According to new research commissioned by safefood, the vast majority of restaurants in Northern Ireland (98 %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 District Councils 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.”
The report “Hold the Gluten! – can coeliac consumers enjoy risk-free dining?” is available to download from the safefood website, www.safefood.eu.
A publication providing advice for staff of catering establishments, “Food Allergy and Intolerance: Guidance for the Catering Industry” is also available to download from the safefood website.
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.
² 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