Posts tagged ‘cross-contamination’

Gluten-Free Party Etiquette

[Summer is quickly approaching, and your schedule is probably packed with barbecues, picnics and other social gatherings. We asked NFCA volunteer Annsley Klehr, owner of Gluten Freedoms, a gluten-free consulting company, to share her tips for managing those awkward moments when you’re gluten-free at a gluten-filled party.]

A month or two ago I received an email from a neighbor asking me for a recipe for a gluten-free flourless chocolate cake.  I willingly obliged, noting in my email that I would be happy to advise her on certain brands and kitchen procedures to avoid cross-contamination.  She thanked me and that was that.

Fast forward several weeks, my family and I are invited to this neighbor’s daughter’s birthday party.  I have already briefed my daughter that she will not be able to eat the desserts there, so we brought a piece of chocolate for her.  We walk in the door to the rich aroma of Mediterranean style appetizers such as hummus, baba ganoush, chips, veggies, etc.  I happily allowed my daughter a few corn chips and veggies.

Annsley and Husband

Me and My Decoy

When it came time for dessert, I realized that my neighbor had asked me for the gluten-free flourless chocolate cake recipe so that she could make it for my daughter and myself.  I knew her household wasn’t gluten-free, so I could not be sure how she prepared the cake, what ingredients she used or if there was a risk of cross-contamination.  The host offered the cake (which was touching gluten-containing desserts) to me in front of all the guests, saying, “I made this especially for you.  It’s gluten-free.”  Then came the ice cream cones filled with chocolate mousse – both gluten-containing and gluten-free versions.  My first reaction was an overwhelming appreciation for such thoughtfulness, and then anxiety.

How could I tell her how much I appreciated all of this food and then NOT eat it?  There was nothing I could say to her but “Thank you.”

I felt so embarrassed by the whole situation I wanted to sink through the floor.  I wasn’t even worried about my 3 year-old daughter because no one would be looking at her for social graces.  I was sitting on the couch surrounded by guests, my daughter floating around the room and my husband at my feet.  I was handed a piece of chocolate cake and the gluten-free cone and I found myself profusely thanking my host for all of her efforts as my heart raced.  I knew I couldn’t eat any of it. The risk of cross-contamination and the thought of a gluten attack were too high. All of the sudden, a hand reached out in front of me, freeing my hand of my cone.  I looked up and all I could see was a mass of curls; it was my husband.  He readily bit into the cone without uttering a word.  I new I’d married him for a reason.  By eating the cake for me, my husband relieved me of a potentially uncomfortable situation!  (The chocolate cake I could conceal in a napkin in my hand).

These situations will always happen, and people living gluten-free have to be prepared.  Here are a few tips to help you navigate awkward social situations:

1.  Call Ahead

Call your host or hostess and let them know that you plan on attending, and that you will either come with your own supply of food or carefully vet all of their ingredients and thoroughly explain cooking procedures to avoid cross-contamination.  If you have a child attending the party, ask the host for the menu in advance so that you can plan to bring gluten-free substitutes.  If the party is being catered, call the catering company and speak with them directly.

2.  Stash a Snack 

Sometimes it may feel awkward to say anything or have a special plate.  In that case, make sure that you grab something to eat before or after the party and always have a snack, like a nut bar or piece of fruit in your bag.

3.  Be Your Gracious Self

As awkward as it may feel, saying “Please” and “Thank you” for foods you can’t eat are still greatly appreciated.  People have gone out of their way to make you feel comfortable, so in return, try to make them feel comfortable, too.  Parties are not the time to educate your hosts, so if you are presented with something that you can’t eat, accept it and express your thanks, then find a time to subtly dispose it or hand off to a friend.

4.  Bring a Decoy

Have someone or something you can swiftly pass your food off to without anyone noticing.  I often alert a friend going to the party with me of situations like these and ask if that friend might kindly take my portion so as not to offend anyone.

5.  Redirect Attention

If you’re looking to avoid drawing attention to what you’re eating or not eating at a party, then always try to have a drink or plate in your hand.  I find that having something on my plate helps to avoid questions and makes it easier to decline other foods.

Don’t let your anxiety prevent you from enjoying a party.  Keep to these few tips and you’ll have a good time no matter what situations you encounter!

– Annsley Klehr

May 30, 2012 at 9:51 am 13 comments

5 Tips for Traveling Gluten-Free

[You learned how to cook gluten-free. You found local restaurants that serve gluten-free. Now, you have to travel gluten-free. Heading to an unfamiliar area can be intimidating, but fear not! Frequent flier Gluten-Free Mike has 5 tips to prepare you for any upcoming trip.]

Let’s face it, we’ve all had that moment of initial panic when we first received our celiac diagnosis. Speaking from personal experience, I know I was completely caught off guard and quite honestly had not even heard of celiac disease before I actually found out I had it. Sounds familiar, right?

Well, that was more than 10 years ago when the gluten-free landscape and celiac awareness were indeed at a very different place than they are today. Fast forward to today and awareness of and catering to celiacs has come a very long way, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the travel and hospitality industry.

