Finding a fast-food franchise or an independently-owned eatery that serves genuinely gluten free food can pose a challenge. One might have to search on the web or even make some phone calls to find out whether or not a restaurant’s food and beverages are “safe” to ingest and won’t cause an adverse reaction. While taking the time and effort to make the necessary contacts in order to obtain this information would be worth it, one might still find out that the restaurant does not serve anything that is remotely close to gluten free…other than salad perhaps.
Therefore, some food chains, like Papa John’s Pizza for instance, have published disclaimers on their sites to let potential customers know that their products may not actually be gluten free. For example, the popular food chain advertises an “Ancient Grains Gluten Free” crust. However, the disclaimer warns people with Celiac disease or a wheat allergy to avoid this product altogether. This has some patrons rather perplexed.
Why the confusion?
This question is best answered by inquiring as to exactly what goes into their pizza. The franchise’s officials are aware that their kitchens are not full-proof. Cross-contamination can occur due to bakeware, utensils, etc. coming in contact with wheat flour. This occurs in spite of the fact that the gluten free crusts are carefully prepared at a separate facility.
So why should one worry? According the FDA, foods that fall under the category of “gluten free” are not prepared with wheat flour or any other grain that contains gluten. Furthermore, in order to comply with the requirements of this labeling, the food product must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. Ideally, the risk for cross-contamination should be minimal if not even exist.
Therefore, Papa John’s would not be in compliance with the requirements for labeling a product as gluten free due to this aforementioned cross-contamination. Gluten free crusts might still be placed on counters that have a dusting of wheat flour. Toppings might also come into contact with the gluten-containing culprit. Hence, there’s the need for the disclaimer warning patrons about trace amounts of gluten.
How much is too much?
So an awareness of the risk for cross-contamination is the main reason whyofficials from Papa John’s took the extra cautionary step and issued the disclaimer to prospective diners. Basically, they do not want to risk anyone, who would suffer the adverse effects, being exposed to ANY level of gluten.
And the company’s need to warn the public is not totally unwarranted. According to a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 10 mg of gluten is fairly safe for individuals with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. When subjected to that particular amount, slight changes occurred to the intestinal wall but no build-up of inflammatory cells. Likewise, if exposed to 50 mg, an individual with celiac is looking at having a reaction. What happens if one ingests a food that has a quantity of gluten that falls in between 10 and 50 mg? More research is needed to answer that question. Therefore food franchises and restaurants will not take their chances on exposure to even trace amounts. There is too much to leave to chance without knowing exactly how much gluten is too much. Plus, a broad spectrum in tolerance levels among people with a wheat allergy or celiac is an imperative factor. Basically, taking precautionary measures is best.
Of course, Papa John’s is not the only franchise that finds itself in this situation. Domino’s, for similar reasons, has also issued a disclaimer on its gluten free crust, and Chick-fil-A will actually ask diners to assemble their own sandwich when requesting a gluten free bun. (Though the bun is individually wrapped, restaurant staff make this a common practice to keep the bun from coming into contact with any kitchen equipment, containers, or countertops that might have trace amounts of gluten-containing products.) Many other eateries face the same predicament unless most of the menu is comprised of entrées that are rice or corn-based.
Why second guess?
While establishments, like Papa John’s, certainly do not intend harm, they are following different popularity trends just like any other food chain. One of those trends is the growing fascination with fad dieting which includes organic, vegan, and yes, gluten free alternatives. Thus one can perceive that Papa John’s is simply attempting to please all of the patrons all of the time by providing something for everyone and pursuing even more profit. After all, there is a large customer base out there who want to “go gluten free” but don’t actually have celiac or even a wheat intolerance.
On the other hand, one has to give credit to Papa John’s for publishing a disclaimer in the first place. After all, most individuals would take the time to read labels and research further into the ingredients and preparation. The phone calls to management or online research might even be unavoidable on the part of the customer. So they made this information (and warning) more accessible.
When in doubt, does a list exist?
In relation to information that is easily accessible, one can look into restaurants and franchises on an individual basis to see if they carry a disclaimer similar to that of Papa John’s. Likewise, there are resources to turn to such as:
- Glutenfreetravelsite.com—this site provides direct links to restaurants that offer a gluten free or “gluten sensitive” menu
- The Celiac Restaurant Guide—this list has web addresses for well-known chains but copying and pasting to a search bar is prohibited without first obtaining the publisher’s permission
- Very Well—this online publication has one article with a list of fast food places that have a gluten free menu for both adults and children
Also, one has to keep in mind that some of the resources list places that are in the similar situation as Papa John’s where a “gluten free kitchen” cannot be guaranteed. Nonetheless, not all of the restaurants face the same quandary, and they post similar disclaimers as well. One such example is Outback’s page with frequently asked questions. There are detailed answers regarding their food selections in addition to more information about celiac.
All in all, what is a person to do when he or she can’t partake of the items that are labeled gluten free? Here are some possible solutions to consider:
- Researching into the establishment and possibly speaking with a chef. Some places are more accommodating than one might expect.
- Ordering an “alternative” like a tasty salad or soup. Most pizza places also offer Buffalo wings that are not breaded as well. Also “sharing” in a variety of appetizers can be quite enjoyable since there’s truly something that would appeal to anyone at the table.
- Opting for a different restaurant that either has more variety or complies with FDA standards when offering gluten free items on the menu.
Subsequently, it comes down to safety and good health being the top priorities for both customer and vendor. Thus, both parties have some navigating to do; nonetheless, many franchise officials are finding out that the extra research and effort that goes into offering gluten free items can benefit all who are involved.