On Gluten-Free Dining, for Beckee Moreland

Beckee Moreland shares tips on how operators can go gluten free.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

Beckee Moreland, director of gluten-free industry initiatives for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, spoke to FSD about the company’s GREAT Kitchens programs, which educates operators on gluten-free dining. Moreland, who has been diagnosed with celiac disease for almost 20 years, says one in 133 people has celiac disease and another 6% of the population has gluten sensitivity.

Q. What is the GREAT Kitchens program?

The GREAT Kitchens program is a gluten-free training program that can be accessed online at the NFCA website, celiaclearning.com. Most people access the training online and take it whenever they want. The training consists of information about celiac disease, the gluten-free diet and menu planning. There is a huge component of the training that is about cross contamination. We cover gluten-containing ingredients and supplies needed to prepare gluten free safely. For the most part, once people understand what the ingredient is and where gluten can hide, that’s a big part of understanding. That’s the easy part. The most difficult part is to look at your own system of preparation and see how you can change that or tweak it to prevent the cross contamination of the food. That is really the key.

We’re seeing more and more restaurants getting into the gluten-free market. They understand the ingredient component, but they don’t clearly understand the cross contamination part. We can also do customized training on site. During the on-site training, one visual that I always use is that in a kitchen it gets rather busy and there may be a time when you grab the bread knife and you cut the baked potato. If you cut the bread and then the potato, the potato is no longer gluten free. That’s not something that is going to be visible to the guest. They won’t be able to see the gluten in the potato, but it could make them very sick. That’s why it’s really important for foodservice managers to understand gluten-free protocol and to put a procedure into place. It’s much better to verify ingredients and put preparation in place so that things run smoothly. Plus it builds confidence and trust in the consumer or patient. Confidence and trust are becoming a really big issue in regard to the safety of gluten-free food for people with celiac disease.

Q. Do you advocate for a separate gluten-free space in the kitchen?

We do prefer they set up a gluten-free area or space but not necessarily a dedicated gluten-free room. Sometimes that’s not really reasonable. It can be adapted. What we  can do is go in, look at the space and help them find a place that is safe to use to create and prep gluten-free products.

Q. When a college or nursing home asks you to come in, what is the process to ensure there is no cross contamination of gluten?

It depends on where they are in their journey of gluten free. Some may already have gluten-free products on site or have already implemented some things. If they have, then we look at how well that is working. What are some things they can do differently to improve their program? We do a logistical analysis. What could they offer to expand that menu if you did a few things differently, maybe changing out one ingredient or how it is prepared? Usually the managers go online and complete training and then we work together to create a training program for the staff members. The customized training session includes information that relates specifically to their working environment.

Q. Most non-commercial operators are ordering in their gluten-free products rather than making them on site. Do you think people should purchase those items from a vendor or are you trying to teach operations to cook gluten-free items on site?

First, we want them to be educated through GREAT Kitchens. We want them to be aware of what is celiac disease, what is gluten free, what is the diet like and what is a healthy, gluten-free diet. If you look at the outer areas of the supermarket that’s pretty much the gluten-free area. You’ve got fresh proteins and produce and minimally processed foods. There are alternative grains that are really great for anyone such as quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet and sorghum. When you start including the gluten-free breads and the other products like the desserts, those are the foods you have to be really careful with when you start adding those into the diet because they may not be healthy choices. Some gluten-free products are better than others. They may contain whole grains and more nutritional attributes. Purchasing gluten-free products that are individually wrapped and single portion sizes may be easier than baking or preparing gluten-free foods, but staff still need to know how to serve them properly. However, there’s no reason why naturally gluten-free foods can’t be offered for every customer as long as they aren’t cross contaminated. For example, we teach operators that they can’t just drain the noodles out of the soup. I know that sounds really silly, but I actually spoke to a patient who had a nurse do that. If the nurse had the education behind understanding the why, I don’t think she would have done that. A solid education base opens people’s eyes once they complete GREAT Kitchens. They can then take a look at their systems and help create those guidelines to adapt to gluten-free preparation.

If you’re going into baking and making gluten-free items that gets a little tricky. There is a lot of cross contamination in a bakery. Understanding ingredients, equipment, exact procedures and protocols to keep the gluten-free products safe is essential. This is a process that takes time to establish and that happens after they’ve been educated.

Q. How are some ways operators have started offering gluten-free items?

Some people are having a gluten-free dessert or item once a week to build an awareness campaign among the students. Right now, realistically, it is extremely expensive to go all gluten free with baked goods. That being said, it’s not difficult to have a gluten-free soup base and open up opportunities for students to have soups and gravies. I really recommend this because that’s an easy thing to do. Some students go in and just eat the salad bar. You can do that once in a while, but if you’re living there 24/7, that’s not a healthy way to live.

We know that 30% of the people being diagnosed with celiac disease are over the age of 60. College and university students and senior and healthcare facilities are the areas that we are really seeing a huge need because of the 24/7 living environment. It’s not like a restaurant where you can pick and choose.