Staff allergen training is key

Manage the law change with staff allergen training

http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/ recently published an article on how restaurants have changed their policies since the law change in December 2014. The article quotes the Head of Marketing of Pho, which has made most of its menu gluten free, as explaining that the key to handling allergies is staff training and communication with customers.

14 EU Allergens
The 14 EU Allergens

CCGs and prescriptions

Over the last few weeks the news wires have included the usual stories about CCGs and prescriptions. http://www.piratefm.co.uk reports that cuts are required in Cornwall and one of the areas being considered is prescriptions for gluten free. The same is true of Lincolnshire https://www.coeliac.org.uk/. This now seems to be happening all over and despite consistent arguments about the impact on the elderly and vulnerable http://www.piratefm.co.uk it is snowballing.

Whether the NHS is paying above the odds for prescription foods is also an issue, however my personal biggest concern is that because supermarkets wield so much power and only stock items for profit, what happens to the availability of staple gluten free items when the gluten free bubble bursts and they can no longer shift gluten free food as rapidly as they would like? This leads me nicely onto the next topic…..

Has the gluten free bubble burst?

Not according to http://www.just-food.com/. John Shepherd quotes the market research firm, MarketsandMarkets, whose studies have shown that in 2015 the global market value of gluten free foods was US$4.63bn and that is set to almost double by 2020.

He also looks at the potential for growth in other markets and discusses whether France is the next major market for expansion. France is behind the UK, USA and Australia in terms of gluten free food and it is thought that the reason for that is because the focus of French cuisine is more traditional than other countries. However, that is slowly changing. I have mixed feelings about this. If the French do embrace gluten free, do you think with their love of food, they could make it healthier, fresher, with less salt and sugar and not accept some of the sub-standard products we do?

On the other side of the coin http://www.fooddive.com questions whether the gluten free market has actually reached saturation point. The same research was published in http://www.foodbusinessnews.net. The article reports “Sales of gluten-free foods have peaked, said David Sprinkle, research director for the market research firm Packaged Facts.” The article does go on to say that it’s not yet in decline though. One reason given for the slowing down of the market is that finally consumers are realising that ‘going gluten free’ is not necessarily healthier (especially if they eat processed substitutes) but moreover they won’t necessarily lose weight on a gluten free diet.

However, the news is still full of articles about losing weight and whether eating wheat makes you bloated and listless, but the trend seems to be slowly reversing with just as many, if not more, articles counteracting fanciful health claims – http://www.themalaymailonline.com/, http://www.express.co.uk/ and https://www.thrillist.com/.

A gluten free pill

I have read quite a few reports about this recently. Both the http://www.heraldsun.com.au/ and http://www.dailymail.co.uk report that there is a pill that can be taken to prevent the symptoms of digesting gluten. The way it works is that it breaks down the gluten into tiny molecules so that the body doesn’t react. The manufacturers of the pill state that it is not a cure for coeliac disease but its intended use is where gluten intolerant people may doubt the gluten free levels of the meal they are about to eat. I, personally, would consider taking this on holiday or somewhere where I had a string of important events to attend. I would like to read more research on this, so will write about that at a later date.

How much gluten?

The coeliac society in Australia has called for an international standard for gluten free. http://www.stuff.co.nz reports “In an analysis of 169 imported food products labelled “gluten-free”, published in the The Medical Journal of Australia, researchers detected gluten in 24 products, albeit in “extremely low levels”.” Other journals also reported the same thing (https://www.mja.com.au/, http://www.news.com.au/ and http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/10/04/how-much-gluten-is-actually-in-gluten-free-foods/).

The crux of the matter is does Europe and the USA upgrade its ‘gluten free’ claim to less that 1ppm of gluten (as is the law in Australia and New Zealand) or does Australasia downgrade to less than 20ppm? There are scientific arguments for both sides, but it would be nice for them all to agree on a standard so that international goods can safely be consumed by coeliacs.

Gluten free prescriptions and other news

Sadly this week the http://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk reported that yet another health authority is stopping gluten free prescriptions. This subject was also covered by http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk. I have very mixed feelings about this.

I do agree that basics (by that I mean bread and flour substitutes) are more readily available than they used to be – certainly there has been a massive expansion in free from aisles in the last couple of years. However, I do wonder whether statistics will show, in time, that despite this, the vulnerable (i.e. the old and sick), adhere less to the gluten free diet than they did when it was available on prescription.

There is no doubt that gluten free prescriptions cost the NHS money. Statistics are constantly banded about stating that a prescription loaf costs the NHS more than supermarkets sell it for – so how can that be? Surely, that should be investigated rather than having consultation after consultation about whether coeliacs should receive basic food items on prescription. Moreover, the same sort of outlandish charges appear to apply to other medicines too, such as paracetamol.

Gluten free prescriptions
Should gluten free food be available on prescription?

Aside from that, there is this popular misconception that coeliacs get their gluten free prescriptions free. That is just not true. There are certain medical conditions that preclude patients from paying for their prescriptions, but one of them is not coeliac disease.

