New survey has positive news for Coeliacs

24 January, 2011. safefood research shows that 94% of restaurants on the island of Ireland are able to accommodate a request for a gluten-free meal.

According to new research commissioned by safefood, the vast majority of restaurants on the island of Ireland (94% [1]) are able to accommodate a diner’s request for a gluten-free meal. safefood’s research was commissioned to examine the level of knowledge amongst food preparation staff in the service meal sector and has highlighted the importance of knowledge, training and communication in ensuring customers are successfully presented with a gluten-free meal, thereby reducing their risk of ill health and increasing their confidence when dining out.

Commenting on the research, Dr. Gary Kearney, Director, Food Science, safefood said, “Our research has shown how vitally important it is that the manager and chef of a catering establishment are aware of the Coeliac condition and the importance of gluten-free food. This is critical given that serving staff are often heavily reliant on their advice when advising a customer. It’s clear that staff training is fundamental in addressing this ‘knowledge gap’ and, as such, all service sector staff should receive basic training on how best to address food allergies and intolerances and the importance of controlling food allergens in a catering setting.”

“While our research is welcome news for coeliacs, it is no reason to be complacent as the research revealed that serious mistakes can still be made, even when customers are presented with ‘gluten-free’ choices in ‘Coeliac friendly’ restaurants”, he continued.

The research, carried out in conjunction with the Environmental Health Service (ROI), District Councils (NI) and the Galway Public Analyst’s Laboratory also highlighted the importance of two-way communication between the Coeliac customer and restaurant staff in ensuring the provision of safe, gluten free food.

Dr James McIntosh, Toxicologist with safefood, said: “Coeliacs need to communicate clearly with catering staff at all times, even in establishments that claim to have ‘gluten-free’ menu options. Those involved in food preparation - whether it’s the manager, the chef or the server – also have a key role to play in communicating with the customer. Caterers should not take chances but rather communicate any doubts they may have to the customer, who will then be in a position to make an informed decision as to whether or not they decide to purchase a particular meal. Informed communication is by far the best policy.”

Mr. Gerry Flaherty, Chairperson of the Coeliac Society of Ireland added “We welcome these findings but would remind of the need for constant vigilance in the provision of safe, gluten-free food for people with coeliac condition”.

Download the report “Hold the Gluten! - can coeliac consumers enjoy risk-free dining?”

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For further information please contact:

Cliodhna Lamont / Susie Cunningham

WHPR

Tel: +353 (0) 1 669 0030 

Dermot Moriarty 

safefood 

Tel: +353 (0) 1 448 0600

Email: Cliodhna.lamont@ogilvy.com dmoriarty@safefood.eu

References

[1] A two phase survey model was used in which (a) gluten-free meals were purchased from restaurants and (b) the sampler completed a pro-forma questionnaire reflecting the level of knowledge among catering trade staff of the dietary needs of Coeliacs. With guidance from the Coeliac Society of Ireland, sampling was carried out by the Environmental Health Service throughout the island of Ireland during the summer of 2009 and the meal samples were analysed for gluten content at the Western Region Public Analyst’s laboratory in Galway. In total, 260 samples from 248 premises were analysed for gluten content - 48 samples from 48 premises in Northern Ireland and 212 samples from 200 premises in the Republic of Ireland. In 93.5% of all cases on the island of Ireland (IOI), the restaurant was able to accommodate a request for a gluten-free meal. This breaks down as 92.5% of cases in Republic of Ireland and 97.9% of cases in Northern Ireland.

Editor’s Notes

The island of Ireland is thought to have one of the highest incidences of Coeliac condition in the world with a prevalence of at least 1% of the population. Source: World Journal of Gastroenterology, January 2007 

What is Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac (celiac) disease or ‘condition’ is caused by gluten intolerance. It is a life-long inflammatory disease of the upper small intestine caused by intolerance to gluten affecting many populations worldwide. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, and other similar proteins are found in rye, barley and oats. These proteins damage the small finger-like projections (villi) that line the small intestine and play a significant role in digestion. When damaged or inflamed, the villi are unable to absorb water and nutrients such as vitamins e.g. folic acid and iron and calcium.

Aims of research

The aim of the safefood research was to to examine the level of knowledge amongst food preparation staff in the service sector in relation to how best to cater for a customer asking for a gluten-free meal. It was also anticipated that the results of this project could help highlight any training requirements for restaurant staff to provide gluten-free foods either on request or as part of an advertised gluten-free menu option. This is important for protecting the health of consumers with Coeliac condition which now affects up to 1% of the population.

Key findings

  • There is generally a good chance that a request for a gluten-free meal can be accommodated in restaurants. This is especially true in Coeliac-friendly restaurants. 
  • Staff rely on the advice and input from the chef or manager in ensuring that a request for a gluten-free meal can be accommodated accurately. 
  • The risk of providing unsafe food for a coeliac sufferer correlated with the general knowledge staff have of the issue which in turn influenced the confidence with which staff interacted with the sampling officer. Staff training can address these knowledge gaps. 
  • Staff confidence during the interaction did not necessarily translate into a guaranteed purchase of gluten-free food. Even establishments that claim to cater for Coeliac customers can make mistakes. 
  • Notices/signs relating to the Coeliac condition or gluten-free meals were uncommon and, even if present, were no guarantee against an adverse outcome. 
  • Gluten-free menu choices are also no guarantee of risk-free dining.