Coeliacs and eating out

I am writing in the name of the Coeliac Association to highlight an issue of huge concern for coeliacs. This feels to be a growing issue, even more so during the pandemic.

In the past few years, awareness on coeliac disease and the gluten-free diet has improved. Coeliacs and those who suffer from gluten sensitivity have a wide range of gluten-free products to choose from and restaurants have become open to offer gluten-free food.

While restaurants offer gluten-free options, one can never be confident that it is prepared in a safe environment without risk of cross-contamination. This is of utmost importance for coeliacs dining out. How do restaurants minimise the risk? Simply by stating that,  while they offer gluten-free food, it is not suitable or safe for coeliacs due to risk of cross-contamination.

This in itself is a complete contradiction. Stating that something is gluten- free should automatically infer that it is suitable for coeliacs. By law, any item that is gluten-free should not contain more than 20ppm of gluten.

Such a statement also puts all the responsibility on the consumer; the restaurant is never at fault. You, as a coeliac, will take the risk; you, as a coeliac, may feel the effects afterwards,  which, in most cases, is hours later.

Those opting for a gluten-free diet for no medical reason can dine in any restaurant without any cause for concern. However, for coeliacs, it is simply not enough to ask for a gluten-free meal.

There are so many questions that come to mind to a coeliac dining out.

For coeliacs, it is simply not enough to ask for a gluten-free meal. Photo: Shutterstock.comFor coeliacs, it is simply not enough to ask for a gluten-free meal. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Is the food prepared in a separate area? Are all ingredients gluten-free? How does the restaurant minimise the risks of cross-contamination? Has the kitchen been notified that the order is for a coeliac?

Going through these questions, you certainly do not fault coeliacs for not taking a risk in dining out. This has a big effect on coeliacs of any age when going out for any social activity.

One must also mention the difficulties parents or guardians experience when their child suffers from coeliac disease. To make matters worse, the constant gluten-free claims on social media are simply spreading misinformation and false advertising. Admittedly, not all coeliacs do their homework before dining out, which again proves how restaurants should shoulder more responsibility in these matters.

A prime example of this is a post just a few days ago with Domino’s new gluten- free pizza base promotion. It is cleverly worded as stating “gluten-free pizza base” not “gluten-free pizza”, which has no legal ramifications. The question is:  will they ask all consumers who order a pizza with a ‘gluten-free pizza base’ if they suffer from coeliac disease?

Given that our attempts to contact the local authorities about this have fallen on deaf ears. We would like to ask this media house to investigate this issue for the public’s benefit. This is not a witch- hunt against restaurants, we simply feel that coeliacs deserve better.

How should restaurants help coeliacs?

• Not stating food is gluten-free if it is not suitable for coeliacs.

• Before offering gluten-free food, all staff members must be properly trained in allergens, cross-contamination and food handling.

• A staff member knowledgeable on the above is always present to serve coeliacs.

• Gluten-free ingredients are stored separately from normal ingredients.

• Separate area or kitchen to prepare gluten-free food.

James Grima – committee member of the Coeliac Association Malta, Sliema

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