New Gluten-Free Standards set to Change Restaurant Offerings

It is estimated that roughly 18 million Americans have a non-celiac, gluten sensitivity while another 2 million have a diagnosis of celiac disease. Add on the growing number of people who are avoiding gluten for various other health-related reasons and it’s no wonder that so many restaurants are making the move to offering gluten-free items on the menu.

‘Gluten-Free’ has Varied Widely from Restaurant to Restaurant

That said, what the term ‘gluten-free’ actually reflects can vary greatly from one restaurant to another, with as much as 90% of restaurant items currently labeled as gluten-free actually containing quite a bit of gluten. Part of the problem is inadvertent cross-contamination. The other part of the problem is that gluten is found in a number of items a person wouldn’t necessarily suspect. As a result, those whose health can be seriously affected by gluten currently can’t trust gluten-free labels or menus.

This safety risk has led the FDA to put out a new rule which requires items voluntarily labeled as gluten-free (or with similar terms such as “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten”) to contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.

The rule was added to the Federal Register on August 5th, and gives packaged food companies one year to comply with the new standard. Once in effect, restaurateurs will be able to purchase anything with a gluten-free label without having to examine the ingredient list for hidden sources of gluten.

Next Step: Preventing Cross Contamination

Cross contaminating an otherwise gluten-free food in the restaurant is very easy to do and is another area of real concern for those with health issues related to gluten. For example, a gluten-free food cannot be fried in the same oil as foods with gluten; nor can knives, cutting boards, or other food preparation tools be shared. Airborne flour can even be a gluten culprit, meaning that gluten-free foods must be prepped in a sealed area.

Many restaurants are developing company-wide training programs to teach staffers proper food handling and preparation for their gluten-free customers. Some restaurants have even gone so far as to develop a “GF” prefix code for their point-of-sale systems so that employees can follow specific plating instructions and recipes when a gluten-free item rings up.

Education and Alternatives for Restaurants to Meet the Gluten-Free Demand

In some cases, it is simply not feasible for a restaurant to be able to prepare gluten-free foods in the establishment itself. For example, many restaurants don’t have a dedicated fryer for gluten-free items nor the capability to prep gluten-free foods in an area sealed from airborne flour. Some restaurants are working around such problems by simply not offering any gluten-free items that are fried or by purchasing pre-made pizzas, for example, which have been packaged and sealed in a certified gluten-free facility, cooked in the bag, and are opened only by the gluten-free customer.

A number of restaurants have been utilizing the training provided by nutrition consulting groups and advocacy organizations such as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to train staff, implement procedures, and find new methods of meeting the gluten-free demand in their establishments. The prevalence of gluten sensitivity is a real issue that has a significant impact on consumer choices. New labeling standards, staff education, and the willingness of restaurateurs to be a part of the solution are making all the difference in the world to the 20 million Americans who need gluten-free options.

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One Response to “New Gluten-Free Standards set to Change Restaurant Offerings”

  1. Tips to Set Your Restaurant Business Apart from the Competition | Jim Balis' Blog Says:

    […] example, you might offer unusual sauces for your french fries, like wasabi or pesto. Maybe you bread your dill pickles in a beer battered […]

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