Posts Tagged ‘gluten-free’

New Gluten-Free Standards set to Change Restaurant Offerings

August 14, 2013

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.

Understanding the Gluten-Free Diner

January 16, 2013

People who are born with a food allergy or intolerance or develop one later in life often approach dining out with a certain amount of trepidation. This fear is well justified considering that accidental consumption of the offending substance can cause serious illness and even death. Gluten allergies, in particular, can be especially difficult to manage.  As a restaurateur, it’s important to understand the needs of your gluten-free customers and to provide thorough training to your employees to avoid mishaps.

Wheat Allergies, Gluten Sensitivities and Celiac Disease – What’s the Difference?

Allergies and intolerances come in many different forms, and one of the first things to realize about gluten is that gluten intolerance and wheat allergies don’t always go hand in hand. In fact, many diners who are allergic to wheat can actually eat several other types of high-gluten grains, such as barley and rye, without problems.

Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that damages and inflames the lining of the small intestine. Diners with this condition must avoid gluten at all costs or suffer severe health repercussions.  These individuals are highly sensitive to even the tiniest amount of gluten, and along with avoiding likely suspects such as beer, pizza, and bread, they are susceptible to gluten cross-contamination from places like cutting boards and fryers.

Although gluten intolerance or sensitivity is not the same thing as Celiac disease, the symptoms are similar and individuals with gluten sensitivity often have to follow the same type of diet. Unlike Celiac patients, however, those with gluten intolerance can sometimes consume gluten – depending on their level of sensitivity.

Keeping the Monkey Wrench Out of the Gears by Training Employees about Gluten Allergies

While it’s important to train employees to take gluten allergies seriously in order to avoid mishaps with customers, it’s also important to be able to accommodate gluten-free diners easily without throwing a wrench in the gears of your operation. Restaurants serve hundreds of plates a day, and the only way to ensure that a gluten-free request does not disrupt the flow is to train employees well about how to handle the request. Many restaurants do this by creating a ‘gluten-free’ station to avoid cross-contamination and by designating one employee to be in charge of cooking the gluten-free food to ensure quality.

Creating Foods that Gluten-Free Diners Love

Most people with gluten allergies have given up breads, pastas, and fried foods as a lost cause long ago – and usually, not by choice. As a result, restaurants have a unique opportunity to treat gluten-free customers by providing them with the opportunity to eat gluten-free variants of these types of food.

For example, a little experimenting with a mix of white and brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch can yield crispy, crunchy, and delicious fried chicken that you can’t even tell is gluten-free.

Thanks to the rising awareness of gluten allergies, there are tons of delicious, gluten-free recipes out there. A little experimentation and a commitment to meeting the needs of your gluten-free customers can make all the difference in how often this demographic of diner frequents your establishment.

Catching Up on How the GMO Concerns Affect Food and Beverage

March 29, 2012

If you haven’t paid much attention to the GMO debate, here’s a quick rundown. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Food. A large part of the debate is centered on politics and/or healthy food choices.

Health Concerns of GMOs

GMOs have been around since the ‘80s. Genes are modified, deleted, and added to form genes of plants that are unrelated. In order to penetrate the cell membrane, a virus is often attached to the gene with a small syringe.

The modifications are designed to make a strong crop that is resistant to herbicides and produces their own pesticide from within—and here lies the health concerns. Many protests and court cases have gotten a lot of media attention over this. Others, such as Bill Gates, are strong supporters of what they see as a stronger crop.

Politics of GMOs

The big debate over this is that there is a patent on some of the crops owned by Monsanto—namely the corn. They have sued some farmers that have not bought their patented seeds, but the GMO crops have cross-pollinated their crops.

This has cost a lot of farmers money. Furthermore, some farmers just don’t want anything to do with the seeds.

Where Do Restaurants Fit into the GMO Debate?

You may have noticed that many health food stores and restaurants are advertising GMO-free foods. Staying away from these foods can be hard. They’re in many shelved items and you won’t ever know it.

To this date, no procedures exist to warn consumers that there are GMOs in the food by labeling the foods. So, farmers and commercial producers of food items are working together to produce non-GMO foods and advertise it on the packages.

This trend is rising in popularity right behind the organic, gluten-free, and soy-free food trends. Keep your eye out on this trend. Whatever side of the fence that you stand on, you may want to pay attention to what your consumers think about this.



Becoming Allergy Conscious

July 5, 2011

Over 18 million people are known to have a food allergy, and about 3 million have been diagnosed with a type of gluten intolerance known as Celiac disease.  Seeing these numbers, it may be wise for restaurants and restaurateurs to look into how to accommodate these guests.


If a restaurant is to become sensitive to the needs of all these customers, it has to make the commitment to do so.  It may not take very much money to become a sensitive partner with those with gluten intolerances and allergies, but it will take hard work on the part of members of the restaurant’s staff.


One way to start becoming more allergy conscious is to list the ingredients used in the food being prepared.  This is not an overly hard thing to do, and it can result in a customer feeling more at ease about what he or his family member is eating.


It also helps to show customers with special dietary needs that they are important.  Having a chef come out and discuss dishes with them or simply developing a gluten-free menu are other ways some restaurants have helped customers with special dietary needs feel wanted and special.


It is also important that there is no cross-contamination, particularly when dealing with Celiac disease.  Separate cooking utensils, pans, etc. must be used for dishes than contain gluten than for dishes that are gluten-free.


This course of action also puts responsibility into the hands of the employees.  Proper training is key.  The staff must be able to properly relay which orders are gluten-free, for example, and the cooking staff must prepare these meals in the correct manner to avoid problems.


It does take time and effort to develop a more allergy sensitive restaurant, but customers with special dietary needs will appreciate the time and care you take.  That, of course, can lead to customer loyalty which in turn can lead to more restaurant revenue.