Tuesday, May 29, 2012

“Bring Dessert”

As a person with celiac disease, I try to help out the hostess by offering to bring something if I have been invited to dinner or to a beach house or wherever.  Part of that is common courtesy and part of that is to ease the host family’s fear of coming up with some dish that is gluten-free so that I can eat it.

This past weekend, we spent the night out in Montauk and I was asked to bring dessert.  I got my inspiration at Stop & Shop in their seasonal section!  They had everything all set for S’mores, the store even had a cute tray and the special S’mores sticks for the BBQ.  The only extra work I had was making sure to purchase gluten-free graham crackers for the two of us on a gluten-free diet.

This was a lot easier than trying to pack a pie or cupcakes or a cake for the drive out to the beach.  Because it was so hot, the chocolate was melty to begin with when we made these and they were completely a gooey mess.  The Jumbo Marshmallows were showy, but in my humble opinion, it was just way too much melty marshmallow per S’more…stick to the regular size marshmallow for the right proportion of ingredients.

Everyone had to have one! I wish I had taken photos of the hands and faces that were covered with melted chocolate and marshmallow when we finished up.

Kendall Egan

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Wegmans' gluten-free products

If you live near a Wegmans supermarket, you might have noticed that the grocery chain has launched its own store brand of gluten-free products.

Included are corn pasta in four shapes and four baking mixes. There are already more than 1,700 gluten-free items among Wegmans store brand foods. But the new pasta and baking mixes don't just happen to be gluten free. Instead they are specialty products formulated to be gluten free.
In addition to boldly stating their gluten-free status on the package label, the pasta and mixes are also marked with Wegmans' gluten-free key, a white G in an orange circle.

Wegmans says the gluten-free key only appears on products with ingredients that have been verified to be gluten free and have no risk of being cross contaminated.

For recipes, and new product info go to Wegmans'

Also, if you are a Wegmans' shopper, keep an eye on your postal mailbox for coupons for free pasta and a baking mix.

Amy Ratner

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Domino's Pizza drops Amber Gluten-Free Seal

Domino's Pizza has stopped using a controversial certification seal on its new pizza made with a gluten-free crust. But the company does not plan to discontinue the crust itself.

On its website, the national pizza delivery company said it now has a "Gluten Free Ingredients" rating from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Originally Domino's was given NFCA's Amber seal. That designation was designed for restaurants that get staff training regarding gluten-free meals and verify the gluten-free status of ingredients but don't guarantee that meals are free from cross contamination in the kitchen. It may take some time for the seal to disappear completely since it has already been printed on pizza boxes, but changes have already been made on Domino's website.

When the pizza was launched two weeks ago, both Domino's and the NFCA said it was not designed for those who have celiac disease because the crust was likely to be cross contaminated during preparation. Domino's said it was made for those who are "mildly sensitive" to gluten.

Negative reaction from many in the gluten-free community caused NFCA to suspend use of the Amber seal, part of a new two-tier certification program. The Green tier, used for restaurants with that meet higher standards, including strict gluten cross-contamination controls, is still being used by the group.

Domino's said despite withdrawal of the Amber seal NFCA supports the company's effort to provide a crust made with gluten-free ingredients to a national audience. While many with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, who must avoid all gluten, protested the pizza, some consumers following the gluten-free diet for other reasons said it does meet their needs.

NFCA said it is re-evaluating the Amber seal but remains committed to finding effective ways to warn gluten-free diners that all gluten-free menus are not created equal. The risk of gluten contamination in restaurant kitchens, even those that advertise gluten-free items, is higher than most consumer realize, according to the group.

Amy Ratner

Saturday, May 19, 2012

NFCA Stops Use of Controversial Gluten-Free Seal

Controversy over Domino's pizza being sold as gluten free has prompted a national celiac support group to "suspend" use of the kind of certification seal it gave the pizza maker.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness announced that it will discontinue use of it's Amber seal. The seal is given to restaurants that get staff training regarding gluten-free meals but don't guarantee that meals are free from cross contamination in the kitchen.

The NFCA did not mention Domino's pizza in its announcement. But Jennifer North, NFCA vice president, said in an email that  Domino's will continue to offer its pizza made with a gluten-free crust and use its existing Amber seal. "We are assessing the process to pull (the seal) out of circulation," North said.

When the pizza was launched two weeks ago, both Domino's and the NFCA said it was not designed for those who have celiac disease because the crust was likely to be cross contaminated during preparation. Domino's said it was made for those who are "mildly sensitive" to gluten. North said Domino's has decided to keep selling the crust based on positive feedback from customers.

