‘Gluten-Free’ is a term dreaded by caterers; the gluten-free diet, whether you subscribe to it or not, is generally viewed as an unnecessary hassle in the industry. However, some people’s intolerance to gluten is a very real hazard, and apathy towards this can have consequences.
What is Coeliac Disease? Contrary to popular assumption, sufferers do not have an allergy or intolerance to gluten. Coeliac disease is in fact an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system attacks itself when gluten is consumed. As you can imagine, this can be very serious, and in some cases reactions can be deadly.
Is it only Coeliac disease that can be a problem? No. Non coeliac gluten sensitivity is also common, where coeliac-like symptoms are experienced without the autoimmune disease, and so no permanent damage is caused to the digestive system.
And, of course, people can be allergic to wheat – reactions to this are triggered very shortly after eating.
What can I do to adapt? Owing to the increased visibility in recent times, many more businesses in the catering industry are adapting their businesses to cater to the growing need. In many places this takes the form of offering a gluten-free version of their menu, where ingredients containing gluten are substituted out of meals.
But it’s not just the main ingredients that can cause problems – items exposed to gluten as a matter of course in their preparation are a risk too. For example, it would be hazardous to cook gluten-free and regular pizzas in the same pizza oven.
Why is this important? There are obviously many legal implications relating to the control of gluten around products that are meant to be gluten-free, considering how dangerous it can be! Offering gluten-free also widens your target market, and indeed makes your establishment seem more welcoming even to those who aren’t gluten-free.
Establishments that offer these options often put a key to indicate which items are wheat/dairy/meat free and encourage their customers to talk to the staff if they’re not sure. This is an easy way to absolutely make sure that your customers get the appropriate options.
For more information on how you can adapt your business, check out Coeliac UK, who offer not only advice to people with Coeliac, but also to Food Industry and Healthcare professionals.