What's a Restaurant's Responsibility Regarding Gluten-Free Items?
Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For people with celiac disease, ingesting just a little bit of gluten (a protein in wheat, barley, and rye) can mean serious problems.
Jewel's Bakery & Cafe Strawberry Shortcake With Fresh Whip
And when it comes to finding restaurants aware of the auto-immune disorder that, according to the New York Times, affects about 1 in 100 Americans, those who are gluten-averse may be having an easier time than they did, say, five years ago, but more understanding doesn't necessarily mean a better dining experience.
What's a restaurant's responsibility when it comes to gluten-free products? I asked several Valley chefs and restaurateurs and this is what they had to say.
"To offer" or "not to offer" is a choice. Once the choice "to offer" is made, then the responsibility is undeniable. The term gluten-free means just that: not "mostly" gluten-free or "pretty much" gluten-free, but gluten-free. Those who are gluten intolerant may be able to consume nominal amounts of gluten, but for those who have been diagnosed as celiac's, as little as 20 ppm gluten content can turn their life upside down for days. Cross contamination is something that must be closely scrutinized and scrupulously prevented if gluten-free options are offered. Realistically, gluten contamination is the same thing as food poisoning or allergen components and the responsibility in those cases is crystal clear.
It's so hard for restaurants to keep up with all the dietary restrictions nowadays. For us, it's a space issue -- we don't have any and it's difficult to carry new items that are not fast movers. For places that have the space, it's good to provide an alternative for gluten since it has become so common place.
I think the restaurant's responsibility is to make sure there are options for anyone who chooses to dine. However, I don't think restaurants should be required to have gluten-free items on their menu. It should still be the diner's responsibility to alert the restaurant of their gluten allergy and the severity of their allergy.