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WestEx was a hot gluten-free mess of new products everywhere you turned.  

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Annual State Restaurant Expo here in Colorado. In Denver it is considered by most, the largest restaurant show each year packing the double punch of the Colorado Restaurant Association and the weight of the local Sysco house.

Turns out that each show I have attended so far this year has more and more gluten-free products. From crab cakes, to breading for frying, to individual wrapped gluten-free hot dog buns - products are in every food category from appetizer to dessert now to meet the growing demand. Manufactures are going to super great lengths to make sure you, the restaurant owner, know that they have a solution for you to provide gluten-free foods.

Maybe because it is my training in food safety therfore my mind being trained to look for it, or because it is far less sexy than the bells and whistles of what’s new, but I see one huge gaping hole in this entire gluten-free world as it applies to restaurants: What about food safety training and cross contact/contamination? Anyone can start with a product that does not contain gluten but in a matter of seconds that product can change due to improper handling and that becomes a game for that diner.

I describe the show as a “hot mess” because of the facility and method of displaying the new products. Table top grills were being used near cutting boards for vegetables. Steam, smoke, and particles were flying everywhere in that enormous room. Ventilation? Not so much. If I had any food allergy or was a person with Celiac Disease, there would have been no ways for me to have been in that room to discover the items let alone taste most.

Training in restaurants will have to be professional, complete, and accurate as we move forward to provide not only the right type of foods for a client, but also the safe way to prep and serve those foods.

There will be more to come in two weeks time on this topic/trend after I attend the NRA show. I expect that what I saw in Denver will be a flash in the pan once I enter the enormity of what I affectionately refer to as “The Big Top” in Chicago.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Sharna Kahn
    Food safety training and cross contamination management in food service a gaping hole? Well, if the hole is gaping it is because restaurants seem to be slow in embracing the training and certification processes that are plentiful if you know where to look. Ask any of the non-profits that provide certification programs for gluten free kitchen operations.

    Several companies, such as MenuTrinfo, and Gluten Free Food Services also provide comprehensive training programs and services from gluten free sourcing through table service best practice.

    Part of this lack of adoption issue seems to be that restaurants are concerned about where liabilities lie if their ingredient distributors or manufacturers can not consistently identify or describe what the labels mean or where the gluten is hidden in the product. Blame the FDA for that. See you at in "The Big Top"!
  • Erika Pettite
    I believe more and more individuals are learning that they have Celiac Disease (CD) or that they have a sensitivity to gluten foods or drink [beer]. How is it possible for someone who requires a GF diet and they cannot taste the samples because of possible contamination?

    Ms. Kahn, I enjoyed your comment. Thank you!

    It is time for the FDA to "clean-up" their requirements and demand clear and understandable details of what is considered GF or gluten.
  • LynnRae Ries
    Cross contamination or contact is rampid in the restaurant industry. Many gf or almonst gf manufacturers are simply 'pushing a product' and don't care how the product is used - just that it sells. They are catering to the laws of supply and demand.

    Just like some restaurants are offering "gluten-free" on their menu, not with the social consciousness of caring, but of racking in the dollars because their competitor is offering gluten-free.

    It's the FDA and the people with the food sensitivities that must stand up and say they won't accept this push for commercializing a medical need with unsafe, near unsafe or questionable products.

    For people with celiac or strong allergies, food is the medicine. Who wants to go to a pharmacist for a prescription that 'maybe or almost fills the doctors order'.

    Until restaurants are trained and manufacturers are held responsible the choices are either to not dine out or dine out with very possible side effects.

    Yes, there are those restaurants and manufacturers that care and make every effort to serve the community with ethical responsibility. To them, our hats off and may they live a long, successful and profitable life.

    To the others, if it was your treasured child with the serious allergy or celiac, would you let them eat at your restaurant or of your products?
    FDA, where are you?
  • Tom Lehmann
    The potential for cross contamination is a very real potential threat that must be addressed by any restaurant considering offering gluten-free products. Even flour dust in the air, or coming off of an apron or clothing can create a problem. I have written articles and given presentations on these concerns for nearly two years now. Because of the concerns, many restaurants have opted not to offer GF. What I find really strange though is that the opposition that I get is from groups representing gluten sensitive and celiac individuals. Their feeling seems to be one of Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead! We just want to have gluten-free alternatives in as many restaurants as possible. I'm not a believer in this approach due to my shared concerns for cross contamination.
    Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor
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Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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