Recently I went for a lunchtime stroll with a buddy of mine to check out a local Hamilton cafe. I wasn't really planning on getting anything to eat, but thought I'd have a look in the cabinet because you never know when you'll discover a new place to eat.
Clearly labelled 'GF' in the cabinet were two slices, Of course I assumed that GF meant gluten-free. Who wouldn't right?
The goodies in question were oaty slices, so of course I asked the question "Um, these oaty slices, do they contain oats?" The answer was yes. Which prompted my next comment "But oats contain gluten." and the server explaining that the slices weren't gluten-free, they were "gluten-friendly."
Oats aren't gluten-free. And the labelling in cafe 'GF' has always been known by the public to mean gluten-free. This is some high risk labelling because people who don't ask a lot of questions like nosey old me, might have assumed that they were oaty flavoured rather than containing oats, and a lot of newly diagnosed coeliacs don't know that oats are not considered to be gluten-free.
Just as a reminder, here's what Coeliac New Zealand have to say on the subject of oats. And in case, you think that's just an opinion, it's not. Under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, oats and their products are not permitted in foods that are labelled gluten free.
So what about the term 'gluten-friendy'? It's the first time I've come across it. But after doing some reading, I've discovered that overseas it's sneaking in as a way to describe food that's gluten-free-ish. Seems pretty misleading to me.
I wouldn't mind if a cafe or restaurant described something clearly as low gluten, but 'gluten-friendly' is confusing - is it gluten-free or not? Who knows? My advice would be to steer clear of anything labelled 'gluten-friendly' because it's not likely to be safe for gluteys.
Gluten-free food labelling in restaurants and cafes could do with improvement. There are a load of places in the Waikato using the label gluten-free on their meals, but very few of them are following safe gluten-free food handling practices. I don't believe that the owners are being deliberately misleading, I think there's just a general low awareness of what gluten-free means, and what steps are required to ensure meals are prepared, cooked and handled to remain gluten-free.
This is not an insignificant problem. The short-term and long-term health impact on gluteys ingesting gluten can be painful, and even dangerous.
So be careful out there guys. Continue to ask questions, avoid the oats, and look out for that dodgy 'gluten-friendly' labelling.
p.s. if you're a cafe or restaurant owner who wants to provide gluten-free food, Coeliac New Zealand are worth having a chat to. They offer a dining out programme to support the hospitality and catering industry by training staff on how to ensure gluten-free food is produced and served safely.
p.p.s. Since my visit to the cafe, they've relabelled their 'GF' products as 'Gluten friendly'. Still not good enough, but slightly better than their earlier set up.