We have all been to a restaurant where their gluten-free menu really didn’t mean gluten free at all: whether it is cross contamination, staff without firm knowledge on what products/ingredients are gluten free, and preparation issues.
I have been to restaurants that make the gluten free claim on french fries that are fried with the other breaded products. Other restaurants have claimed they have gluten free pizza — but only because their crust is gluten free (otherwise they share all other gluten-contaminated ingredients including the sauce, plus utensils and cutting boards). Lack of education and regulation during a time of a gluten free trend has lead to a lot of gluten free menus and no oversight.
When the Food and Drug Administration came out with its new gluten free labeling guidelines last August it breezed by a requirement for restaurants. But that is now further clarified. Restaurants will have to evaluate how they are doing their gluten free menus and what they will need to accomplish to follow the FDA’s requirements by late next summer.
How the FDA’s Gluten Free Rule was Clarified for Restaurants
August 2013: Here is what Question 9 of the FDA’s Question and Answer document on the Gluten-Free Food Labeling Final Rule stated (click on image to make it larger):
At that time you can see that it used the term suggests and should when discussing whether the gluten free labeling rule affects restaurants.
Fast forward to today. Early this morning Andrea Levario, Executive Director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA), made this statement on the ACDA’s Facebook page: “The FDA has heeded the ACDA’s call to clarify what the gluten-free rule means for restaurants striving to be consumer friendly, and safe, for individuals with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.”
Here is how that point is further clarified (click on the image to make larger, or click here to see the current Q and A document on the FDA’s website).
It appears to be saying (my paraphrasing, not the FDA’s), we went to all this work to get a gluten-free rule in place so if you’re going to say dishes on your menu are gluten free, you better make sure you’re following our rules and that the food is indeed safe for people who eat gluten free. If you don’t comply you’ll be punished.
Many Questions Remain
But what does it mean? How does it affect the restaurants? And how does it affect us? I have so many questions!
- Will restaurants have to only use gluten-free labeled products that are following the FDA’s rule?
- Or is it about the end product? Will they need to test their completed dishes?
- How do individual restaurants learn about this clarification?
- Will some of the restaurants ditch the gluten free menu all together because it is too much hassle?
And if I have these questions I am CERTAIN restaurants have more!
I have emailed both the National Restaurant Association and the FDA for further comment. I am not sure I will hear from them today since it is the day before Thanksgiving, but when I do hear from them, I will get you the update.