensible - keep it simple!

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said this on
29 May 2012 3:05:45 PM PST
I eat McDonald's Fries and Kikkoman soy sauce and don't have a problem. Both are "made" with wheat, but at least one of them, the wheat goes through a distillation. Amber on those please.

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said this on
30 May 2012 7:49:31 AM PST
What about the pizza toppings? When I ordered a gluten-free crust from Domino's the clerk stated that some of the toppings on the "meat lover's" were not gluten-free, but she could not tell me which ones!

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said this on
31 May 2012 3:05:01 PM PST
I think this is a good thing. I just don't see the point of making a "gluten free" pizza that is not safe to eat because of potential cross contamination. It's a shame that they can't go to the extra effort to create a separate part of the kitchen for the gluten-free pizzas and toppings. It they can't do this, then it is not worth the risk.

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