Going Gluten-FreeSeptember 2, 2014

GREAT Kitchens: Making Restaurants Celiac Safe

Comments (1)

Posted by Erica Dermer


With the recent FDA “gluten free” labeling regulation going into effect this month, some celiacs might feel like they can let their guard down a little on packaged goods. While this ruling is a fantastic start to the community, keep in mind that it does not necessarily regulate restaurants and food service. With the National Restaurant Association ranking gluten-free 5th among “What’s Hot” food industry trends, and gluten-free menu claims increasing 275% (according to Mintel from 2009-2012), our risk for a fad diet hype compromising our safety is growing. While all restaurants are urged to comply with the regulation via the FDA when purchasing gluten-free packaged goods to serve, we know that isn’t where all of cross-contact can occur. Gluten contamination can often come in the actual preparation of the food, and mistakes can be made even after the food is prepared (like the server putting the wrong dish on your table).

However, organizations like the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness are making a change for the better for people like us. Their GREAT Kitchens and Schools program is working hard to train kitchens and schools to make them celiac-friendly, and not just boasting a gluten-free menu that they don’t know how to truly keep safe. But what exactly makes a GREAT Kitchen so great? I spoke with Beckee Moreland, director of the GREAT programs at National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, to find out more.

According to Beckee, GREAT training is offered online to anyone in the food industry who wants to become educated about how to serve gluten-free items safely for those with gluten-free disorders. This recognition is achieved by completing an application with a 42-point checklist covering operational standards and processes for their gluten-free initiative.

“To become a GREAT kitchen or school, the first step is to complete the GREAT training online and pass the exam. The number of people who must complete GREAT training at each site depends on the size of the operation and number of employees. However, all management and the executive culinary team lead the training process or they may bring in a GREAT kitchen or schools consultant to do the training for all staff on-site. Once training for all employees is complete, the restaurant or kitchen applies for accreditation and the review process begins.”


But what’s all covered as part of the GREAT checklist? What parts of the restaurant are actually affected by these learning modules? If you’ve ever dined out, you know that something could go wrong at any point of the restaurant, from the server, to the chef, to the line cook, to the runner. NFCA has this covered with their GREAT program!

“Part of the application contains a checklist for best practices that must be completed for all areas within the restaurant or dining hall kitchen. The categories include storage, ingredients, front-of-house, back-of-house, and implementation which correlate with the modules and the standards in GREAT training.”

Once it’s awarded accreditation, a GREAT Kitchen will:

  • Understand the needs of those with a medical necessity to eat gluten free.
  • Have a system in place to execute a gluten-free meal safely.
  • Answer questions transparently about what they can offer the guest
  • Have checked their ingredients for gluten-free status.
  • Properly store gluten-free products and ingredients to protect their gluten-free status.
  • Have a dedicated space for preparation.
  • Use separate equipment to prepare meals when there is a risk of cross-contact.
  • Have trained servers who can answer questions, find a manager, and serve meals using specific protocols.

Sounds pretty great if you ask me! I wish that all restaurants that advertised a gluten-free menu would take it seriously enough to enroll in a program like this. How can you find these GREAT Kitchens?

  • Look for the NFCA’s GREAT logo on a restaurants door, menu, and/or website.
  • Go to CeliacCentral.org and look for the restaurant in the Great Kitchen listing.

How can you get your local restaurant to become GREAT? Get them to GREAT’s website: GreatGFKitchens.org and urge them to complete the course and get trained, certified and recognized by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and GREAT Kitchens. Remind them that being certified is worth it! GREAT Kitchens offers discounts for multiple logins and sliding scale for multi-unit operators, and the certification can attract those who might not trust other restaurants. Lastly, eat there safely and with a big smile!


Comments (1)

I want to commend the Mellow Mushroom restaurant in Mt. Dora, FL and its chain. They not only had a gluten free pizza on the menu, but actually saw to it that only one person saw to the preparation from beginning to end as a matter of policy of their restaurant. First they asked if I ordered it due to a medical reason or personal preference. Once I said it was for a "medical" reason, I was told I was asked so that only one person would prepare and see it through to its end when it would be served.

Posted by: helaine43@gmail.com | September 4, 2014 4:02 PM    Report this comment

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