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):

FDA's mention of restaurants in the Gluten Free Labeling Rule from August 2013

FDA’s mention of restaurants in the Gluten Free Labeling Rule from August 2013

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).

FDA's update for Restaurants who do Gluten Free Menus - November 2013

FDA’s update for Restaurants who do Gluten Free Menus – November 2013












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.

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3 Responses to “FDA Clarifies Restaurant Gluten Free Menu Requirements”

  1. I’m just as confused as you are, but I highly doubt if they will end up testing the final product considering even the FDA standard for food doesn’t require that.

    I’m still shocked that they put all those rules in place but never made it a requirement that the product actually be tested. I guess it’s good for smaller companies that are super careful and don’t have the money to test just to confirm what they already knew anyway.

  2. Restaurants are required to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to staff and guests. Shouldn’t celiac disease be universally considered a disability, too? It certainly affects one’s quality of life and requires accommodations. Restaurants are in a unique position to make a huge difference. I hope the industry recognizes California Pizza Kitchen’s gluten free foodservice success and follows suit. Thanks for keeping us up to date on this.

  3. Alive – One should not assume small companies are safer than large companies. Small companies often “assume” ingredients are pure and safe “because they Our experience is that this is a dangerous assumption. Small companies many times do not have the same strict standards in place as large companies…often because at this time it is not required of them.

    Restaurants can produce safe products. It takes more than education, it takes the same strictness that manufacturers have in place. California Pizza Kitchen is a great example of this. GIG is proud to be working with them to continue to expand the GF options on their menu, through GIG’s Gluten-Free Food Service Training and Management Certification program.

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