Those of you with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, please remain keenly vigilant when eating out. A recent study by Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl of Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center, reported that one-third of the “gluten-free” foods sold in U.S. restaurants still contained gluten. The standard cutoff point for any gluten-free claim is less than 20 parts per million (ppm),
The study involving more than 800 investigators, armed with portable gluten free sensors, set out to determine the actual gluten content of dishes listed as gluten-free. Their results of more than 5,600 gluten tests over an 18 month period showed that 27% of gluten-free breakfast meals actually contained gluten (greater than 20 ppm). And dinner meals fared even worse, 34% contained gluten.
The results seemed to worsen as the day progressed, possibly a result of cross-contamination or laxed attention to detail. In addition, some of the gluten-free foods seemed riskier than others. Fifty percent of the gluten-free pizzas and pastas had gluten in them. The potential for sharing an oven with gluten-containing pizza or GF pasta being prepared in water that was previously used with wheat-containing pasta could be responsible for the increased risk.
Whether you suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you rely on GF labeling and safe food preparation practices to prevent uncomfortable symptoms like constipation, bloating or nausea. Caveat Emptor or buyer beware.
The FDA regulates packaged food with gluten-free labeling, but there is no oversight for restaurant’s claims of serving gluten-free food. The chef or person handling the GF product is responsible for keeping it safe. They may or may not know how to keep it from cross-contamination. Be educated about proper food handling skills, use your knowledge to help servers and to protect your health.
Let the results of this study emphasize the need to keep inquiring about food preparation at restaurants. Instead of feeling fearful of eating out, ask questions of your server, without guilt. You are responsible for your health and well-being. Knowledge is power, pass it on.