However, the main question is, what’s going to happen when the gluten free bubble bursts? All those companies that invested in providing gluten free food for, let’s face it, the non-coeliac community or ‘life-stylers’ as they’re sometimes referred to – what will they do? It will no longer be financially viable to manufacture food for only one percent of the population, retailers won’t stock the slow moving items (there will be too much waste) and basically the whole gluten free market will implode. What do coeliacs do then? We’ll be back to buying vac-packed bread from small health food shops – if such places exist any more as they have been squeezed out by the supermarkets.

Adding on to this there has been yet more product withdrawals, with manufactured items being mislabelled as gluten free – see (http://www.worthingherald.co.uk) and http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk. I still don’t get how this happens? These businesses are supposed to have procedures in place that reduce the risk of contamination to basically zero. Having been a manufacturer, I am fully aware of the stringent processes one must adhere to. Okay it was slightly different in that I didn’t provide food for supermarkets, however the regulations are the same. I was able to make everything in a dedicated gluten free environment – there was no risk of the wrong flour or baking powder being used etc, so how come these companies can’t do it?

Gluten free products withdrawn due to contamination
Manufacturers have to adhere to strict processes, so how does contamination occur?

As always there has been a raft of articles on whether giving up gluten is good or bad for you and whether gluten sensitivity exists (http://www.postindependent.com, http://uk.businessinsider.com, http://www.netdoctor.co.uk), http://www.scienceworldreport.com. I think that sadly the crux of the issue is that for some people too much gluten-containing foods simply makes them ill. Those people may or may not have gluten sensitivity, they may or may not have coeliac disease – it is not our place to judge. They, as well as us coeliacs, unfortunately are tarred with the same brush as the gluten free dieters (those people under the false impression that following a gluten free diet means that they will lose weight or that it is somehow healthier for them).

Don’t get me wrong, having been a coeliac for over 20 years means that by and large I cook from scratch and eat very well. However, cake is still cake whether it’s gluten free or not. Just because it’s gluten free does not mean that it is healthy. In fact, to replace the gluten, commercial manufacturers tend to add sugar, salt and fat to add texture and taste to gluten free products. Therefore gluten free manufactured food can be actually less healthy. Both the following articles slam the perception that just because it’s gluten free, it’s good for you – http://www.sbs.com.au and http://www.mirror.co.uk.

On the subject of gluten free dieters, an Irish cafe owner caused a storm when he stated that he would refuse to serve anyone requesting gluten free food unless they could prove they were a coeliac with a doctors’ note. http://www.newstalk.com. As much as this is mildly amusing, it’s also very scary. I remember having a similar conversation with a chef in a Facebook group and he was adamant that ‘real’ coeliacs should make themselves known when they order their meal. The thought of us all having some sort of tattoo on our foreheads, or carrying some sort of identity card to prove we are what we say we are is very intrusive. I know it must be frustrating to go to the effort of providing a safe gluten free meal, only to watch the diner then eat bread with it or order a gluten-filled dessert, however has it really come to this? No-one would question a vegetarian’s desire to not eat meat – why do we then question a diner’s need, or want, to avoid gluten?

I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if the gluten free dieters said – “I’m cutting out bread in my diet as I’m getting fat, so can I have it without the bread?”, rather than can I have a gluten free roll with my starter. As I said before gluten free cake is still cake! Moreover, there are so many levels of sensitivity, that who are we to judge. I know people that can eat cooked egg but not raw egg – so they say to the establishment “Can I have my meal without mayonnaise?” Does it then matter if they then eat cake? No, not really.

On a more serious note, there has been new research into the causes of coeliac disease as reported by http://www.independent.co.uk. I never realised that not being breastfed was considered to be one of the causes of coeliac disease. Certainly solids were added to my diet as a very young infant, but I was still breastfed. Moreover, the food I was given would have been baby rice in my bottle (which would have been gluten free anyway)….can you imagine that now! So, the theory is that it’s the amount of gluten that we are exposed to before the age of two, that could be a determining factor in us getting coeliac disease. I will be interested in following this research to see how it pans out.

Lastly, and always on a high note!, http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk reports that there is yet another brewer who has developed a gluten free lager – yay! I can’t wait to go out to a pub in the evening and not have cider!

Gluten free stuffed pancakes

I used to love the Findus stuffed pancakes BC (before Coeliac), so I thought I would have a go at making my own gluten free version. They were very filling, so possibly use a small frying pan for the pancakes, but really tasty. You could also try different fillings, such as chicken & mushroom, leek & potato, or vegetable samosa mix.

For the filling:
500g beef mince
150g diced onion
2 cloves garlic
500ml beef stock
1/2 tbs cider vinegar
1/2 tbs sugar
1/2 tbs lemon juice
1 1/2 tbs apple juice
1/4 mixed herbs
Cornflour to thicken
Season to taste
For the pancake:
110g rice flour
2 large eggs
225ml rice milk (or 250 ml ‘normal’ milk)
Pinch Salt

Egg wash
Breadcrumbs