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Why Many Restaurants Should Not Offer Gluten-Free Menu Options...Yet
- By Tracy Grabowski
- Published 11/28/2016
- Additional Celiac Disease Concerns , Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Spring 2014 Issue
Image: CC--James Kim
Celiac.com 11/28/2016 - The title of my article might seem a little shocking to most of the celiac community. Why wouldn't I want restaurants to offer high quality, safe meals to those who suffer from celiac disease or from non-celiac gluten intolerance so they could also enjoy dining out with their family and friends like everyone else? It's not that I don't want restaurants to offer gluten-free options: I do. But, I want them to be high quality, high integrity, and offered by a properly trained and knowledgeable staff. Otherwise, I truly don't think your establishment should bother offering gluten-free options to your diners and guests.
The truth is that genuinely gluten-free dishes should be more than just replacing a bun, or using a corn or rice version of pasta in your dishes. Claiming to be "gluten-free" or "celiac-friendly" needs to go much further than just claiming such or simply swapping a product for your gluten-free diner.
Without the benefit of training and education, many restaurants are not going to take into account any cross-contamination factors such as where the food is prepared, or who has touched it (and what did they touch last?) or where the plate was prepped and cleaned. It doesn't consider the air-borne flour coating almost every surface of a bakery or kitchen, and, it certainly doesn't involve investigating ingredients in the finished dishes for "hidden" sources of wheat, rye, or barley whose derivatives (such as malt or "flavorings") might be lurking around the kitchen and in prepared foods.
There are so many sources of cross-contamination that are simply not explored, or may not even be known by a dining establishment. Unless a typical restaurant or bakery staff is well-versed and knowledgeable in what to look for, the questions to ask, and the proper procedures that will ensure a safe dining experience for gluten-free guests, and until all of the sources of cross contamination are explored and eliminated, it is highly doubtful that a gluten-free dish is truly gluten-free at all.
With the FDA's recent updates to the gluten-free standard, restaurants, bakeries and dining establishments need to start following suit. Anyone offering a gluten-free meal should be aware that not only are their customers expecting adherence to the 20ppm of gluten (or less) standard that has been accepted as the standard for certifying something is gluten-free, but that the FDA expects their dining establishment to live up to that standard.
As with any product that comes to market with a claim, restaurant menus are subject to abide by the same guidelines. For instance, if you claim something is "reduced fat", then it better, by all means, be reduced fat from the original version of the same dish. The same principal applies to gluten-free dishes with the standards taking full affect in the summer months of 2014. If your restaurant claims it is gluten-free, then it better be gluten-free, and not just "assumed" gluten-free.
Living in blissful ignorance can not be an option for restaurants or for any establishment offering gluten-free products. As with any other food allergy or intolerance (FAI) there can be dire consequences for not adhering to procedures for safe preparation and service of food. Not to mention the damage that can be done to an establishment's reputation should the word get out that their integrity or food knowledge is questionable.
Personally, I believe restaurants have a lot to gain in terms of offering gluten-free meals, or menu options in their establishment. I believe that restaurants who establish—and enforce- gluten-free procedures to eliminate cross contamination, accidental exposure, and provide training to their staff can benefit greatly in terms of business growth and satisfied repeat guests and their referrals from gluten-free diners to both gluten-free dieters and "traditional" diners alike.
Gluten-free diners, just like all diners, place a great deal of faith and trust in people who prepare their meals at restaurants, diners, bakeries and cafes. With this great measure of trust being established at the first encounter with a restaurant guest, it pays to educate everyone from host/hostess to head chef on the proper way to handle gluten-free meals, and for that matter, all FAI's.
That is why I recommend that until you are completely certain that your food is gluten-free, and that your staff is in complete compliance with your establishment's gluten-free policy, it is probably better that your establishment NOT offer gluten-free menu options. Those with gluten intolerance and celiac disease would appreciate your honesty and your integrity in doing so. The good news is that we'll be willing to become your dinner guests when you can honestly say that your kitchen staff, servers, management team, and even your host or hostess are educated, trained, and 100% on-board with providing a safe gluten-free experience for all of us.
Trust and integrity go a long, long way for those of us with special dietary needs.
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Tracy Grabowski has been involved in marketing for over 13 years. As a wife and mom to three kids with Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance and armed with certifications in the Gluten Free lifestyle from Texas A&M, as well as âGREAT Kitchensâ and âDineAwareâ certifications, she recently developed WheatFreely.com to provide consulting and marketing assistance to non-gluten free hospitality industries who wish to safely and ethically establish themselves in this market. Tracy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.View all articles by Tracy Grabowski
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