Tossing pizza dough into the air may be critical to the art of making a perfect crust, but when a fine dust of flour flutters down, it isnt so fine for patrons whove ordered the gluten-free pies.
Its cross contamination, says Stewart Singleton, who trains food service professionals on allergy awareness, including how to properly prepare gluten-free menu options. Some restaurants toss their pizzas with cornmeal, so thats OK.
An estimated 3 million Americans have celiac disease and must avoid gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten triggers the production of antibodies that damage the lining of the small intestine.
If I consume a food that contains even the tiniest amount of gluten, such as a burger that was touched by a hamburger bun, I can miss a whole day of work, says Singleton, who was diagnosed with celiac disease 10 years ago.
Finally, a definition
The detective work to identify sources of the offending gluten will soon be a lot easier, even if the product is labeled gluten-free.
New federal standards have been set for gluten-free claims with a limit of 20 parts per million in products.
A standard is important, Singleton says. He points out that food service ingredients will improve, too. For instance, theres a commercial salad dressing company that used Worcestershire powder in their dressings, but that contains barley malt, which is not gluten-free, so they had to change the recipe.
Who wants gluten-free?
From bread to beer, the nationwide demand for gluten-free products is robust, representing more than $4 billion in annual sales. Celiacs benefit from the improved quality and quantity of gluten-free products, but market demand was led by a greater number of consumers identified as gluten intolerant.
From day one, we knew that gluten-free was going to be a big part of our agenda, says Doug Turbush, chef and owner of Seed Kitchen & Bar in Marietta, Ga.
Gluten-free demand has been overwhelming.
Turbush knows now that the gluten-free soy sauce he purchases for the restaurant has to meet federal standards.
The downside of the demand is the temptation for some restaurants to offer gluten-free options without doing it right.
Travel journalist Laura Powell suffers from migraines when she consumes gluten.
Ive even seen menus where gluten-free is asterisked, she says. If you read the fine print, you find almost gluten-free, which is like being a little bit pregnant.
Beyond the gluten-free grocery list, Singleton says restaurants need to do more.
They need designated staff, preparation areas and equipment, he says. At Yeah Burger, they use separate toasters for the gluten-free buns. Powell adds, Just because its gluten-free doesnt mean its worthy of being on your menu. Dont feel the need to add a dish if the quality is not up to the rest of your standards.
Even with the new standards, you cant be shy.