Airplane taking off

I have been globe trekking since before I could walk, and when first diagnosed thought that celiac disease would throw a wrench into my love of travel.  To be honest, it did at first. My diagnosis came at a time when there were few good gluten-free products and they were difficult to source. Most restaurants had no clue what I was talking about and going abroad seemed to only magnify the confusion. I slowly but surely got back on the proverbial horse when I realized that celiac need not be limiting and that I needed to take control of the disease and live my life on my terms.

Over the years I have developed a few tips and tricks particularly when it comes to traveling with celiac disease, and I am happy to share some of them with you here:

1. All Airlines Are Not Created Equal.

If you are going to be flying, particularly long-haul international, check out a few carriers’ websites to see whether or not they offer a gluten-free meal option – some even provide samples of what they’ll include.  This will depend on length of flight and class of service, but most airlines will have a gluten-free option if your flight has meal service. Yes, some airlines do gluten-free better than others, and I have had some amazing gluten-free meals over the years – some even included a fresh gluten-free roll – can you imagine?  Will the gluten-free meal knock your socks off?  Likely not, but at least it is safe option to tide you over until you land.

The most important tip I can give when flying is as soon as you board, ask a flight attendant if your meal has been loaded BEFORE departure.  Oftentimes if there is a problem they can deal with it while on the ground vs. not being able to do anything at 35,000 feet. On a recent flight, my gluten-free meal was even noted right on my boarding pass – nice!  Another trick I use is when flying in a premium cabin to check out the airline’s online menus for the route. Most airlines have monthly menus for specific routes and these can be accessed online. I scan the menu to see if any of the “regular” options will work for me and more often than not there is something I can have. I have also seen more and more gluten-free snack item choices making their way on board shorter flights, which is always good to see.

2. Do Your Homework.

This sounds like a given, but just getting a feel for the area you’ll be visiting can help you enjoy your vacation (or business trip) a bit more.  I like to go online and look at the immediate vicinity around where I’ll be staying.  Where is the nearest supermarket?  What dining options are around?  Is there a local celiac group site that gives tips and advice for the area?  If a restaurant piques your interest, check out their menu or give them a ring to discuss whether they will be able to accommodate your needs. There are even an increasing number of hotel chains that now that cater to a host of dietary restrictions and food allergic travelers.  The more leg work you do before departure, the less stress you’ll have at your destination.

3. Speak the Language. 

Okay, this might be easier said than done but there is an easy solution if you find yourself in a country where you do not speak the language. Printable food allergy cards that you can either buy or download for free online.  My recent trip to Peru had me a bit leery as I do not speak Spanish.  Before I left, I printed out and laminated a few double-sided cards that  had both a celiac disease explanation and shellfish allergy notation that called out what I could and could not eat in detail.  Let me tell you that these were a lifesaver because each time I presented them, the server read them and could immediately tell me what would work for me on their menu. If I was in a location where I thought the cross-contamination from shellfish could be an issue, the servers actually brought the cards back to the kitchen for the chef and kitchen staff to read. I had zero issues or reactions on my most recent journey, which was the first time I have brought such cards along with me – and best of all they were available free online.

4. Pack Accordingly. 

No, I am not talking about what clothes to bring – though that is sometimes equally as important.  When I travel, be it by car, train, plane, or horseback (okay, that last one is a bit of poetic license) I always take along what I call my Gluten-Free Contingency Pack.  Depending on the length of my journey, I always carry a bag of nibbles so that I have something to nosh on if I find myself delayed or not having any gluten-free options readily available while en route.

So what’s in my contingency pack?  Well, I am glad you asked.  I typically include a few gluten-free snack items like chips, pretzels, cookies, or snack mix along with a couple meal replacement bars or snack bars.  Okay, and maybe there might be a chocolate bar (or two) in there.  A just-add-water type noodle snack or dry soup is also great to toss in your carry-on and I typically will carry those for ultra long-haul flights of 14 or more hours. I also like to toss a few snack items in my checked bag so I can have a snack at my hotel without having to pop-out to a supermarket right away.

5. Be Flexible.

Flexibility is really key. You might find yourself in a situation with limited knowledge of or availability of a host of gluten-free options. Don’t panic.  Regardless of the situation (and some of mine have been less than ideal) I have never gone hungry while on the road.  Sure, you might not always be able to have exactly what you want, but there will be something – trust me. I have always been amazed at how far people are willing to go to accommodate my dietary needs while on the road.  Also, a little education goes a long way.  I cannot count how many times I had someone on the road say “I had no idea that contained gluten” or “I have heard of celiac, but never knew why you couldn’t eat gluten.”  Just think, the more people become exposed to celiac disease, the less bumpy the road ahead becomes for all of us.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned since my diagnosis is that I will not let being celiac define who I am or dictate what I can and cannot do, and you shouldn’t either.  Life does in fact continue and it’s for the better because I now know why I would get sick after certain meals and in retrospect, pre-diagnosis was actually more limiting than I have found celiac to be.

It’s a great big gluten-free world out there so please, get out there and enjoy it.  Oh, and there will be hiccups along the way – it’s just inevitable – but when they happen, look at them as learning experiences and not roadblocks.  They happen to all of us, gluten-free or not.

– Michael De Cicco-Butz

May 17, 2012 at 8:27 am 2 comments

5 Things I Learned from NFCA’s Getting Started Guide

One of NFCA’s most valuable resources is our Getting Started Guide – a 24-page booklet filled with information for those newly diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It lists gluten-free alternatives, sources of hidden gluten, tips for cooking and dining out, and contact information for support groups and celiac disease centers.

