Gluten-friendly and the oaty slice

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."

Argh.

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.

This is NOT gluten free

My friend Caro is a coeliac. Recently while out shopping at Pak'nSave she noticed something really bloody annoying (and actually illegal) going on in store and posted it to Facebook. It's something I've witnessed myself in many other places too, and frankly it's just not good enough!

What am I on about? Dodgy gluten free food labelling.

According to the New Zealand and Australian Food Standards code, food labelled 'Gluten free' that's manufactured in New Zealand or Australia must contain no more than 3ppm of gluten. That's an incredibly tiny amount. 

Meanwhile at Pak'nSave this is going on ...

This is NOT gluten free. It is NOT 3ppm of gluten or less. This is food prepared in a commercial kitchen alongside regular gluteny products. So the risk of contamination is very high. How high? Who knows, because they haven't measured it. 

This type of product should NEVER be labelled gluten free. It's maybe 'low gluten' at best, but definitely not gluten free. And adding the shifty 'may contain traces of gluten' label, does not make it okay - in fact, this also breaches food labelling regulations.

Why is this important? Because someone could get very very sick. 

For many of us, gluten free is not a fad, it's not something we're doing for fun. We're eating gluten free because it helps keep us healthy.

This type of crappy labelling of "gluten free" just encourages people to think of it as a fad diet and endangers a risky population.

I'm going to end with the wise words of Caro who took the photo above. "This right here? This is illegal in New Zealand, and it's illegal for a reason. Some people with coeliac or a gluten allergy go into anaphylactic shock if they consume even minute amount accidentally. All of us have reactions lasting weeks, and often end up with permanent damage or lethal related diseases, including lymphoma and other cancers.

'Gluten Free' is a legal food labeling term denoting a very specific level of testing has been done, and that there is certifiably less than 3ppm of gluten present. These obviously were not tested, hence the green sticker, which is NOT a legal or acceptable form of caveat to what they're advertising. This kind of misuse of 'Gluten Free' is taking what should be a health label and twisting it to profit off a baseless diet fad. It is not safe, and it's not okay. My complaint is pending."

Sort out your labelling please Pak'nSave!

Update: The Ministry for Primary Industries who have since talked to the bakery manager who is implementing changes to their labelling.

A little rant about crappy labelling

This morning I was meant to be working on part two of my

children with food allergies

posts, but instead I got distracted by my own grumpy mood (it's week two of having a nasty coughy/snotty virus and I'm feeling LOUSY).

Being already in a grump, I figured it was a good time to get a rant off my chest that has been a bugbear of mine for some time now ... crappy food labelling.

Everybody with food allergies has experienced this one ...

You're in a cafe or restaurant that you haven't been to before, and you see that there's food labelled allergy-free (e.g. gluten-free, dairy-free) on the menu. Oh my god you're so excited! 

"Holy crap, look they've got [hot chips, a delicious slice, something yummy] that's [insert allergy-free option]! But just to be sure, I'll double check with the waiter".

<waiter approaches>

You: "Hi, I was just wondering, are your gluten-free chips cooked in a separate vat to your gluten-containing foods?"

Waiter "No they're not."

You: "So they're not gluten-free then (even though they're labelled gluten-free on the menu)"

Waiter "Well technically they're gluten-free."

You:

<raging on the inside, but trying to be polite>

"Actually, technically they're not gluten-free."

Sigh.

Thank god you thought to check, because otherwise you would have been violently ill.

I've had this same experience in varying forms many, many times over the years at different cafes and restaurants. I've even had a chef argue with me that her oat slice was gluten-free - yes, you did read that right, and no they weren't gluten-free oats.

I don't mind if you can't offer allergy-free food (although it would be nice), but please, for the love of all that is holy, don't label something allergy-free, unless it is allergy-free. 

Why? Because you'll make people sick. And the sickness isn't something that you get over in a day, or even a week - some people take months to recover.

Thank you to all the fantastic places locally that are doing allergy-free food right. I really appreciate your work. 

And if you're a cafe or restaurant owner who wants to do allergy-free right, here are a couple of links that may be of help:

Food Industry Overview of Coeliac Disease

Serving a Safe Meal