Big Business Going Gluten-Free

Some of the big names in big food business are starting to come around to the gluten-free way of living. But can they be trusted? This is 2012, so asking if big business can be trusted is basically a rhetorical question at this point. But let’s humor them. Maybe they really do just want to provide delicious and truly gluten-free products to consumers…or maybe they just want your money. So which is it?

To be sure, only time will tell if these big businesses are really out to provide gluten-free alternatives or if they are just trying to tap into the gluten-free market. They certainly can’t be blamed for trying, with an estimated 8% of the U.S. population now following some sort of gluten-free diet. The need for more gluten-free food definitely exists, and it would seem to make good business sense to try and tap into the market. But is it a genuine effort? Do they understand the risks of cross-contamination? Can they educate their staff about gluten-free food preparation and handling? Good for these companies for at least trying to step into the gluten-free arena, but they need to know that the waters are treacherous. If they want that 8%, they better understand that 8% and what it takes to be truly gluten-free.

The biggest name in business that is now offering gluten-free alternatives is Domino’s Pizza. Gluten-free pizza, you say? I know, pinch yourself to make sure this is reality. For many living a gluten-free lifestyle, the idea of a hot gluten-free pizza showing up at your door would be a dream come true. But can you trust it to be truly gluten-free? Is Domino’s going to educate their staff about how to avoid cross-contamination? Can the staff be trusted to understand and implement the gluten-free guidelines on pizza? Will the gluten-free pizzas be prepared in a separate station, free from gluten cross-contamination? Will they be cooked in separate ovens? The answer to many of these questions will probably be a “no,” which is why I worry that Domino’s may simply want some share of the gluten-free market, but that they won’t go the extra mile to ensure that their pizzas truly are free of gluten. Just like with most oats, cross-contamination is a huge risk that cannot be ignored. It seems that very gluten-sensitive people like those with Celiac Disease should probably avoid Domino’s gluten-free pizza. It is still prepared by the same people, in the same place, and cooked in the same oven as their normal pizzas. The risk just seems too great. And for those less sensitive gluten-free diners that may be avoiding gluten as more of a way to reduce calories and manage body weight, is a Domino’s pizza the right choice anyway? Probably not.

There are other big names in food that are trying to get into the gluten-free market as well. The sandwich chain Subway has been testing gluten-free breads. But is the gluten-free bread cooked in the same oven as the normal bread? Prepared by the same person? Will they have separate toasters for the gluten-free bread? Will the meats, condiments, and toppings be gluten-free? And again, will the staff be educated about proper gluten-free food handling? P.F. Changs is another restaurant chain offering a number of gluten-free dishes. But are they all free from cross-contamination? Are they cooked in separate gluten-free grills, pans, and deep fryers? If you’ve ever been in a large restaurant kitchen during a Friday dinner rush and seen the chaos on the line, it is generally anything but organized, and probably last on the cooks’ minds is the onus on keeping gluten out of certain dishes.

If you’re an adult living in society, you’ve probably learned by now to trust basically no one…and especially not someone who wants your money. So keep these things in mind when you hear about a restaurant or food company offering new gluten-free alternatives. Have they really taken the necessary steps to offer a truly gluten-free product, or are they simply paying lip service to the idea and only want a share of the gluten-free market? In the end, it is you, the consumer who will deal with the consequences if your food is cross-contaminated by gluten. You’ll be the one going to the bathroom every half hour, not the guy who made your pizza at Domino’s. You’ll be the one dealing with bloating for the next few days, not the lady who made your sandwich at Subway. You’ll be the one dealing with the consequences, so arm yourself with knowledge and at least be skeptical of places like Domino’s and Subway trying to edge their way into the gluten-free market. Because it isn’t as simple as gluten-free bread or pizza dough, it has to be accompanied by a concerted and stringent effort to avoid cross-contamination and to educate food makers and handlers about what gluten is and how to keep it out of food. If a company wants a share of the gluten-free market, make them earn it. Make them show you, the gluten-free consumer, that they understand your dietary needs and that they will go to the proper lengths to ensure that if they are telling you a product is gluten-free, that you are actually getting what you’re paying for.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube

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