Saturday, July 21, 2012

It may be called gluten-free, but is it really??

Many companies are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon these days.  Capturing the gluten-free market seems like a no brainer and a marketing gold mine, but some companies are so quick to market it, to have something they can provide that is "gluten-free" they don't really take the time to educate themselves first.

Case in point...  I am going to keep the company's name anonymous for the time being.  A new bakery-type place opened up not far from me in Intown Atlanta.  They are hip, cool and the latest thing, and I have heard nothing but rave reviews (from my gluten-able friends).  Someone mentions to me a couple of weeks ago that they will soon be serving gluten-free items.  Of course hearing that gives me hope.  I decide to call them last weekend to see if by some small miracle they have already introduced them.  I was told no, but that they were working on a recipe and they should have them soon, and that they had lots of people looking forward to it.  I believe I was speaking to the owner as they seemed to know what they were talking about.  I asked them how this item would be prepared....Onsite? In a separate area? At a separate time of the day? Using separate pans?

I was then told, that they would be prepared onsite, in the same area, and for this one particular the same fryer!  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  Obviously this person is not educated on what it means to be gluten-free.  I attempted to nicely explain that this is not gluten-free.  Once an item like a gluten-free chip or fries are fried with something breaded or containing flour, this negates all gluten-freeness.  The owner went on to tell me that her items are not really going to be meant for people who have to be gluten-free out of necessity, and that those people should really not be eating in a bakery in the first place (gasp!).  And that her new gluten-free items would only be for people who were gluten-free to live a more healthy lifestyle.

Deep breathe here.

I get that for someone with celiac to eat at any place with a shared kitchen (which is about 99.9% of eateries out there) we assume some kind of risk, and it is up to us to judge, for ourselves, what is acceptable.  But, when you put something in a shared fryer that is not just accidental cross-contamination, that is deliberate. That is not gluten-free.  You can not advertise something that is in a shared fryer as gluten-free.

There are many bakeries I feel comfortable at, and I know they are knowledgeable and take precautions to assure everything is as safe as possible.  Two places in particular are Swirlz cupcakes in Chicago, and BabyCakes.

I also had to mention that people who choose to eat gluten-free in order to live a more healthy lifestyle are most likely not eating these very fattening items anyway.  Those people are not looking for replacement items, period.  It is those with celiac that want to eat gluten-free versions of tasty treats everyone else gets to enjoy.

Not to mention, this could easily backfire on them.  Because, as we who are gluten-free know, when a company introduces something that is gluten-free, and people come in from all over just to have it, only to discover it really is not gluten-free....well, that is going to spread like wildfire throughout the gluten-free community and be no good for anyone.

In the end, I hope I was able to make a difference, and this place will either A) just not offer them; or B) educate themselves as to what really is gluten-free, and make them properly.  I really hope this unnamed company will get their act together.

How would you feel if a company started introducing something that you were really looking forward to, only to find out it really wasn't gluten-free after all?


  1. I'm wondering about the bakery's liability insurance on this issue? If they advertise their product as "gluten free" and then deliberately cross-contaminate the product -especially after you've made them aware of the cross contamination problem - and someone who has violent reaction to gluten gets deathly ill as a result, who's at fault? They might need to think of this and take the gluten cross-contamination more seriously...

  2. That would be my initial thought too, but since their is no law on gluten-free labeling, I am not sure there is any liability. I am definitely not an expert in that area, but even when places mark their menus gluten-free, I still think that we take responsibility when we eat at a place with a shared kitchen, BUT...I do know of a case a couple of years ago (I think( when a man making bread which he marketed as "gluten-free", which was really not got in trouble. Though, I don't know if this is the same thing. Technically they are using gluten-free ingredients, but then they mess that up when they put it in the fryer. I do wish restaurants/bakeries were held up to a higher standard when it comes to gluten. I would be curious to hear from someone who is more knowledgeable in this area.

  3. I am a cook in a private club and I have celiac!
    There is such a wide range of people who work in kitchens that it can be difficult to maintain a strictly gluten-free item. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it can depend on the situation in general. Shared fryers, work surfaces, utensils, incidental contact... There really are a lot of variables, and then add the fact that we are generally working as fast as we can... I try... Some people may not. (Clearly, this is not the ideal work environment for me, but I am back in school now working towards a BS in dietetics.)

  4. Lame..lame...lame. Personally, I would call them out by name. You'd be doing a service to other celiacs in the area.

    You can always order Dominos instead ;)

  5. I wonder if this company you just mentioned in your fist statement does really know the thing that they are doing. They were not even sure about how are they going to cook or serve their food which are intended for gluten-free dieters, I think they should know the risk they are taking.

  6. Did you see they are calling it "grain-free" now as opposed to "gluten-free"??

  7. Yes, and really nothing should be called "free" unless they take great care in making sure the thing it is "free from" is not in there. Hmmm..... I still believe it is misleading.