Why Some Restaurants Can’t Exactly Say Gluten Free

Getting Really Technical to Ensure 100% Healthy Customers

commissary style kitchen

A Typical Commissary-Style Kitchen

If you have a serious allergy to or intolerance for anything in the way of food, then dining out becomes an entirely different kind of challenge. With so much going on in the world of science and dieting when it comes to food allergies, and the relationship between things like gluten and certain diseases or conditions of the body, more and more restaurants are stepping up their games, and pushing the heavily notated menus for the sake of their customers’ health.

Similarly, when you see store-bought, pre-packaged items starting to say things like, “This was produced in a facility that also contains items with tree nuts,” for example, you realize just how serious of a situation this is for some people. If you have a peanut allergy, and buy something that you believe DOES NOT have peanuts in it, but then get sick as if it did have peanuts, you’d be pretty upset. Perhaps it’s just the litigious society we live in, but people deserve to know, so companies are starting to be very transparent about ingredients, including other things produced in the same kitchens or factories.

What Does Gluten-Free Really Mean?

Here’s some great information on the real meaning behind gluten free, but in a nutshell, it’s problematic. According to Epicurious, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been debating the meaning of the phrase “gluten-free” for more than five years. They still haven’t made a decision.” Gluten represents a certain kind of “elastic protein” (contained in things like wheat, barley, rye, semolina, and other things), so one would think that when a product is “gluten-free,” that means what you think it obvious would — that there is NO gluten in it. But that might not necessarily be so, at least not yet.

So what’s the point. Well — think about a situation like a commissary-style kitchen. Sure, the menu item you ordered has no gluten in it, but there are a few things on the menu that do contain gluten. And all of the same machines are in rotation for various recipes, meaning a non gluten containing item may share some time in a steamer or mixer, before or after a gluten containing item passes through the same exact machine. Even if the machine is cleaned a thousand times, one can’t rightfully guarantee 100% contamination-free recipes. What if a person were to get deathly ill?

And truth be told, the possibility of any kind of contaminant in a situation like this is not that easy to prevent. According to a (somewhat) recent white paper by Cole-Parmer, “Pathogenic bacteria, protozoa, and viruses can be transmitted via the foods and beverages we consume. Even large companies with quality control procedures including microbial testing are vulnerable to the production and distribution of contaminated foods and beverages.”

Which is why some restaurants are opting for the label: “Without Gluten,” which gives its patrons the reasonable assurance that the item does not specifically contain anything with gluten in it. But — and here’s where the concern and transparency enters into the picture — the same item was likely produced in an environment (think commissary kitchen again) where gluten-containing elements are being used in other recipes. Thus, the possibility of contamination, while being quite remote in some cases, is still there.

So if you are gluten-free and really struggling with any number of related conditions, you have our sympathies. It’s difficult to find truly gluten-free dining options in restaurants, unless the bulk of the menu has been built around that idea, which is still all too rare. If you have any answers, and you are gluten-free and trying to figure out how and where to eat out, please do share your thoughts and finds with us now in the comments section below.
Read the full white paper by Cole-Parmer here. [Photo Via: happybellytruck]

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