“He gave my son veal dredged in flour and a side of gluten free pasta cooked in the same water as regular pasta” Are restaurants taking gluten-free requests less seriously?Tricia Thompson
This week I received an email from a member of the Gluten Free Watchdog community about a recent restaurant experience. It is printed here with permission:
“I want to share with you some restaurant trends I am noticing. It seems like the gluten-free diet fad has created some real issues for those of us with Celiac or real gluten intolerance. We took my son out to dinner last weekend and he got terribly glutened. I just called the restaurant and spoke to the chef. He informed me that he assumes most people are just on a “gluten free diet” and that basically, that means he can ignore it. He gave my son veal dredged in flour and a side of gluten free pasta cooked in the same water as regular pasta. He was very sorry, etc. I learned two things from this. First of all, we as a community need to get the word out to restaurants that they need to take gluten free seriously. Despite the fact that a number of people follow a gluten free diet “loosely” for whatever reason, they cannot take a chance that the diner they are serving is one of those people. Gluten free is gluten free, period. Second, EVERY time we get glutened, we must follow through with calls to the restaurant to let them know – how else will they get better? Trust me, they do not like getting these calls (I can’t say that I was calm), so hopefully with enough of them the restaurants will start to care a little bit more….”
That a chef would not take a gluten-free request seriously is truly horrifying but not necessarily surprising. And mom is correct, if this happens to you it is important to take steps to contact the restaurant and complain. Here are some additional recommendations:
- When ordering a gluten-free meal, state that you have celiac disease or a medical reason for following a gluten-free diet. Don’t simply order an item that is marked that it can be “made without gluten” and assume that it will be. Make sure the server understands that you will get sick if you eat gluten.
- If you do get sick and find out from the restaurant that you were fed gluten (and even if the restaurant says your meal was gluten-free) contact the local, county, or state health department where the restaurant is located. You may want to start by searching on “[the name of your state] health department restaurant inspections” such as “Massachusetts health department restaurant inspections.” This will likely bring up various pages with contact information.
- Contact your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator. A state-by-state listing is available at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/
- Share a copy of the FDA’s position on restaurants and gluten-free claims with the restaurant. It is available HERE and pasted below. While the FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule applies to packaged foods only, the agency also states that, “… if restaurants or other retail food establishments wish to make “gluten-free” claims (or the synonymous claims “no gluten” “free of gluten” or “without gluten”) for any of their menu items, these foods should meet all of the requirements FDA has established for a food labeled gluten-free, including not containing 20 parts per million or more gluten, whether or not the presence of gluten is due to accidental cross-contact occurring in the kitchen. If restaurants cannot ensure that the foods they prepare fully comply with FDA’s definition of gluten-free, restaurants should not refer to their foods as being “gluten-free.”
- Post your restaurant stories in the comments section. If you provide an email address for the restaurant, GFWD will send them a copy of FDA’s position on restaurants and gluten-free claims.
Note: If you watched the video posted on the Nima Sensor (available HERE) you know that GFWD does not recommend using this device to test foods with heterogeneous (i.e., uneven) gluten contamination. BUT using it in a restaurant to make sure your meat wasn’t dredged through flour or your gluten-free pasta wasn’t cooked in water previously used to cook regular pasta ARE good uses. In these instances, gluten contamination will be fairly evenly distributed.
Restaurants and Gluten-Free Labeling Claims
The following statement was drafted by Rhonda Kane, MS, RD, former Consumer Safety Officer, Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Current FDA staff reviewed and slightly revised this statement and granted me (Tricia Thompson, MS, RD) permission to post the revision at www.glutenfreedietitian.com:
In the strict sense, FDA requirements for gluten-free claims apply to only packaged foods that are subject to FDA labeling regulations. However, FDA stated the following in regards to restaurants in the preamble to its final rule on gluten-free labeling (see 78 FR 47153 at 47173, issued 8/5/13): “with respect to restaurants, FDA guidance suggests that any use of an FDA-defined food labeling claim (e.g., “fat-free” or “cholesterol-free”) on restaurant menus should be consistent with the regulatory definitions.”
Further, both FDA regulations at 21 CFR 101.13(q)(5) (see http://tinyurl.com/lfvknn7) and Chapter IV of FDA’s guidance document titled Guidance for Industry: A Labeling Guide for Restaurants and Other Retail Food Establishments Selling Away-From-Home Food initially issued April 2008 (see http://tinyurl.com/mngrt4j) reiterate the agency’s position that restaurants should not use an FDA-defined nutrient content claim for foods sold in restaurants unless those foods meet regulatory requirements for the claim. A gluten-free claim is an avoidance claim and FDA has publicly expressed its opinion (in the Federal Register and in a guidance document) that it takes a similar approach to gluten-free claims made for foods sold in restaurants.
Consequently, if restaurants or other retail food establishments wish to make “gluten-free” claims (or the synonymous claims “no gluten” “free of gluten” or “without gluten”) for any of their menu items, these foods should meet all of the requirements FDA has established for a food labeled gluten-free, including not containing 20 parts per million or more gluten, whether or not the presence of gluten is due to accidental cross-contact occurring in the kitchen. If restaurants cannot ensure that the foods they prepare fully comply with FDA’s definition of gluten-free, restaurants should not refer to their foods as being “gluten-free.” State and local governments play an important role in oversight of restaurants and other retail food establishments and are responsible for conducting on-site inspections of those facilities to help ensure the safety of foods served to the public. FDA expects to work with their State and local government partners with respect to gluten-free claims for foods prepared and sold in restaurants. FDA will consider enforcement action as needed, alone or with other agencies, to protect consumers.
In addition, consumer advocacy/watchdog groups, other retail food establishments, manufacturers of foods labeled gluten-free, and consumers can play an important role in preventing restaurants from incorrectly using gluten-free claims for their menu items. For example, if a restaurant manager confirms that a menu item bearing a gluten-free claim is made with an ingredient prohibited by FDA regulations on gluten-free food labeling, or if any persons sensitive to gluten become sick after consuming restaurant foods claimed to be gluten-free, it is important that these cases be reported to both the overseeing state agency and to FDA (see Consumer Complaint Coordinators listed by state at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/. It is believed that conducting outreach to restaurants and other retail food establishments to help educate them about FDA’s definition of gluten-free can be an effective tool to avoid inappropriate uses of the term gluten-free for foods sold by those facilities.
©Copyright January 28, 2014 by www.glutenfreedietitian.com
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