Going Gluten-FreeJuly 1, 2015

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

Erica Dermer

GFM Managing Editor 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.

Comments (16)

After finding nine pre cancerous polyps in my colon over three years ago I can't eat or be anywhere near gluten. Many restaurants do not realize they can't use cooking utensils or cooking pans with remnants of gluten to prepare a gluten-free allergen dish. I also see on many gf menus Blue Cheese for salads and that's a huge NO!
Frozen prepared items must use clean gf items too. I wouldn't want anyone to suffer as I have and still do from contaminated gluten and lack of education on the part of the food industry.
My last colonoscopy showed no signs of precancerous polyps but I must eat out less and stay vigilant everyday. I pray for everyone who suffer from gf allergeries. Keep up your regular colonoscopy appointments .. They may save your life!

Posted by: Juliemew>^..^< | September 13, 2015 10:26 AM    Report this comment

I am gluten intolerant and have had a great deal of difficulty when eating out with others in a group. I'm already the "one" about whom some people groan inwardly when I ask for the gluten-free menu and the wait person looks confused. I simply can't ask as many questions as I really would like to and very often am offered a salad. I suppose if I ate all the salads I am offered, I would probably be thinner! Anyway, I try to be low-key and polite but it is difficult. I am one who has been tested by a Naturopath and came up gluten intolerant, but never had an M.D. test me before I went gluten free. I just know I don't experience gastric problems when I don't eat gluten, soy, milk or oats of any sort.

Posted by: Pippin Sardo | September 11, 2015 9:51 PM    Report this comment

VERY GOOD ARTICLE. I read and read again before purchasing . I will not buy if it is made on shared equipment, I have gluten sensitivity plus allergies to corn and dairy. So I must read all labels. I have a business that we embroidery on kitchen textiles to help avoid cross - contamination .

Posted by: Worryalot | September 8, 2015 3:49 PM    Report this comment

Bravo... I see there is some anger and frustration among those dealing with the indifference of those making a profit from their false claims of delivering GF products to the consumers. The best way to stop it is to contact the companies but more importantly to contact their legislators who are less likely to listen to one voice opposed to hundreds. Call or write to them each time you become aware of a GF violation.

Posted by: Olivia's PA | September 8, 2015 10:40 AM    Report this comment

I agree with the GM cereals. My son who is the "poster child" for celiac has tried the new Cheerios, supposedly GF. Well he got so sick after eating a bowl and blamed it on other things. He continued to eat the Cheerios and finally figured out, after days of suffering, that it was the cereal. He read an article on Celiac.com and it stated that GM is not decontaminating it's barley and oats to make this product completely GF. If you can find the article please read it. Shame on you GM!!!! If you are going to make the product safely , DO THE RESEARCH!!!!

Posted by: bschroeder | September 8, 2015 7:50 AM    Report this comment

I have eaten at an Original Pancake house many, many times and have never had a reaction or gotten sick. The staff at the location I use is well trained and has cautioned me about the maple syrup they make from scratch as well as the sausage not being gluten free. In the last year they have added a commercial sugar free/gluten free syrup in addition to the fruit compotes they make themselves. I guess it comes down to trust, and they've passed with flying colors.

Posted by: Javablue | September 7, 2015 6:59 PM    Report this comment

I also want to add that food served in airports need to offer GF in more than one restaurant in the airport. We don't always have two or more hours to find that one location, or usually we have nothing to eat. They limit our drinks and then offer us nothing. I tire of bars over my travel days. Our last trip I stood washing out my clothes in the bathroom before my flight because I ate what I thought was GF. It is even harder with chemical/GMO sensitivies for a vegetarian GF eater. A lot of what we are offered that is GF are GMO products. Does this brother anybody?

Posted by: Just Me | September 7, 2015 3:18 PM    Report this comment

I also ate a bowl of contaminated Chex (Vanilla). I have been eating and enjoying various flavors of GF Chex, and that was the first time I got sick. I called GM and let them know. The agent spoke with me at length, and sent me a couple coupons for free cereal. That was appreciated, but now I'm a bit more apprehensive about eating any of the GM "gluten-free" cereals. I'm enjoying my first box of GF Multi-Grain Cheerios, though!

