This is so much wrong and confusing information about gluten free and coeliac disease that it really does make it hard for coeliac disease sufferers to feel comfortable about eating out. I hear from many young adults that they find it embarrassing and awkward to go to a cafe and try to explain things to the wait staff. While others just don’t eat out as it is not worth the risk of eating contaminated food.
I recently had the opportunity to clarify a few misconceptions as a friend who is also a cafe owner asked for some advice. Here are my penned thoughts…
Open Letter to Cafes and Restaurants
There are two reasons why people eat gluten free: as a lifestyle option and as a medical necessity.
People who are diagnosed with coeliac disease must eat gluten free as a medical necessity. “A person with coeliac disease should not consume any gluten. A strict gluten free diet must be followed at all times.” (Coeliac Australia)
Gluten is contained in wheat, barley, rye, oats and their derivatives (spelt, milo, malt, couscous). An easy way to remember this is BROW.
It is a common misconception that some coeliacs are more sensitive to gluten than others. Please don’t say to customers “it all depends upon how sensitive you are” because there is no degree of sensitivity, only degrees of allergic reaction.
If a customer asks questions regarding gluten free options at the café, please don’t be defensive or dismissive. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, then ask the manager and/or the chef.
Coeliacs really do need to know if the icing sugar has wheat in it or if the gluten free bread is toasted in the same toaster used for wheat/gluten breads. And if a customer asks if the gf slice was handled by the same tongs as the other cakes, then they are not being fussy or picky or difficult, they are asking what they need to ask. The customer can then make an informed decision regarding their order.
Coeliac sufferers do not take risks as even a little bit of gluten is not okay.
“Can just one crumb of bread hurt a coeliac?
Yes. 1/100 of a slice of bread is enough to cause damage to the small bowel of a person with coeliac disease. A crumb may also make a person with coeliac disease physically sick.” (Coeliac Australia)
What does this mean for your café?
Be honest. And make a determination about who you can cater for.
It could be that you can only cater for customers following a gluten free diet as a life style option.
And that for customers following a gluten free diet as a medical necessity, your kitchen is unable to 100% guarantee the meal to be gluten free due to possible contamination issues.
But most importantly, be honest to your customers
because honesty is preferable to them eating contaminated food and suffering.