In the summer of 2007, the American Celiac Disease Alliance surveyed parents of children with celiac disease to learn about their experiences in obtaining gluten free (GF) school lunches. Over 2000 responses were received in a span of just a couple weeks. The overwhelming majority wanted a GF meal option on the menu. At the same time concerns about proper training for staff and cross-contamination tempered enthusiasm for the meals.
In the subsequent two years, great strides have been made to improve awareness about celiac disease, its symptoms and its affect on children. Over the same period school district food service departments have witnessed the number of requests for dietary accommodations rise, particularly for students with celiac disease.
Schools want all children to have the tools they need to learn, including a nutritious meal. At the same time, food service professionals benefit from having tools to better understand how to accommodate medically required diets. The ACDA regularly receives requests for sample menus and practical information about the gluten free diet. Experts who educate and train patients diagnosed with celiac disease, as well as school nutrition professionals, have assisted us in assembling background materials to guide you, including: presentations about the diet, sample menus, relevant articles and additional resources.
What’s Safe, What’s Out, and What to Question
Read the Label
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires packaged food products to list on the ingredient statement whether the product contains one of the top 8 allergens (eggs, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, soy and wheat). In the past, many of the questionable items contained some form of wheat. While wheat is no longer ‘hidden,’ care must still be taken to look for other gluten sources, i.e. barley and rye.
A few key points to remember –
• Manufacturers can change ingredients or reformulate products at any time. ALWAYS check the label when purchasing products.
• If an ingredient’s source is not clear on the label, contact the food manufacturer.
• Wheat-free is not gluten-free.
• When in doubt do not use the product in preparing meals for individuals with celiac disease.
In addition, several ingredients generate numerous questions because they are often inaccurately characterized, these include:
Starch or Food Starch – This ingredient may be derived from corn, wheat, potato, rice or tapioca. According to FDA regulations, when used in food production, starch or food starch is made from corn. If not derived from corn, the source must be provided (e.g. Starch (potato) or Potato starch.
Modified food starch – The source of the starch must be listed, unless it is made from corn. If modified with wheat, labeling laws require it to be declared on the ingredient label. Barley and rye are not used to modify food starch. Modified starch or modified food starch, containing any amount of wheat, will have it disclosed on the label.
Vinegar – Distilled vinegars are gluten-free. Research indicates that the gluten peptide is too large to carry over in the distillation process. This leaves the resultant liquid gluten-free. Malt vinegar however, is not distilled and is not gluten free.
Maltodextrin – This is an anti-caking agent that may be derived from corn, waxy maize, potato, rice, corn or wheat. While the source may be wheat, maltodextrin the processing and purifying of the ingredient renders it gluten-free. If the source of maltodextrin were wheat, it would have to be identified accordingly, ‘wheat maltodextrin.’
Spices – Anti-caking agents may be used in spices, the most common are silicon dioxide, calcium silicate or sodium aluminum silica. Wheat or wheat starch are not used to preventing caking in spices.
Avoiding Cross Contamination
Understanding how to modify meals is one part of the process of providing gluten free lunches the other is how to avoid cross contamination. While celiac disease is not an allergy, the food service precautions are similar. For this reason it is recommended that food allergy training for school staff incorporate information about celiac disease and the gluten free diet.
The following are core components necessary to prevent cross-contamination in food service:
• Prepare gluten free foods first.
• Clean & sanitize food production surfaces before, during and after food preparation
• Use separate food preparation & serving utensils for gluten free foods; alternatively clean and sanitize cooking utensils and pans after each use and prior to preparing gluten free foods.
• Color code cutting boards for gluten and non gluten foods
• Prevent crumbs from getting into condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, etc.) by using separate jars.
• If fryers are used for breaded items, fresh oil is needed before preparing gluten free items; separate fryers would be preferred.