In a result that is sure to please celiac disease sufferers and those on gluten-free diets, scientists have come up with a universal gluten cross-contamination checklist for use in the food services industries.
Everyone from nutritionists and dieticians to restauranteurs and food product manufacturers are now more aware of both coeliac disease and the health issues stemming from gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity. For the one per cent of the global population with coeliac disease, for instance, exposure to gluten can lead to a range of symptoms from diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain to long-term damage to the small intestine, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, osteoporosis and anemia.
Meanwhile, one would presume that along with this emerging awareness would follow the widespread implementation of standards for gluten-free products and meals, yet for celiacs and those following gluten-free diets such international standards are still wanting. And while there are specific regulations on gluten-free labelling, the standards vary: in the EU, United States and Canada, for example, labelling a product gluten-free requires less than 20 ppm of gluten, while in Argentina the threshold is 10 ppm and in Australia and New Zealand foods are expected to contain no detectible gluten whatsoever in order to receive the label gluten-free. And in a globalized food industry, these differing standards can make shopping and eating gluten-free difficult.
“Following the GFD is a difficult task for GRD patients due to the presence of gluten in a wide range of products,” say a new study’s authors, researchers from the Department of Nutrition and Faculty of Medicine at the University of Brasilia in Brazil. “Moreover, gluten may be found in supposedly gluten-free products as a consequence of cross-contamination, which leads to the involuntary and unconscious consumption of it.”
The researchers say gluten contamination in purportedly gluten-free products is a “very concerning issue,” in that exposure to gluten traces may hamper patient recovery and sometimes lead to incorrect diagnoses of refractory celiac disease.
But in regions where adequate cross-contamination standards and prevention plans are put in place, research has shown that they make a difference. A study in Italy, for instance, found that a contamination checklist and plan put in place at a school cafeteria effectively reduced gluten cross-contamination.
The newly created food services checklist was built on an extensive literature review, input from 11 different experts with PhD’s and experience in food services and/or gluten and celiac disease along with documents from various organizations such as the Gluten-Free Certification Program from the Canadian Celiac Association. The final product consists of an 88 item checklist divided into 12 sections, covering everything from building and facilities maintenance, cleaning and ventilation to employee clothing and hygiene habits, not to mention food production and transport. But the checklist also includes a robust section on planning and communication with reference to maintaining a gluten-free facility and supporting customers needing access to free products.
All of which make it, “an interesting tool since it helps to assure proper understanding of the items, which is crucial for the correct evaluation of conformities/non-conformities situations in loco and ultimately might impact the safety of the food produced in certain establishments,” say the study’s researchers.
The new research and checklist are published in the journal Nutrients.