When I started at NFCA, I didn’t know much about celiac disease. Here are 5 things I learned thanks to the Getting Started Guide.

1. Take baby steps.

The gluten-free diet can seem overwhelming, especially when you try to jump in with an overly complex recipe. Instead, start with a few basics. As the Guide says:

“A first and simple step is to look for dishes that need very little customization, perhaps just the substitution of one gluten-free ingredient for one that is not gluten-free. For example, make macaroni and cheese or baked ziti with rice, corn, or lentil pasta, or prepare enchiladas with corn tortillas instead of the wheat flour variety.”

NFCA Getting Started Guide

NFCA’s Getting Started Guide

2. Don’t skip out on your doctor.

Follow-up visits are critical to ensure you are healing and not accidentally ingesting gluten.

“To make sure your gluten-free diet is successful, schedule annual exams and take the celiac antibody test when directed by your doctor. If your blood test comes back normal, it will confirm that you are maintaining a completely gluten-free diet,” the Guide says.

3. Cup for Cup conversions.

Baking with gluten-free flours isn’t as easy as using a box mix (which, thankfully, include gluten-free versions). Fortunately, the Getting Started Guide has a cheat sheet. Page 12 lists conversions for replacing wheat flour with a gluten-free alternative. For example, use ½ cup of almond flour for every 1 cup of wheat flour. Sorghum flour, on the other hand, swaps 1-for-1.

4. Those “weird” health issues could be related to celiac.

Dental enamel defects. Pale mouth sores. Fatigue. They don’t always get the spotlight, but they are signs of celiac disease. The Guide has an abbreviated list of symptoms (there are more than 300, after all). You may find yourself having an “A-ha” moment after reading them over.

5. Generic and brand name drugs can differ.

Yes, but how is this relevant. Well, there are things called excipients (binders) used in medications that can sometimes contain gluten. In some cases, a brand-name drug may be gluten-free, but its generic counterpart may not be. So, it’s important to always check with the manufacturer to ensure a medication is gluten-free. Find more details in the Getting Started Guide.

Where can you find this Getting Started Guide? It’s available for download 24/7 on NFCA’s Printable Guides page. Just scroll to the section called Restoring Health. In fact, all of the Printable Guides you find on that page can be helpful in your gluten-free lifestyle – and they’re all free!

Is there a topic you’d like us to cover in a Printable Guide? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

– Cheryl

May 4, 2012 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Hidden Gluten: 4 Places and 1 Resource to Watch

[When you first go gluten-free, you typically focus on the obvious foods like bread and pasta. But it’s often hidden sources of gluten like soy sauce that throw you off course. We asked Shirley Braden of gluten free easily to share her tips on avoiding hidden gluten. Here they are, organized in 5 categories to help you stay safe!]

When The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness asked me to participate in this year’s May Celiac Awareness campaign, of course I said yes as I’m a huge fan of the NFCA and all its efforts. I said yes even though initially the subject matter didn’t excite me. Hidden sources of gluten. Yes, it’s a very important topic, but it’s one that’s not very exciting on the surface (no pun intended). However, not knowing where gluten can be hidden can give you major anxiety. There’s nothing as unfortunate as going merrily along and suddenly getting “glutened”!

The following are some frequent sources of hidden gluten … or sometimes not so much sources of hidden gluten as “overlooked”gluten. Note that the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act went into effect on January 2006, which ensured that wheat (as one of the eight major food allergens) must always be shown on applicable food product labels—either in the listing of ingredients themselves or after the ingredients list in a “CONTAINS:” statement. (Read more here.)

1. Grab-and-Go Foods

Candies ~ While there are many candies that are gluten free, many more contain gluten. Most folks are not surprised to learn that candies that contain cookie ingredients contain gluten, but they are surprised to learn that others like licorice (or similar; e.g., Twizzlers) contain wheat. Many other candies contain gluten in the form of barley for flavoring. Read labels and be wary of accepting or taking candy with no packaging.

Chips ~ Flavored potato chips (e.g., barbecued flavor, sour cream and onion) can contain gluten. Some new varieties of “whole grain” or “multi-grain” chips may also contain gluten. Don’t dip the chip without knowing that it’s gluten free!

“Formed” Products~ I asked my son for his input on products that contain hidden gluten and he said, “Anything that is mixed and then molded or shaped probably has gluten in it.” Great point. He talked about specific candies and some brands of beef jerky (for the latter, some brands also contain gluten via soy sauce for flavoring).

2. Cooking

Broth ~ The unsafe gluten ingredient that can be present in commercially prepared chicken broth, beef broth, or stock is usually wheat. Therefore, wheat will be shown on the ingredients label. Similarly, some chicken bouillon can contain gluten. Read the ingredients label.

Gluten-Free Label on Chicken Stock

Condiments~ There are many condiments that are gluten free, but sometimes gluten is used as a stabilizer and thickener, so read labels and do your due diligence. If you share a household with gluten consumers, it is imperative that separate condiments be maintained. It’s unrealistic to think that the members of your household who eat gluten will know or remember not to contaminate the mayo jar when they stick a knife inside the jar, spread mayo on bread, and then realize that they need more mayo. That same knife will go back in the mayo jar and the jar suddenly become cross contaminated and a source of gluten. Similarly, there are many who will touch the ketchup container right to the gluten-containing bun, bread, seasoned fries, etc. and the ketchup container then becomes a source of hidden gluten.

