by David Steventon – Mississippi Mills

Gluten freeMany restaurants are failing their clientele daily by believing that they can accommodate the needs of two groups concurrently. In doing so they are subjecting the most vulnerable to inexplicable suffering.

People who don’t eat gluten can be divided into two very distinct groups. The first have chosen to omit gluten from their diet voluntarily. Their choice might have been spurred by a celebrity endorsement, or by recent publications like The New York Times best selling book Wheat Belly. In either case, for many, this is a fad-diet. Gluten is avoided out of choice, not necessity.

The same cannot be said for those suffering from Celiac Disease. This is a condition where the body rejects any food containing gluten, subjecting the patient to spells of excruciating pain and other physical distress. Those suffering from Celiac Disease must maintain a constant vigil to make sure that their food is not contaminated with gluten. Not so bad at home where food is under direct control from fridge through preparation, cooking and to the table. Not so good when food preparation and cooking is entrusted to a restaurant kitchen.

Gluten is present in several grains and their by-products such as flour and beverages like beer.

In the kitchen cross contamination of gluten free food can occur by using unwashed utensils used previously to prepare food containing gluten; by using the same grill, hot plate, fry pan, saucepan, or cooking oil previously used to prepare or cook gluten-containing food.

Many restaurants now identify menu dishes as gluten free. But for Celiac sufferers, selecting one of these gluten free dishes has become a leap of faith. There is no way of knowing whether their food has been prepared for the mere fad-dieter, or whether the proper care has been taken to ensure that the dish is free from all traces of gluten.

If cross-contamination has occurred, Celiac sufferers will know about an hour or so after the meal when their bodies reacts violently to the gluten that has found its way into their digestive systems. Every event damages the digestive system even further, which means that careless kitchens are having long-term effects on the health of people with Celiac Disease.

What to do? More people in and connected with the catering industry need to be monitored to ensure that when “GF” appears beside a menu item it does not mean that it contains no gluten products, but the prepared dish is free of gluten; a significant difference.

Chefs and their kitchen personnel need to be better educated; to consider gluten as a virus when preparing dishes listed as gluten free. Just as they would with more common viruses they need to ensure that utensils and pans are clear of traces of gluten before preparing and cooking GF dishes. And ensure that cooking oil used with gluten-containing food is not used to cook gluten free food.

The fundamental challenge for the catering industry is to achieve a position where GF shown on their menus actually means food free of gluten, rather than pandering to fad dieters. There is wisdom in meeting the challenge. Restaurants proving they are capable of being trusted can expect the loyalty of return customers. The rest? Well, you see my point.