Restaurant “Gluten-Free” Menu Items Often Cross-Contaminated: Study

While a growing number of restaurants offer “gluten-free” menu options for individuals with Celiac disease or other food intolerances, new research suggests that roughly one-third of restaurant items marketed as “gluten-free” actually contain trace levels due to cross-contamination, which may result in serious damage to the intestinal lining and other health concerns. 

The gluten-free restaurant food study was presented last week at a meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Philadelphia, by researchers from the Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center, finding at least one third of all gluten-free dishes served at U.S. restaurants actually contain the disease causing ingredient due to improper preparation or cooking them in the same devices of gluten dishes. The findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Celiac disease is a disorder that can result in diarrhea, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal problems in response to eating gluten. Symptoms often continue if individuals with celiac disease fail to follow a gluten-free diet, and the long-term problems can cause permanent damage to the lining of the small intestines.

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The autoimmune and digestive disorder prohibits the ability to normally process gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats that helps food maintain their shape. Individuals with celiac disease that consumer gluten may suffer damage to the intestines that makes it harder for the body to absorb necessary nutrients, causing low blood cell counts, rashes, seizures, sores in the mouth, abdominal pain and carious other painful side effects.

More than 800 researchers involved in the study set out to assess U.S. restaurant dishes that claimed to be gluten-free and tested the contents of the meals with a portable gluten sensor. Gluten-free claims are considered valid when there are 20 parts per million or less of gluten within the dish.

Researchers performed more than 5,600 gluten tests over an 18 month period and discovered 27 percent of breakfast dishes claiming to be gluten-free actually failed the test. For dinner menu items, researchers found a 34 percent failure rate.

Some of the more popular foods such as pizza and pasta were found to be riskier with more than 50 percent of these types of dishes failing the gluten-free test.

With an estimated one out of every hundred people having celiac disease, the study’s findings show a great risk of painful illnesses to many customers. Gluten does not just impact those with the disease, there are some individuals who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity which causes more mild but uncomfortable symptoms such as constipation, bloating and nausea.


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