Kitchen Equipment
~ Toasters used for gluten-full bread, old pans and baking sheets, cutting boards, baking stones, and wooden utensils can all be sources of hidden gluten. (A black light that would show gluten would be so very handy, don’t you think?)

3. Eating Out

The opportunities for cross contamination are endless in restaurants, and even a gluten-free menu doesn’t guarantee a gluten-free meal. Every single individual must be fully trained on serving the gluten-free patron and keeping gluten-free ingredients/dishes free of gluten contamination. One poorly trained individual and/or one misstep is all it takes to provide an unsafe meal. But let’s focus instead on foods and dishes that may have hidden gluten in restaurants. The risk can also be greater when eating out because we don’t have ready access to ingredients listings.

Beverages~ This category includes non-alcoholic and alcoholic liquid refreshments. I was with a group of bloggers, most of whom were gluten free, at a food blogger conference a while back. During a break between sessions, we were sampling some of the vendors’ wares. We immediately asked if the beverages were gluten free. The answer was “Yes, these are.” What we didn’t pick up on was that there was an emphasis on the “these” and a specialized sweep of the company reps’ hands, indicating that only particular flavors of the brand were gluten free. We discovered this info after continuing to reading ingredients labels as we sipped.

That gluten can be present in tea also surprises folks. Barley is the usual source. Holiday and specialty teas are more frequent sources of gluten than basic teas. Special scrutiny should be paid to teas with name that include “gingerbread” and “sugar cookie,” as gluten is used to achieve that baked good taste. Similarly, flavored coffees can sometimes contain gluten.

The biggest concern for alcoholic beverages typically is beer. Unless it is made from special gluten-free ingredients and/or processed to be gluten free, beer is off limits. I’ve seen this news come as a shock to gluten-free newbies. The health care professional who diagnosed them had warned them about pasta, bread, crackers and baked goods, but had forgotten to mention beer.

Dressings, Marinades, Sauces, and Soups ~ I was very surprised to learn that an area restaurant’s homemade Caesar dressing contained soy sauce (which, of course, contained wheat). If I had not notified my waiter of my dining needs and he had not been well informed on the restaurant menu and ingredients, I might have been “glutened.” Others have found that soy sauce has been used in all types of dishes, and in decidedly non-Asian fare. Soy sauce is often used in marinades, and beer may sometimes be used as well. Sauces and soups are often thickened with wheat-based flour versus naturally gluten-free thickeners such as cornstarch, potato starch, and tapioca starch/flour.

Gluten-Free Label on Allegro Marinade

Egg Dishes ~ Some well-known chain restaurants add flour or pancake batter to scrambled eggs and omelets. One should always ask if either have been added when ordering egg dishes–even in the finest restaurants–just to be safe.

Salad ~ Of course, salad on its own is gluten free … lettuces and other salad greens, carrots, onions, tomatoes and the like are gluten free. However, many restaurants will make salad in a humongous bowl and then the wait staff will serve individual salads from that bowl. If the restaurant uses croutons in that bowl, you must ask for your salad to be made fresh, separately without croutons. (Note: If ever you receive a salad with croutons, or say a bread stick on top, hold on to it until the server replaces it, as restaurant staff have been known to simply pick out croutons or remove the bread stick.)

Water Used in Food Preparation~ Are you ordering steamed seafood? Does the restaurant use beer to steam to add special taste to its seafood offerings? If so, either you must abstain, or you must ask if the chef will steam your seafood in plain water in a separate, clean pot. (Do not assume on the latter.) Are you ordering steamed veggies for healthier fare? Be sure the restaurant doesn’t use the same water that it has used to boil its pasta in to also steam its veggies. This happens more often than you would think and not asking that question has gotten me “glutened” at least once.

Seafood Steamed in Beer on Menu

4. Non-Food Sources

Please don’t stop your vigilance at food sources; consider the following.

Art Supplies~ Numerous art supplies—like mainstream brands of play dough and finger paint—contain gluten. Heidi at Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom has an excellent post on gluten-free art supplies here. As Heidi says, little ones are notorious for putting their hands in their mouths.

Makeup and Lotions ~ Choose lipstick and facial lotions (or any product that could wind up in your mouth) that are gluten free. Deciphering the ingredients on these labels is not easy, so select products that have simple ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter or shop from a product line that is entirely gluten free.

Medications and Supplements~ Gluten is also sometimes present in medications. I’m talking about prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins and supplements. Alice Bast, founder and president of NFCA, states “When you look at the word gluten, think glue. It is often used as a binder.” NFCA is in the midst of a two-part study on Gluten in Medications, which was funded by a $50,000 grant from the FDA.

Pet Food~ Unless you are purchasing grain-free pet food, it most likely does contain gluten. Make sure to wash your hands after handling any pet food. This issue may even be more of a concern for the gluten-free child touching the pet’s food dish and then his/her mouth, kissing the family pet, etc.

