Well it has been a newsworthy 24 hours in the celiac and gluten free department. When Domino’s announced it was doing a gluten free pizza nationwide — the gluten free world stopped and listened….and then…reacted.
Yesterday’s Domino’s announcement basically said we’re making a gluten free pizza, but folks with celiac shouldn’t eat it. And it came with a video disclaimer with a quote from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. While disappointed that the pizza isn’t celiac-safe, I was happy to see that they worked with the NFCA to prevent another California Pizza Kitchen debacle which lead CPK to pull their gluten-free pizza within months of unveiling it.
So there are a few things I wanted to follow up on in light of yesterday’s news:
NFCA Working with Domino’s
The NFCA walked a fine line when working with Domino’s on this project in my opinion. They are a celiac awareness group, helping a company prepare a “gluten free” product– that isn’t for celiacs. I asked Alice Bast, Founder of NFCA about walking this very public fine line.
“Our main goal was to keep those with celiac disease safe,” Bast explained to me. “When we first spoke with Domino’s, we thought we would be helping them launch a gluten-free crust pizza for everyone to enjoy. However, upon review of operating procedures, we realized we could not recommend this pizza for those with celiac disease.” Bast added in the interview she knew the NFCA had a decision to make. Domino’s then agreed to the disclaimer that it wasn’t for people with celiac disease.
Bast did mention that Domino’s did third party cross contamination studies of the gluten-free pizza and the results showed the amount of gluten exposure was very low and that people who didn’t need to worry about cross contamination could eat this product.
When I asked how the NFCA could support Domino’s gluten-free pizza, Bast said what Domino’s was doing fit in with their newly expanded GREAT Kitchens Amber designation which promotes communication about kitchen practices but doesn’t require the strict cross-contamination controls that the top, “Green” designation does.
“The truth is,” Bast said, “there are many restaurants today that label ‘gluten-free’ items on their menu and speak confidently about their ability to serve celiac consumers without having any idea of the cross-contamination they are committing.” — I thought of the same thing yesterday. How many restaurants — many of them offering pizza — may be cross contaminating like crazy but still calling it gluten free with no additional education or information? CPK comes to mind. I did an entire post on what people should ask before ordering a gluten free pizza — for this very reason.
Then Bast said something that was alarming to me. She was at the National Restaurant Association Show this weekend and “was shocked to discover how little chef’s know” about preparing gluten free food. “So far, more than 100 chefs – many of whom said they have gluten-free option on their menus – took a 4 question quiz that we created about gluten free protocols. Only two chef’s got all four questions right!”
“Would we prefer that the pizza be safe for those with celiac? Of course,” Bast said. “Unfortunately, that’s not possible in this case, but we do believe that Domino’s is making a positive step by being up front about the risk of potential gluten exposure.”
Immediate Gluten Free Pizza Competition
In yesterday’s post I uttered the words….”it wouldn’t surprise me if another major chain will decide to do it right, with a separate cooking area, ingredients and oven — and trump Domino’s.” And sure enough….I published my Domino’s article and out pops this news release about Chuck E. Cheese! The kids play/pizza joint just added Minnesota as a test market for a gluten free pizza and cupcake.
According to the news release, the work and technology involved to avoid cross contamination appears innovative, “The bake-in-bag pizza will remain sealed while cooked and delivered and until opened and served with a personal pizza cutter at families’ tables by the adult in charge….
Under the same procedure, gluten-free, chocolate fudge cupcakes naturally sweetened with fruits, vegetables and grains from Fabe’s All Natural Bakery will remain in pre-sealed, single-serve packaging through preparation and until opened and served at the table.”
This news was better received than the Domino’s news on The Savvy Celiac Facebook page, people were immediately making the comparison, like from reader Carole, “This sounds so much safer than Domino’s. These are steps in the right direction.”
News of the Domino’s gluten free pizza made ABC News World News Tonight (which incidentally didn’t address the cross contamination issue) and MSNBC website…and FOX 9 in the Twin Cities asked me to come on and talk about it (and about our upcoming celiac fundraiser event) last night. They bought one of the gluten free pizzas as well as a prop, which was a great idea. It was fun to discuss this with Heidi Collins (fellow celiac gal) and her colleagues on the air. If the video is put on the internet, I will link it up!