Please, please, contact the manufacturer of any product that makes you sick, and any restaurant that provides a "not quite" GF meal. They need to know if they're NOT providing a GF product. (Some might not care, but others will.)

Posted by: EsJayKay | September 7, 2015 2:44 PM    Report this comment

what we gluten-free people REALLY need is for a President to have gluten intolorence and then we would see a big change in everything! Food labels,medications,resturant menus,etc
Jan L

Posted by: Jan Lovern | September 7, 2015 2:43 PM    Report this comment

Time to name names like (1) Target Stores that sell gluten-free foodstuffs mixed in with the none gluten- free (2) Amy's entree's that are very high in sodium and sugar and are not gluten-free anyway (3) Red Lobster fish restaurants and (4) Mimi's Cafe that present celiac patrons with complicated menu's containing items which are not truly gluten-free (5) Original Pancake House - no way this could be gluten-free. There must be many more. Let's list them. On the bright side, I've discovered Saffron Road entree's which all carry the GF symbol and are quite delicious for anyone that likes Indian style (garlic, curry, etc). Does anyone know of others that carry the GF symbol?

Posted by: freddy | September 7, 2015 2:42 PM    Report this comment

I bought an Amy's Enchillada dinner that was labeled gluten free. I had a bad reaction, dug box out of the trash and saw in small print that it was made on equipment that handles wheat, etc!!!!! That is outrageous !, Means it is NOT GF !!!!!!! Won't touch another one!

Posted by: Rose | September 7, 2015 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I would love to see a movement by the gluten free organizations to lobby for labeling and testing for restaurant menus. Ideally the organizations would assist restaurants in correct handling of food and in developing menus. I would be willing to put time and effort into this endeavor.

Posted by: RElise | September 7, 2015 9:45 AM    Report this comment

My granddaughter has Celiac disease and I am fortunate to have her frequently so I know the struggles involved in keeping her safe. When we go out to a restaurant I research first and have no problem calling ahead to ask just how serious they are about offering and preparing Gluten free items. When I arrive at the restaurant I ask to speak to the manager and impress upon them how serious the condition is and ask that they oversee the preparation from start to finish. I have always had positive responses and feel secure in knowing every step has been taken.

Now on another note... I received some promotional material from Papa Murphy's Pizza. It contained in bold print "GO Gluten Free!". Then in small print states they use "Certified" Gluten Free crust. Then goes further to state it is topped in shared kitchen that also handles gluten-containing ingredients.

This type of advertising is misleading and should not be allowed. I wrote to Papa Murphy's headquarters expressing my disappointment that they take such a serious health issue so lightly. I urge every reader here to do the same. I further intend on writing my elected officials and sending them a copy of this misleading advertisement.

There has to be legislative support to stop "Almost Gluten Free" practices.

Posted by: Olivia's PA | September 7, 2015 9:34 AM    Report this comment

YES!!! Can't agree more. I go a bit further and say 20 ppm is NOT acceptable. I am one of those ultra sensitive celiac patients that even that affects me terribly . Got so sick with the Gluten Free Chex, I was concerned I was getting some additional intolerances until I realized it was the cereal. After testing by stopping and starting the product, I confirmed my suspicions.

Posted by: yvonnetcruz | September 7, 2015 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Yes, there is hope. I recently ate at 5 Guys when I was in Lee Summit, Missouri and they tell everyone cooking that the order needs to be gluten free and they took it very serious. I am a happy customer there.

Posted by: Dairyfree | July 2, 2015 6:58 PM    Report this comment

I am happy that restaurants are starting to give us an option of a special bun or pizza crust. I have to state that I am not highly sensitive or bothered by cross contamination. If I was that sensitive, I would bring my own. I would never trust most restaurant back house to get it right, I worked in many.
With that being said, at my daughter's college cafeteria they make the sandwich in front of her. They know her and get out the gf cutting boards and change gloves and utensils.
While traveling in MN, we say lots of gf options, maybe there is hope.

Posted by: mrsrobbins | July 2, 2015 11:14 AM    Report this comment

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