5. The Gluten-Free Watchdog

Those are just a few sources for hidden gluten, but I’d like to share another component of the hidden gluten equation. As most of you know, there are no current standards for a “gluten-free” label in place in the U.S. at this time. The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed standard from a few years ago remains at less than 20 parts per million (ppm). Final passage of this amount has not occurred; the latest data from the open comment period held months ago is still being evaluated. We also know that we are seeing more and more products labeled “gluten free.” Does that mean such products really are gluten free?

That’s what the Gluten Free Watchdog program is finding out. Founded and maintained by Tricia Thompson (The Gluten-Free Dietitian), the Gluten Free Watchdog program tests “gluten-free” products weekly.

Gluten-Free Watchdog

The most important thing to know is that while most of the products that the Gluten Free Watchdog has tested are gluten free to less than 5 ppm gluten, a handful of products have tested well above 20 ppm gluten. These findings point to the scariest sources of hidden gluten of all—the ones with “gluten free” labels that you believe are safe. Please take a moment to check out the Gluten Free Watchdog Alerts page to see which products have tested positive for gluten at 20 ppm or above. I have not seen this information shared enough with the gluten-free public and folks are still consuming these products and getting ill. (Note: Only subscribers get the product testing reports immediately with the specific testing results.)

Finally, do your best to “stay safe out there.” For staying safe and living gluten free easily (gfe), I’m a huge proponent of real food that is naturally gluten free. There is no hidden gluten in the products that are ready to eat “as is” (obviously, cooking will be needed in some cases). Think meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. As they come in their natural forms (without processing or “additives”), these foods are gluten free all day long!

– Shirley Braden

May 1, 2012 at 10:03 am 22 comments

Attending a Celiac Disease Patient Conference: Part 2

Last week, I gave you a wrap-up of the food and people I encountered at the Intestinal Immune-Based Inflammatory Diseases Symposium at Columbia University on March 2-3. While I had a fine time networking and meeting others in the gluten-free community, my main reason for attending was to hear from prominent celiac disease researchers. Needless to say, I was an attentive listener.

The Education

The sessions in the Patient Program covered everything from the basics of celiac disease to the latest research in therapeutics. Here are a few takeaways that perked my ears:

The No. 1 cause of poor response to a gluten-free diet is gluten exposure.

7-30% of patients with celiac disease reported continued symptoms on a gluten-free diet. The reasons can vary, from lactose intolerance to bacterial overgrowth to microscopic colitis. But as it turns out, most people simply aren’t following the gluten-free diet as diligently as they should, or they are ingesting gluten unknowingly. Another factor can be having the wrong diagnosis, so doctors stress the importance of confirming an individual’s celiac diagnosis. Which leads into the second point…

Columbia University Conference - Patient Session

1 room. 2 days. Lots of learning!

Reviewing biopsies is essential.

A few months ago, a study revealed that many gastroenterologists do not take a sufficient number of samples during a small intestinal biopsy. The presenter noted that several factors play a role in making a successful diagnosis: orientation, interpretation, number of biopsies and location. That means if too few biopsies are taken, or if the small intestine hasn’t been examined as thoroughly as it should be, it could affect the diagnosis that the pathologist makes.

Children are not little adults.

A proper celiac diagnosis is critical for child development. A child diagnosed with celiac disease early on will most likely grow to their full potential. A child diagnosed later in life may be permanently stunted from so many years of malabsorption. How exactly does this malabsorption affect their development? Iron deficiency can lead to poor concentration or irritability; calcium deficiency can lead to poor bone calcification and zinc deficiency can lead to growth failure and sexual immaturity.

There’s a lot to learn about the autism/gluten-free connection.

I was eager to hear Columbia’s presentation about the potential benefits of a gluten-free diet for those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It was the perfect build up to NFCA’s ADHD and autism webinar that took place the following day. While research thus far has been inconclusive, it appears that the gluten-free diet may help a subset of those with ASD. More research is needed to identify these subgroups and the specific proteins in gluten they’re reacting to.

Discovering risk factors is the No. 1 step to prevention.

There are a number of potential therapies currently being researched, and they each aim to accomplish one of three goals: Reduce exposure to gluten, reduce intestinal permeability or reduce immune activation. However, the question of how to prevent celiac disease remains. As healthcare turns from a model based on treating symptoms to one based on promoting wellness and prevention, we can expect this to be a focus. The answer lies in identifying more of the risk factors, because once researchers know what causes the disease, they can focus on ways to stop it.

– Cheryl

March 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm 2 comments

Gluten-Free Dining: We Don’t Really Want to Be “Special”

Last Monday, I decided to step away from my desk for a much needed day off. A mental vacation, a road trip to do a bit of shopping, and lunch with my best gal pal would be the perfect way to spend the day off! After stocking up on herbs and spices at Penzeys and checking out the furniture store sales, I met Kyle at her favorite restaurant.

Kyle and Beckee

Kyle and me

History Note: Kyle and I have been best friends since freshman year in college. People mistake us for sisters because we kind of look alike and think alike. We stood next to each other when we married our mates, and we birthed our babies exactly one week apart. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, Kyle immediately learned about my diet, figured out how to feed me and threw a dinner party. Over the years, we’ve taken a few ‘girl trips’ where the days consisted of coffee on the patio, shopping, researching fabulous gluten-free dining spots, and ordering everything gluten-free so we could share plates. She is truly a GFBF (gluten-free best friend).

