New program makes it easier for people with celiac disease to dine out

New program makes it easier to dine out for people with celiac disease
WATCH ABOVE: A new program is educating staff at restaurants about what gluten is, how to substitute ingredients and the best ways to avoid cross-contamination. Su-Ling Goh reports.

These days, gluten-free products and menu options are more common than ever. But for someone with celiac disease, a label sometimes isn’t enough to ensure a food is safe.

The new Gluten-Free Food Program (GFFP) is now offering certification for food service businesses.

Endorsed by the Canadian Celiac Association, the program educates staff about what gluten is, how to substitute ingredients and the best ways to avoid cross-contamination.

MyFries in Edmonton is the first restaurant in Alberta to achieve certification. Owners Maarten and Amy Verstoep say the process took about two months. Before they could pass their audit, they had to create a detailed ingredient list for customers and get rid of any gluten-containing products.

 “A simple thing like taking Worcestershire sauce out of my chili… that’s all I had to do to make it gluten-free,” Amy says.

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“The only other thing we had in here that [contained] gluten was malt vinegar, but we eliminated that too,” Maarten says.

The president of the Edmonton chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association points out gluten can lurk in unexpected places.

“Most restaurants don’t understand what products have gluten in them, and what [products] don’t,” Brian Readman says.

“And the big issue is with cross-contamination.”

READ MORE: Celiac association applauds General Mills decision to pull gluten-free label from Cheerios

Watch below: On Oct. 28, 2018, Allison Vuchnich filed this report about not all Canadians being confident in the gluten-free seal and how they are expressing their concerns.

Canadians complaining to CFIA about gluten-free food labels
Canadians complaining to CFIA about gluten-free food labels

Readman says an important part of the program is training for both kitchen and front-line staff.

“Once that waiter walks away from the table, you don’t know what’s happening [with] the communication between the waiter and the cook staff, and the cook staff back to the waiter,” Readman says.

Gluten is a group of proteins found in some grains. It damages the lining of the small intestine in people with celiac disease, and can can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and an increased risk of some cancers.

The Verstoeps wanted to help customers stay gluten-free because they understand how hard a strict diet can be. Their son has Type 1 diabetes.

They say when celiac customers discover they can eat anything on the menu, they sometimes become emotional.

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“There’s been tears, there’s been laughter,” Amy saYS.

“They’re not going to get sick today because of what they’ve eaten. And that’s huge.”

GFFP certification is available for restaurants, catering companies, camps, hotels, convention centres and educational and healthcare institutions.