Gluten-free display at a grocery store

Get a Grasp on Gluten (Free)

Serving an increasingly gluten-free population

Anyone who has been involved in the culinary industry within the past few years is probably aware of the escalating presence of gluten-free cuisine. Canada has developed official standards for labeling gluten-free oats, MillerCoors has created a gluten-free beer— called Peak— from rice, and even the Catholic Church is now offering gluten-free communion wafers.

Whether you believe that wide-spread understanding of these issues is driving higher rates of diagnoses or consider this climb in demand to largely be the product of a popular fad, your ability to meet customers’ desires is growing ever more dependent on your understanding/observance of safe gluten-free practices. If you are thinking about taking on a gluten-free client pool, here is a guide to get you started.


What to Watch Out For                                                                                                              

One of the most important parts of preparing a gluten-free meal is ensuring that you use the proper ingredients. Because not all gluten-free products are necessarily labeled as such, restricting yourself to ingredients labeled “gluten-free” may severely limit your available materials. It is essential that you read every nutrition label on any food you use and become adept at easily identifying terms that indicate gluten content. Avoid anything containing:

  • Wheat (all types)
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Oats (unless labeled gluten-free)
  • Malt
  • Brewer’s yeast

Additionally, make sure to further examine anything that has starch, food starch, modified food starch, or dextrin, as these may be prepared from wheat.

There are several easy-to-use resources that you may want to keep with you when planning menus, ordering supplies, or developing gluten-free recipes — like the Gluten Intolerance Group’s “Tips for Label Reading”— that can help you remember what to avoid.


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Education & Certification

So, if you’ve finished digesting the guidelines above and have made the decision to address the gluten-free demand in your community, you may want to start by investigating the enormous number of resources available through the Beyond Celiac and Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) websites, which include tip sheets, event calendars, and advisory columns/blogs. Both of these associations also offer training/certification programs:

  1. Beyond Celiac - Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP)

Beyond Celiac endorses a food safety-based gluten management program for manufacturers that was originally created by the Allergen Control Group and Canadian Celiac Association. The GFCP is a management and facility-based certification that includes independent audits from the International Standard for Organization (ISO) and third-party accredited auditing companies.

  1. GIG – Gluten-Free Certification

The GIG also runs two certification tracks: one for products/manufacturers and another for food service institutions. The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) program lays out strict standards and recognizes companies that make/distribute products that demonstrate no more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten— well below the 20 ppm that most celiac/gluten-sensitive people can tolerate. In addition to placing its logo on certified products’ labels, the GFCO provides an online directory of certified buyers and distributors.

The GIG additionally runs a training and accreditation program for Gluten-Free Food Services (GFFS). The GFFS aims to educate staff and ensure continued compliance with the GIG’s best practice and hygiene standards. Many different types of establishments are eligible for this opportunity, including bakeries, schools, and private clubs.


What Can You Make?

If you are like many chefs, you may be concerned that gluten-free pastas and breads will affect the quality of your dishes. Luckily, you don’t have to use these substitutes to create tasty gluten-free meals. Here are just a few examples of foods that are naturally gluten-free (although you should always make sure to double-check nutrient labels):

  • Potatoes/french fries
  • Nachos with salsa/cheese (corn-based grain in chips)
  • Tacos (corn-based grains in shells)
  • Coleslaw
  • Rice
  • Risotto
  • Pad Thai (rice noodles)
  • Pho
  • Sushi/sashimi (without soy sauce)
  • Nicoise Salad
  • Macarons

There are also innumerable cookbooks and blogs dedicated to providing gluten-free recipes that can help you in your search for naturally gluten-free products.


A Word of Caution

There are many people who believe that the majority of individuals who swear that a gluten-free lifestyle improves baseline health or who claim to have gluten intolerance/sensitivity are mistaken. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, the truth is that approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease— which is a very serious condition involving the intestinal tract— and research regarding gluten sensitivity is insufficient to accurately estimate the number of affected people.

Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that any food noted as gluten-free truly meets this standard. While not many chefs would intentionally feed gluten-sensitive customers their irritant— as this chef from Glenwood Springs, CO did— inattention to detail and failing to take a gluten-free request seriously can cause mistakes, such as cross-contamination, that may have disastrous consequences. Always be careful to demonstrate best practices when dealing with any food allergy or intolerance.

By Erin Coursey, iHire | October 30, 2015
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