Lunch at the Biltmore

One of our previous "girl trips" - Lunch at the Biltmore

Kyle has been trying to coax me into dining at her favorite restaurant for years. It’s not that I hadn’t eaten there; in fact, I had dined there many times 20 years ago…BC (before celiac). I had not stepped foot inside since because they didn’t offer gluten-free options until recently, and I had been leery of dining there before important business trips or meetings for fear of possible cross-contamination. I just couldn’t take a chance.

So I decide, what the heck, it was close by and they have dynamite salads. How can they screw up a salad, right? Plus, it’s a Monday and surely they won’t be that busy. Plus, Kyle knows the owner/chef and staff well, and I was curious about their gluten-free menu.

I arrive to a packed room. Kyle waves to me from the bar where we plan to sit. After hugs and catching up, we ask for menus. Kyle asks for the gluten-free menu before I do…she’s so excited. We wait.

Eventually, the bartender comes back and spouts off the daily specials. We ask for the gluten-free menu again. He turns away, digs under a pile of menus, and puts it in front of me. Laminated and single-sided, it lists about ten choices. Salads and entrees were listed with instructions about what to leave off the dish. No prices, no restaurant logo, no description of the dish, no GREAT Kitchens seal either, but I knew that wasn’t going to be there – they haven’t gone through our gluten-free training.

I had a bad feeling. It was a busy lunch, I could see the kitchen staff hustling, and I had a gluten-free menu that didn’t really give me much guidance or confidence in the outcome.

Kyle looks at my menu and offers hers with colorful descriptions and prices to help me choose a few options to investigate. She waves over the owner, asks me to dig out a business card, and makes an introduction. (Kyle is extremely proud of me. She’s the one who gave me confidence and support to start a gluten-free consulting business 5 years ago, which lead to my dream job with NFCA.) With a smile, she hands him the card and says, “This is my dear friend who works for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. She is the director of a program called GREAT Kitchens.” The owner took a look at my card and replied, “So, am I under investigation?”

Was he kidding? He didn’t look like he was kidding. Did he need to be investigated? We laugh it off, and I ask for some help choosing lunch. The tortilla strips on the salad are fried in the same oil as breaded foods, but the menu doesn’t mention it. The grill does not have bread products cooked on it – good news. The salad dressing ingredients…I can tell by his face he isn’t really interested in sharing the recipe. I order the grilled salmon salad with vinegar and oil on the side. I notice the owner pop his head into the kitchen to possibly alert the staff.

Our salads arrive in front of us. They are fine. We eat. We pay the bill. We leave. Hugs and back on the road.

Driving home, I just felt terrible. I had an hour to stew over what had just happened. I wanted to cry because I just felt awful. My food was fine. No cross-contamination, the salmon was perfectly cooked, the greens were fresh. But I still felt horrible, empty inside. I had just been to a well-known restaurant that many people would give a four star rating for exceptional service, food quality and ambience. Not so much for me…maybe a half a star for their gluten-free guests.

The next morning Kyle called and said, “Have you ever been treated so poorly in all your life? I can’t believe how rudely we were treated. And that menu, how could you call it a gluten-free menu with nothing to help you make good choices? I’ve been getting madder by the minute thinking about it.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first time dealing with restaurants that offer gluten-free options/menus to keep up with the trends but don’t really understand the customer. This past year, restaurants offering gluten-free options rose 61% according to foodservice consulting firm Technomic. Gluten-free guests have made progress in getting the attention of the restaurant industry by requesting options. But we have a long way to go to make sure they understand that special diet customers don’t really want to be special. They want to know that their food is safe and that their needs are understood. They just want to enjoy their lunch with a friend.

– Beckee

Learn more about NFCA’s gluten-free restaurant training program: GREAT Kitchens

February 28, 2012 at 10:49 am 7 comments

My Special Diet

I used to be the rogue in my family.

I became a vegetarian more than 20 years ago, when vegetarianism may have been mainstream in California, but was a radical idea in my New Jersey suburb.

I was the veto vote. I was the one everyone had to accommodate. I got to pick the restaurants, I had the “pleasure” of asking the server again and again which menu items might be appropriate for me, and my family did everything they could to avoid having a holiday meal at my house. Face it, no meat eater likes Tofurky (and since my daughter’s celiac diagnosis, we don’t eat it anyway).

I remember how enraged I would get when a piece of sausage was found in my soup. I actually ended a friendship with someone because she fed my daughter a fish stick.

Life has gotten much easier for me. It’s hard to find a restaurant today that doesn’t have a vegetarian entrée to offer its guests. Restaurants understand that chicken stock is not vegetarian. I hardly have to ask questions anymore.

Now, my daughter, Molly, is the veto vote. She has celiac disease; I don’t. I can eat anywhere, but she needs to be picky. And if I thought eating out could be challenging with my preferential vegetarian diet, I was sadly mistaken. Exposure to a bacon bit might make my stomach turn, but that is entirely figurative. If my soup is made with chicken broth or my miso with fish paste, I might not even know. And I can go about my business undisturbed by the ignorance of the person who served me.

