Thursday, March 24, 2011
As chefs prepare meals for their guests, there is the always present concern of food allergies. Preparing a meal that will not sacrifice the guest’s health is essential in the restaurant industry. To better serve consumers and reach an additional marketplace, food service professionals must continue to pay attention to food allergy concerns as offering gluten-free products is one of the fastest growing segments in the industry.
People who suffer from celiac disease are forced to follow a gluten-free diet. Since gluten is found in all forms of wheat, barley and rye, as well as some more hidden sources such as gravies or soy sauce, easing the concerns of celiac consumers by offering gluten-free products will increase customer satisfaction. More menu variety may also attract additional consumers who did not previously visit your restaurant due to dietary constraints.
How many people are forced to follow a gluten-free diet? The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) shares that one in every 133 Americans has celiac disease and that an estimated 2.8 million Americans from all races, ages, and genders suffer from the disease. It is essential that food service professionals include carefully prepared gluten-free options in their menus to reach these celiac consumers.
Since health professionals explain that most people suffering from celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other medical conditions, the gluten-free food service market is continually growing. NFCA explains that by 2019, the celiac disease diagnosis rate could reach 50-60%, due to public awareness efforts.
As the gluten-free market continues to increase, chefs should become educated on not only gluten-free ingredients, but proper handling and preparation techniques to prevent cross-contamination. In addition, restaurants should increase consumer awareness of gluten-free meals served.
Having a kitchen staff that is educated about the needs of those following a gluten-free diet is essential to incorporating gluten-free options in the menu. With the proper knowledge, restaurants will not only deliver more meal variety to consumers, but will also deliver peace of mind. In order to remain gluten-free, the food cannot come into contact with any food containing gluten, as well as any equipment or utensils that were used to prepare gluten products.
Here are a few tips to follow when preparing gluten-free entrées:
- Do not prepare gluten-free foods on the same surface used to prepare food containing gluten, unless it has been thoroughly cleaned
- Have a separate set of utensils to be used for gluten-free food products or thoroughly clean utensils that have come in contact with gluten foods
- If possible, have completely separate equipment, such as dishes, cutting boards, and baking forms for the preparation of gluten-free products
- Do not deep-fry gluten-free foods in the same oil as food items that contain gluten
- Avoid using flours that contain gluten in the same area where gluten-free food is prepared since wheat flour can stay airborne for hours and contaminate surfaces
- Clearly label gluten-free products, if possible, color code all gluten-free food containers, utensils, and equipment
- Designate specific kitchen areas for preparing gluten-free food
Many restaurants are taking gluten-free initiatives as the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program® (GFRAP) explains that 96% of gluten-free consumers are brand loyal. Their loyalty stems from the difficulty to find restaurants that offer safe, gluten-free meals – a marketplace opportunity. The GFRAP serves over 1,620 participating restaurants and provides assistance as they work towards providing more gluten-free options. The GFRAP offers basic, advanced, and specialized levels of accreditation to restaurants to fit their unique needs. In addition, participating restaurants receive extensive publicity through the program’s website, as well as through other publications and a gluten intolerant network.
In the restaurant industry, it is especially important to start paying attention to the dietary needs of celiac consumers. The gluten-free industry is a growing marketplace that could increase revenue and enhance customer loyalty, while giving celiac customers a safe and credible place to enjoy gluten-free meals.
What gluten-free options are on your menu? Do you have gluten-free kitchens that prevent cross-contamination?