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Last week I had the privilege and honor to go to my daughter's college campus and share with the hourly dining service workers all about food allergies, celiac disease and food intolerances. As many of you reading this already know, training – known as AllerTrain – has become my third baby behind one brilliant and talented daughter, and my menu labeling company.
Walking into the auditorium to teach 300+ students, I passed the breakfast table complete with coffee and bagels. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a wrapped up bagel with a sicker on it. The sticker says 99-percent Gluten Free. Really? I think to myself as I make my way to the podium. For those that know me, you know keeping quiet is not something that comes naturally to me.
I begin my talk and when I get to the second section of the class, the celiac disease section, I held up this bagel and said "this is not the way to win over the celiac population."
Clearly there is a disclaimer stating this is "... Not recommended for guests with Celiac disease or other gluten allergies/sensitivities..." Who should eat this special bagel, I wonder?
Does this super popular and successful bagel concept not realize that if someone who has a food allergy to wheat believes that 99 percent is close enough, they could super easily be one of the 200,000+ people who end up in the hospital due to poor hospitality? A trace amount of wheat could send someone who has been gluten free back to square one for weeks to months?
According to Alessio Fasano M.D., Center for Celiac Research; Director, University of Maryland , "...Of the U.S. population, 1 percent has Celiac disease, 3 percent have a wheat allergy, and 6 percent have a clear gluten/wheat sensitivity." He made this statement at a recent presentation in Washington, D.C. at the Food Safety Summit.
Like what we saw happen after Domino's Pizza introduced a Gluten-Free pizza crust that was also not recommended for those with Celiac disease, this does not look like it will end well for those clearly trying to cash in on this rapidly growing segment of the market.
As a menu labeling expert and an allergen identification and training specialist, I can confidently say that this can be one of the best places for restaurants to shine, or just the opposite.
Think before you take a LTO or new product to market. Get the assistance of an expert in the area. Use a 100-percent Gluten Free product that stays clean from the back door to diners' stomach. It can be done, and I advance the idea that those who provide this menu item will be amazed at the results. This segment of special needs diners is looking for complete, 100-percent honesty, transparency, and a way to have faith in the restaurant in the knowledge that they are doing their best to take care of them.
I must end by saying rarely do I get this personal, but I need you to know I do not have one single food allergy or sensitivity to any food product at all. I also do not have Celiac disease and I do not eat gluten free as a diet. Many times people assume because of the path my career has taken me down that I have a dog in this fight. I do not. I do however, love to see our industry shine super bright whenever we can and I hang my head when we do the opposite. Today my head is hanging a bit.
(The above picture was taken by my daughter at her college campus Einstein Brothers Bagels)