NFCA suspends gluten-free designation after Domino's backlash

After Domino's Pizza announced its launch of a gluten-free pizza crust earlier this month, many of those with celiac disease raised a red flag.

PizzaMarketplace.com readers tweeted concerns about how a company that large and mainstream could be careful enough with something as critical as creating a gluten-free environment. Alysa Bajenaru, a dietitian with celiac disease, said "everyone is jumping on the (gluten-free) bandwagon, but few are doing it safely."

The segment's growth is staggering - gluten-free menu claims have grown 114 percent throughout the last three years. And at issue with this specific instance is the finer print.

Domino's product was developed in partnership with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and was given an "Amber Designation" as part of the NFCA's tiered credentialing system introduced in April.

Amber signifies that the new crust is appropriate for those with mild gluten sensitivity; however, it is not recommended for those with celiac disease. Domino's and the NFCA found that while the crust is certified as gluten free, current store operations at Domino's cannot guarantee that each handcrafted pizza will be completely free from gluten.

Suspension of Amber Designation

Although the NFCA's Green and Amber Designations were created in response to a growing concern in the restaurant industry around cross-contamination, the tiered system may have inadvertently accelerated concerns instead. And the Domino's news put those concerns in a very big spotlight.

After a bit of a backlash, the NFCA released a statement saying it is reconsidering the tiered designation program, and suspending use of the "Amber" label.

The statement reads, in part:

"While the NFCA recognizes the importance of alerting consumers to cross-contamination risks, the community response has prompted NFCA to reconsider the Amber Designation and related product labeling as an effective method to communicate these risks. Given the public response and recent developments in this field, NFCA is suspending use of the 'Amber' designation to describe a restaurant or foodservice establishment. We will conduct a review to determine the most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination and the use of the phrase 'Gluten Free.'

While we regret that confusion may have occurred in relation to the Amber Designation, we do welcome and appreciate the attention this important issue of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease has received through this dialogue. We note that the education of the public, healthcare providers, the restaurant and foodservice industry, and those who are affected by gluten-related disorders has been enhanced by this recent media coverage concerning these designation and labeling issues, as have the interests of those maintaining a medically necessary gluten-free diet."

How this affects Domino's

Tim McIntyre, Domino's Pizza's vice president of corporate communications, said the company knew in advance that NFCA was going to study its Amber Designation and suspend its use and has removed the reference where able.

"In areas where we can (online) we are removing reference to it. However, it appears in print and on boxes, which were prepared weeks ago," he said. "It will remain there for the time being. We will not use the designation in the future, but we plan no other changes at this time."

Read more about food safety issues.

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