Cross Contamination - Is it Paranoia? The Gluten Free Revolution Saga Continues

Domino's pizza released their plans for providing the first pizza delivery nationally of gluten free pizza. You would think that the gluten free community would be thrilled, but once again a firestorm of doubt hit the email groups, blogs and FB. The response begs to offer an explanation for those who are likely thinking that the celiac crowd is cramping their gluten free style and can't ever be placated. But, if you had been to death's door like some with celiac disease have or will, you would accept their paranoia as justified.

The Domino's press release read, "Domino's pizza made with a Gluten Free Crust is prepared in a common kitchen with the risk of gluten exposure. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness supports the availability of Domino's Gluten Free Crust, but CANNOT recommend the pizza for customers with celiac disease. Customers with gluten sensitivities should exercise judgment in consuming this pizza." And may we add, that this may be a PR nightmare for Domino's all because of their disclaimer wording and a marketing initiative to cater to the fad of gluten free. They will not be putting the crusts on special pans to bake nor using separate utensils. Many restaurants word their disclaimers differently yet with the same cautioning tone about safety being dependent upon sensitivity, but this one has caused a shock wave of revolt throughout the celiac community.

Here was Alice Bast of the NFCA answering all the backlash of the Domino's Pizza debacle on Jules Gluten Free Voice Blogtalk Radio Show - Alice Bast from NFCA on Dominos GF Pizza- Gluten-Free Voice 05/10 by Jules Gluten Free | Blog Talk Radio

Here is the official released statement from Alice Bast on CeliacCentral.Org.

As a result, the Gluten Free/Celiac communities have now had to examine the Certifications of these facilities that make claims in order to cash in on their ever growing market. And they answered full force on blog talk radio, radio and TV nationally and in PR officially released from Research Centers nationwide.
Even the grassroots organization 1in133 weighed in by starting a petition which you can find after their Tweet:
1in133 Needs Your Help to Ditch NFCA's Amber Designation!
Sign our Petition! Spread the word: #DitchAmber! aweber.com/t/Kygik

In the same day, Anheuser Busch announced a new gluten free beer, Domino's released their controversial "gluten free" pizza, Chuck E Cheese announced gluten free test marketing, Kim Kardashian went gluten free a week after Miley Cyrus which isn't helping fuel the "no fad diet" side of the debate, and a few other companies released their products as well...In one day!

As we posted previously, the Gluten Free Revolution has been exploding at such a rate that we haven't even attempted to keep up with the database of products that claim GF on their label. And as the labeling laws are debated, the plethora of options keeps opening up, but not without growing pains. Those who choose to eat gluten free without having celiac disease do not feel the urgency of worrying over contamination and do not grasp the immense amounts of frustration that we experience daily in trying to eat safely.

Why do we make such a fuss over contamination? Because of many reasons:
1. It is now known that even a pinkie fingernail amount of gluten can cause lasting effects for someone with celiac disease. The FDA looks to be agreeing with the European standard of 20 ppm which would still mean a risk of damage to the intestines and with someone who is very sensitive, 20 ppm could mean feeling sick for up to a week.
2. Most restaurants who are willing to jump on and offer gluten free menu items are doing so to increase their market, even when offering gluten free has to be done so with a big disclaimer attached. Outback, Moe's, Chipotle's and P.F. Chang's China Bistro, who have been offering gluten free for some time, have disclaimers on their menus, and who can blame them in doing so to fend off possible liability - However, it is not a very comforting feeling when you are risking your health and the possibility of being ill for quite some time.
3. If a restaurant has not trained their staff equally in the handling of gluten free food, the diner feels as if they are rightfully worried and stressed for the entire meal. Out of negligence, even the restaurant who has glowing reviews within the gluten free community can have a night which can totally destroy their reputation with the community they are trying to accommodate. Bad news travels faster than good news and does so triple time in the GF community.