People with celiac disease and severe forms of gluten sensitivity do not have that luxury. Every business trip I go on, someone gets sick from cross-contamination. It’s impossible to go through every scenario to uncover every place where gluten might be hidden in a meal. You have to be educated, you have to be confident, and you have to be diligent. Every meal, even if ordered from a gluten-free menu, requires detective work. Every sauce is suspicious. Grill marks are a dead giveaway. And that gluten-free dessert may be riddled with airborne flour.

I sure hope it doesn’t take 20 years for the restaurant industry to catch up.

– Jennifer

Learn about NFCA’s gluten-free restaurant training program: GREAT Kitchens

February 3, 2012 at 10:47 am Leave a comment

Inquiring Minds Want To Know!

Some days, it seems that surveys are everywhere.  We are surrounded by a knowledge gap that surveys are meant to fill allowing all of us to move ahead to a better world. Some seem immensely trivial and others of grave importance.

Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in the world of surveys. Specifically, I have been working on a survey targeting anyone and everyone who is gluten-free. The point is to find out what experiences the survey taker has had with medication. By that, I mean medication of all sorts—prescription, over-the-counter, supplements, the works.

Yes, this survey is part of NFCA’s work on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grant to study Gluten in Medications.  We have written about this study on our CeliacCentral.org website, in our newsletter and more.

Take the Gluten in Medications Survey

Right now, we are engaged in making sure that the distribution of this survey is as broad as possible so that we certainly gather as much insight as we can. The more responses we get, the more information we will have and, therefore, the more drugs we can test for gluten content and the more targeted that testing can be to reap the best, most noteworthy and effective  results.

And, yes, this survey falls into the “gravely important” category.

So, I have been poring over lists of groups that are good candidates to distribute the survey. The NFCA staff has been sending out email notices about the survey like crazy and, then, regrouping to expand and improve our communications plan.

We know how important this research is to all who are gluten-free and who want to be certain that, in the process of trying to get well or stay healthy, they are not sideswiped into illness inadvertently.  Whether someone takes one pill a day or 16, that individual doesn’t know how much gluten, if any, she is absorbing.

We also know that pharmacists are eager to help their patients. They need to know what is in the medication they are dispensing. People ask them questions; they want to know the answers. NFCA’s GREAT Pharmacists online training program is one way that we are moving the ball along that learning curve. This survey and the research that comes out of it will advance the Gluten in Medications program in a positive fashion.

So, back to the lists.  This is a one-in-a-million chance to get it right!

– Nancy

January 17, 2012 at 8:58 am 2 comments

Teaching Student Chefs the Importance of Gluten-Free Training

Twice a year, I have the fortunate honor to be invited to a ‘Gluten-Free Baking Lab’ held at the Lincoln Southeast Community College Food Service/Hospitality program in Lincoln, NE. The students bake items from CIA instructor Chef Richard Coppedge’s cookbook, Gluten-Free Baking, and learn about the needs of those on a gluten-free diet.  The process starts by thoroughly cleaning the kitchen, equipment, and utensils; blending the flours (Chef Coppedge provides five different blends); pairing up; and selecting recipes from the cookbook. The baking begins. Then I arrive for the tasting and a Q & A with the students.

Gluten-free buffet

Check out the spread!

You might think it is pretty bold of me to assume that what’s being served on the plates is really safe and totally gluten-free. Well, you’d be right – if I didn’t know the lead instructor, Certified Executive Chef Brandon Harpster, is GREAT trained. In fact, six of the instructors on the foodservice staff at LSCC completed GREAT Kitchens training back in 2008.  So, I feel pretty confident in the guidance and instruction received by these young chefs.

As I arrive for the tasting, the proud students parade into the classroom with their masterpieces. I snap their pictures, and they gently place them on the table. I get a bit choked up every time I attend these labs. When I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago, I could never have imagined culinary students being exposed to gluten-free baking and embracing the challenge and opportunity. I really believe that 5-10 years from now, all culinary students will have a standard class on allergen-free baking and cooking. It will be commonplace. This generation has grown up with allergies or celiac disease; they have friends or family members who have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or allergies. Yes, there really is hope and promise in the foodservice industry. We are seeing big strides every day. It was thrilling to hear the students talk about working in restaurants that have gluten-free options, such as a successful local pizza chain and others in well-respected establishments with skilled chefs who “get gluten-free.”

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

The sampling included Strawberry Bread, Chocolate (Red) Velvet Cake minus the red food coloring, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Brownies, Cinnabon-ish Cinnamon Rolls, Angel Food Cake, Peanut Butter Cookies, and Zucchini Pumpkin Bread. While they munched, I shared a brief description of my NFCA position, celiac disease history, and current marketplace trends. I really wanted to make sure we had time for questions because I was curious about aspiring culinary students want to know. They had some GREAT questions. Here are a few with my responses.

Student Question: Besides the obvious sources of gluten, what else do chefs need to be concerned about when preparing gluten-free meals?

Beckee’s Answer: Gluten can be hidden in unlikely places. I once learned the hard way that flour can be added to refried beans to thicken them. Gluten can be hidden in sauces, marinades, flavorings and many processed foods. Reading labels is very important, but so is knowing that gluten can be found in soup bases, soy sauce, stabilizers and thickeners.

