Monday, April 19, 2010

Baking at the CIA tomorrow!

I am leaving in a little bit and heading up to Hyde Park so that I will be bright-eyed for my gluten-free pastry class tomorrow at the Culinary Institute of America. Chef Richard Coppedge, Jr. C.M.B. is going to be our second interviewee of the year and I am the lucky interviewer.

He thought it would be best if I came and participated in the class so that I could further understand what it’s all about…I’m going through his cook book now and I’m really amazed at some of the gluten-free pastries here.

As a huge fan of the Food Network and a pretty decent home cook, I am just over the moon at this opportunity to work in a professional kitchen and learn some new tips. But I’m also terribly nervous because I hate baking and I really stink at baking.

True confessions, I have never baked anything from scratch, gluten-free or otherwise. Buy a mix, dump in eggs and stuff, bake in proper pan and “viola.” Well, I have made NestlĂ©’s Toll House cookies but that’s a recipe does not involve patience, competence or precision so this is going to be an education.

The interview will run in our next issue, which ships in June. I think it is going to be a really great day.

Kendall Egan

Thursday, April 15, 2010

FDA gluten-free survey - This just in!

As hard as it is to believe, the FDA already has all of the responses it needs for the survey on gluten-free labeling. The survey will be closed shortly, according to the research group conducting it.

Here's what Katherine Kosa of RTI International said in an email:

"I have learned that people received an ineligible response not because they are ineligible but because we have reached our quota way faster than we expected. We received an overwhelming response to the survey in the past 24 hours and cannot keep up. We will be closing the survey shortly."

I think everyone is surprised that all the needed responses came in so quickly. (We did have one person who commented on my earlier blog that this seemed to be a possibility) The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness only this morning sent out an email encouraging gluten-free consumers to participate. We first heard of the survey and started promoting just yesterday morning.

I can understand how some people feel they did not have a chance to have their say with the survey opening and closing so quickly. Earlier today it seemed that the problem was too many people responding at the same time. In fact, the problem was too many people responding period.

Hopefully, the FDA will come up with a way for those who could not participate in the survey to have their comments heard. One of the positive things to come out of this is the demonstration that those who follow the gluten-free diet have a strong voice and will take the opportunity to use it.


Overwhelming response to gluten-free survey may be causing problems

The gluten-free community is responding with such force to the new FDA survey on gluten-free shopping and labeling that some problems have developed.
In short, the 700 responses that have come in in the last 24 hours seem to be swamping the system, according to Katherine Kosa of RTI International, the non-profit research organization contracted by the FDA to conduct the survey.
That might be one of the reasons some people are getting told they are not qualified to participate, Kosa said.
The survey was initially released to celiac research and treatment centers a few weeks ago, but after only 250 responses were received in two weeks, celiac support groups were given the survey link to share with the gluten-free community. Kosa said one group sent out 7,000 e-mails.
I personally have also been urging those who follow the gluten-free diet to quickly fill out the survey and encouraging others to spread the word.
It seems this might have worked too well. Kosa received numerous emails this morning from people who said they were not allowed to complete the survey and did not understand why. She said there were no problems when the survey was first released to the celiac centers and the response rate was low.

But Kosa noted there might be other reasons people are being told they are ineligible to participate.
The survey was designed to collect information from the average celiac and gluten intolerant consumer (including those who shop and prepare meals for someone else who has celiac disease).
It is also interested in responses only from those who buy packaged food and read labels.
"We want people who shop, buy packaged food and read labels. We don't want the person who knows more than the average (gluten-free) consumer" Kosa said. "We don't want the 'right' answers. We want to know what people know."

That means you will not qualify if you work for the food industry or a retailer, a gasteroenterologist, a celiac disease support group, a celiac disease research center or a government agency related to food.
You also will not qualify if you say you do not purchase packaged food or have not shopped for gluten-free food in the last month or say you do not read labels.
Kosa said she understands the frustration the survey may be causing. "We know how passionate (gluten-free consumers) are and how frustrating it is to be told you don't qualify," she said. Kosa noted that she has talked to the FDA about this and the agency is looking into the possibility of enabling those who do not qualify to make comments in another way. There is no guarantee that will happen though.

The FDA will collect 4,400 responses, which Kosa says is a relatively large number for a survey. That will include responses from consumers who do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance or care for someone who does. These people will be drawn from an e-panel of consumers. The FDA is interested in their responses because of the increasing number of people buying gluten-free items even when they do not have celiac disease for gluten intolerance, according to Kosa.
The deadline for responding to the survey is April 30, but at the current rate the FDA will reach its limit much earlier than that.
So what should you do if you have not responded or have been kicked off the survey as ineligible?

I would suggest you stop trying today until any problems with the survey can be worked out. Over the next few days, things should slow down, and you will probably be able to get through. Once things slow down, you will know that if you are told you are ineligible, it's accurate based on what the survey is trying to find out and not simply a system that is over-worked
Kosa apologized for the problems. I do, too, for my role in urging everyone to get moving to fill out the survey fast. I know how easy it is to forget something if you put it off and I know the completion of the survey will play a role in how quickly the definition for the gluten free label is approved.

I think the response rate is an indication of how important this is to those who follow the gluten free diet. But if our enthusiasm overloads the system, it does not really do us any good.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fill out this important FDA gluten-free survey

You can now fill out the long-awaited FDA survey on gluten-free shopping habits. It's available here.

It took the FDA a little more than a year to release the survey, which will help the agency figure out what kind of gluten-free labels those who follow the gluten-free diet want to see.

You can fill out the survey if you are at least 18 years old. It is designed for those who have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, wheat allergies and those who shop and make meals for anyone following the gluten free diet.

The FDA is spreading word about the survey through celiac support groups and it is available on the internet and or by calling 1-877-4GLUTIN1 to request a paper copy.

Questions include:

  • the method by which you were diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
  • whether and how often you purchase and prepare packaged food that is gluten free
  • the kind of symptoms you experienced after accidentally or purposely ingesting gluten
  • how difficult you find following a gluten-free diet
  • what impact an increase or decrease in the availability of gluten-free products would have on you
  • the quality of advice you get about the gluten-free diet from a variety of sources
  • how often you look for a gluten-free claim on a product
  • how much gluten can be in a food labeled gluten free
  • how you would like gluten to be quantified, either parts per million or micrograms per gram
In addition, you have a chance to look at a variety of labeling options, choose the one you prefer and give your opinion about the safety, believability and clarity of another.

The most important part is that you actually take the time to fill out the survey. The FDA has said the survey would not delay approval of a final definition of gluten-free on a label, but all we know is that the deadline is long past and anything the gluten-free community can do to get its approval moving is very important.