Other Restaurants that have had bad press online include:
  • Chick-Fil-A, who has graciously accommodated a gluten free option prepares the gluten free nuggets separately and yet they hand bread chicken within the same open room.
  • Subway and Jason's Deli will quickly state they do not claim allergen free because the sandwiches are prepared on the same line as those with gluten. The only safeguards are changing utensils and placing the items on plates or paper to keep them from touching a line filled with crumbs (especially at busy times)
  • Most Pizza Parlors, excluding Mellow Mushroom, will echo the same sentiment in that they use the same oven for gluten free and non-gluten free, although the pan for cooking may be specially marked.
But for all the restaurants that are having "growing pains" with gluten free options, there are the gems which truly do get the fact that this is serious business (pun intended) Their staff are trained well regarding food allergies and you feel at ease. Locally we have quite a few of those options to support and we all feel extremely lucky.
For example, here are two:
  • Fuel Pizza assembles their gluten/allergen free options in their cooler to keep it out of the dough making area and use special marked pans while cooking even though they are not dedicated ovens
  • Posana Cafe in Asheville is a completely certified gluten free facility except the non-GF beers offered to non-gluten free customers. The kitchen is gloriously ALL gluten free! We heart Posana Cafe.

In a country fraught with litigation, it is no wonder that almost all restaurants carry a disclaimer on their menus regarding gluten free. However, we are facing the same challenges that the whole allergen community has been dealing with since the dawn of food allergies. So for as far as we have come, the growing pains are obviously going to remain. There are too many variables - How trained are the staff?, Are they doing everything in their power to minimize mistakes? Is there a chance something got marinated or mixed up while plating? It goes on, and on, and on...

To be angry about this issue is normal and justified for the community. Some people will not take the chances, and that is everyone's right as a consumer. As an advocate for gluten free labeling and regulations and an advocate for parents and celiac children, we echo the stance of not risking it and the other stance of our options being refined through positive and negative feedback to these companies. Our dollar as a consumer counts but so does the voice behind reasoning with companies to understand the necessity. Unless we give them our feedback, they will not change. Please write to their company and take the time to make your voices heard, Collectively, we could make a change to a policy and make everyone's life easier in doing so.

The double-edged sword is the bitter harsh reality the celiac community must face - As much as you want convenience, eating out is still a risk assessment. You, as the consumer, will ultimately have to decide if your risk is minimal or too much for comfort on a case by case basis. Perhaps the Gluten Free Revolution sparks more controversy because there is an underlying resentment that we have options temptingly advertised that say gluten free and yet it is the perpetual carrot dangling in front of you because there just is no blind faith anyone can have with any facility which produces gluten items in addition to gluten free. Demand gluten free labeling for medicines, food preparation and marketing from the FDA & the USDA. Until then, we are all victims of a dietary game of Russian Roulette.

And the story continues to unfold...


  1. So 20 ppm is enough to cause damage to someone with celiac? If so, how can that be the standard for gluten-free? How can we ever know that something is safe for our son (other than fruits/veggies/meat)? I am so confused! And a bit overwhelmed!

    1. The Center For Celiac Research says it has to be 20 ppm or less in order to avoid damage. However, there are many people who do not get well by doing so and need to go grain free completely. I know you are overwhelmed and it is easy to feel that way for sure. The standard that Jules Shepard and others from 1in133 would love to have is 5 ppm but they know that will be extremely hard to push in labeling.

      The rule of thumb our family uses is to eat out less and more home cooked if possible. The more controlled the environment is for us, the more peace of mind. I think that the more the "Gluten Free Revolution" happens, the more we get placated into wanting convenience which may have not been the best for us all along. In the meantime, have you joined any support groups?

  2. Yes, we attend the bi-monthly celiac support group here in Charleston. There aren't many kids, though, and their families rarely attend.

    Some days I think I'm coming to terms with this, after 18 months of GF living. Other days, I am completely overwhelmed. Trying to keep a positive outlook for my sweet boy, who has so graciously accepted it without hesitation. That has been a HUGE blessing. He doesn't question the necessity of it at all. The stress of checking every label of every single thing every time we buy ... and the frustration of people not understanding cross contamination, or even gluten free ... sometimes I just want to scream.

    And just when you think you understand something, you find out you really don't understand at all. (Big Sigh)

    Like I said, some days are better than others.

    Thanks for listening to me rant. See you in Charlotte next weekend, at the GF Expo. I cannot wait!


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