If you work in a scratch kitchen and know your ingredients and sources, that’s only part of the answer to knowing safe gluten-free preparation. The most important skill to learn is how to prepare gluten-free foods safely because cross contamination is a huge concern to your customers. Picking up a bread knife and cutting a baked potato can turn a perfectly gluten-free option into something that can harm someone on a medically restricted gluten-free diet.  Your customers must feel confident in your expertise to serve safe options. Educating yourselves by taking GREAT Kitchens training will provide that trust and give you another tool in your culinary skills when you start hunting for jobs.

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pumpkin Bread

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pumpkin Bread - Delicious!

Student Question: What is the potential for increased sales for restaurants that “go gluten-free”?

Beckee’s Answer: One in 133 people has celiac disease, and 1 in 18 has gluten intolerance. They are the members of the party that will be making the reservations. Most diners don’t dine alone; they bring friends and family with them. If they order dishes to share, they’ll make them gluten-free. They’re loyal to those restaurants that can safely serve gluten-free and will look for the GREAT seal of approval like the GREAT Kitchens decal, logo, or a reference on their menu telling guests that training is in place. People needing gluten-free options will only increase over the next 5 years due to more awareness and diagnoses.  Advertising gluten-free options can be a differentiator in the restaurant business.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Cake

What's a celebration without some gluten-free cake?

Student Question: If you have a reaction or get sick, do you call the restaurant and let them know?

Beckee’s Answer: Excellent question. Honestly, in the past, I wasn’t consistent about doing so. I’d just take it off my list of dining options and tell my gluten-free pals to beware. However, when I started working with chefs and training restaurants, I asked if they wanted to know. Unanimously, the answer was “Yes.” How can you fix the problem if you’re not aware of it? Now, I always contact the establishment, and I encourage others to do so. I can remember talking with a general manager for a restaurant who had a gluten-free menu but no staff training. He told me they “just didn’t get many people asking for gluten-free.” Hmmm, wonder why?

The last thought that I left the class with was this: When you go out to eat or dine, what are you thinking about after you’ve order your meal? Are you thinking about your gorgeous date? The hilarious joke someone told at the table? Maybe you’re anticipating the fabulous food that will be served soon. Sometimes, people with celiac disease are solely focused on what’s happening in the kitchen. Will they make a fresh salad instead of just picking off the croutons? Will the cooks clean the grill before charring the steak? Does the restaurant really have a dedicated fryer? Through GREAT gluten-free education, all the guests at the table can enjoy the ambience, company, and great food you set before them.

Bon Appetite!

– Beckee

Learn more about gluten-free training through GREAT Kitchens at www.CeliacLearning.com/kitchens.

December 5, 2011 at 11:36 am 4 comments

Gluten-Free Tailgating (Plus a Giveaway!)

Congratulations Ashley Pelley and Schmidty! You are the winners of our Thai Kitchen gluten-free giveaway. Please email cmcevoy@celiaccentral.org with your mailing address to claim your prize.

When I think of tailgating food, most of it is, well, gluteny. For a morning game, it’s donuts and bagels. In the afternoon, the list consists of burger & buns, hoagies, and soft pretzels. Then there’s the beer, the cups that always seem to get mixed up, and the one friend who insists on touching everything while taking bites of his sandwich. It certainly doesn’t make it easy if you need to be gluten-free.

When Thai Kitchen contacted us about doing a fall campaign, it was the perfect opportunity to create a Gluten-Free Tailgating Guide to help everyone make going to a game less stress and more fun.

tailgating

Tailgating on a very cold day.

I’ll be honest, Whitney and I racked our brains for a few days while creating this guide. Sure, there were the usual food safety tips, like keeping meats and dairy in a cooler. But avoiding cross-contamination? That required some crafty thinking.

Gluten-Free Tailgating Guide

Our Gluten-Free Tailgating Guide

The guide is now posted in the Thai Kitchen Gluten-Free Recipe Box on our website. It even has a recipe for Curry Turkey Burgers with Pineapple Salsa, because if you volunteer to make the burgers (Warning: some people put breadcrumbs in their burger mix), you might as well impress the crowd.

Gluten-Free Giveaway!

We had such an overwhelming response to last week’s Thai Kitchen Gluten-Free Giveaway that I was thrilled to host another round. This week, we’re giving away the Thai Kitchen products needed to make Curry Turkey Burgers with Pineapple Salsa and Chicken Satay Skewers – another gluten-free recipe that’s great for the game. Here’s what you can win:

  • Coconut Milk (for Chicken Satay Skewers)
  • Fish Sauce (for Chicken Satay Skewers)
  • Red Curry Paste (for Chicken Satay Skewers and Curry Turkey Burgers with Pineapple Salsa)
  • Peanut Satay Sauce (for Chicken Satay Skewers)
  • Sweet Red Chili Sauce (for Curry Turkey Burgers with Pineapple Salsa)
  • 2 Thai Kitchen chip clips
  • 2 Thai Kitchen pot holders
  • Thai Kitchen coupons
  • Tailgating Recipes

To enter, leave a comment sharing your best gluten-free tailgating tip. (We know how resourceful you all are!) We’ll randomly select 2 winners and announce them right here on Friday afternoon.

October 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm 14 comments

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