Let’s Put a Stop to “Almost Gluten-Free”
For celiacs and gluten-sensitive folks, "almost gluten-free" isn't quite good enough.
Comments (17)Posted by Erica Dermer
Gluten-free vs. almost gluten-free—is there really a difference? Yes, yes there is.
“Almost gluten-free” is when a bakery offers gluten-free baked goods that are made and stored next to gluten-full goods without care or proper procedures. “Almost gluten-free” is labeling your product “gluten free” without testing it to make sure it’s under 20 ppm (parts per million), according to FDA standards. “Almost gluten-free” is a restaurant offering a gluten-free menu with gluten-free food prepared on the same surfaces as all other food without care or control—and served to gluten-free customers. “Almost gluten-free” is when you say “It’s okay” after a server warns you that the fries are prepared in a shared fryer.
“Almost gluten-free” is not enough if you need to be gluten-free. Gluten-free is demanding safe food that is under 20ppm in your grocery store, at restaurants, and in your kitchen pantry.
Manufacturers: Stop producing “almost gluten-free” food. Produce gluten-free food in separate facilities and/or separate lines than gluten-containing food. Conduct good manufacturing practices. Test your products to make sure that they comply with the 20ppm FDA rules. Commit to getting your food product certified by one of several gluten-free certification programs. Something like that shows consumers that you’re ready to serve them. If you don’t feel like your product can measure up, if it doesn’t fit the bill, then don’t label it gluten-free.
Restaurants: Stop offering “almost gluten-free” food. If you offer gluten-free items on your menu, please give care and consideration to these choices. You’ll need to make sure that the products are gluten-free—from the bread in sandwiches to the spices you use. Question your suppliers and the ingredients they use. Understand how to mitigate cross-contamination in your kitchen. Use clean utensils and fresh spreads—like using spray butter or using a fresh pad of butter when preparing a gluten-free item. Prepare on clean surfaces—do not prepare gluten-free pancakes on the same griddle on which you prepare regular toast. And if an order goes out wrong—it’s already contaminated. Don’t bring the order back and simply remove the gluten and send it back to the customer. The dish needs to be remade. If you cannot offer safe gluten-free food, please let people know—and do it with more than just a cover-you-butt warning listed on the menu. If your customers order gluten-free food, please let them know how it is prepared. If there’s the possibility that the food you serve won’t be completely gluten-free, let them know that, too.
For those who want a new diet: “Almost gluten-free” is not good enough. Yes, we’ve learned that the gluten-free diet isn’t really the next big weight-loss miracle or the answer to all that ails you (unless you’re a celiac), but there plenty of people still choose to eat gluten-free for dietary purposes. Just remember that it’s medically necessary for those of us with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and who rely on it for medical conditions. Your actions and decisions within your gluten-free diet can cause consequences for those of us who rely on it. For example, I’ve had numerous servers try to serve me unsafe food (made on shared surfaces) because “plenty of people who are gluten-free order it, and we’ve never heard that there’s anything wrong with the way we’re doing it.” Please help to work toward the goal of gluten-free food being made the proper way, keeping it safe for everyone.
Consumers: Start demanding truly gluten-free food! When a restaurant tells you that their gluten-free menu isn’t done the right way—speak to the manager. It’s up to you to educate the restaurant if things aren’t being done the right way. Pay it forward to the next person who wants to dine there. Don’t buy gluten-free products that aren’t tested or prepared the right way; ask manufacturers to make their food celiac-safe. Purchase gluten-free products from brands that have proven their safety in the gluten-free marketplace. If a food makes you sick from gluten, report it to the FDA. Be an advocate for your needs as a gluten-free consumer; demand safety in your food. Get involved with gluten-free organizations and stay up to date on labeling laws.
“Almost gluten-free” isn’t good enough for those of us that need it. Join me and fight for gluten free!
Erica Dermer is managing editor of Gluten Free & More and digital content director at GlutenFreeAndMore.com. She’s also author of Celiac and the Beast: A Love Story Between a Gluten-Free Girl, Her Genes, and a Broken Digestive Tract and founder of SheKnows.com.