Meanwhile, the gluten-free community rallied to protest NFCA's certification of the pizza. More than 3,200 people signed an online petition, Ditch Amber, calling for an end to NCFA's two tier certification program. In addition to the Amber seal, the NFCA gives a Green seal to restaurants that meet much stricter requirements that include cross-contamination controls. Use of the Green seal will continue.

The Amber seal was widely criticized by gluten-free consumers who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance to patient advocacy groups to medical experts from respected celiac research centers around the country.

The NFCA said it will "conduct a review to determine the most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination." The group said gluten-free diners are often unaware that the increasing number of restaurants that offer gluten-free menus are not taking steps to protect them from cross contamination.

Here is the full statement from the NFCA:
NFCA to Conduct Further Study on Amber Designation

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) launched its Tiered Credentialing system in April 2012 in response to a growing concern in the restaurant industry around cross contamination. While the NFCA recognizes the importance of alerting consumers to cross-contamination risks, the community response has prompted NFCA to reconsider the Amber Designation and related product labeling as an effective method to communicate these risks.

Given the public response and recent developments in this field, NFCA is suspending use of the “Amber” designation to describe a restaurant or foodservice establishment. We will conduct a review to determine the most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination and the use of the phrase “Gluten Free.”

While we regret that confusion may have occurred in relation to the Amber Designation, we do welcome and appreciate the attention this important issue of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease has received through this dialogue.

We note that the education of the public, healthcare providers, the restaurant and foodservice industry, and those who are affected by gluten-related disorders has been enhanced by this recent media coverage concerning these designation and labeling issues, as have the interests of those maintaining a medically necessary gluten-free diet.

Amy Ratner

Monday, May 14, 2012

Domino's Gluten-Free Pizza and NFCA

In my two decades of writing about and living with the gluten-free diet because of my daughter’s celiac disease diagnosis I’ve never seen reaction as strong and swift as that caused by the recent news involving Domino’s pizza.

As you likely know by now, last week Domino’s launched a gluten-free pizza that the company specifically said is not designed for those who have celiac disease but for those who are “mildly sensitive” to gluten. While the crust is gluten-free, cross-contamination is a problem.

If that alone was not enough to stir up confusion and distress in the gluten-free community, the pizza also came with backing of sorts from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, a celiac disease support group. Domino’s consulted NFCA on the launch of the pizza and was given the group’s new “Amber” seal, which is part of a two-tier certification program NFCA just launched.

The result was that many who expect NFCA to look out for those who have celiac disease were instead seeing red.

University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research and the Gluten Intolerance Group put out statements denouncing the pizza. GIG, a celiac disease support group that also certifies restaurants, went further and called for complete discontinuation of the Amber seal.

1in133, the grassroots organization that formed last year to push for approval of gluten-free labeling regulations, quickly took up the cause and started a movement called “Ditch Amber.” The group set up a Facebook page to collect signatures on a petition that urges NFCA to get rid of the designation. At last count more than 700 people had signed.

Alice Bast, president of NFCA, today said the group is "looking for productive dialogue" as it assesses its next steps. "We launched the Amber designation to solve a problem that is not going to go away on it's own, she said, noting that NFCA is taking comments by Alessio Fasano, director of CFCR, "very seriously." The NFCA board is set to meet later this week, Bast said.

I first learned about the Amber seal in a web press conference NFCA conducted recently to announce its new restaurant certification system. In short, restaurants that can guarantee gluten-free meals are truly gluten free get a “Green” seal. Those that can’t, but are trying - perhaps by using gluten-free ingredients, get an Amber seal. The seal is supposed to connote “caution” for most gluten-free diners and from the get-go NFCA said the Domino’s pizza was not for those who have celiac disease.

Even before news of Domino’s gluten-free pizza broke, I questioned the need for the Amber seal. I asked why the group did not just set a standard and tell restaurants they could not get NFCA’s designation unless they met it. Bast said NFCA did not want to cut these restaurants off, but rather wanted to keep working with them until they could meet the standards of the Green seal.

I feared that the lesser seal would simply give restaurants not truly committed to meeting gluten-free needs an easy way to get into the gluten-free market without having to do the necessary work. At the same time, they could boast a seal from a respected celiac support group.

NFCA said it saw the seal as a way to warn gluten-free consumers about kitchen practices that lead to cross contamination – something the group says is common in many restaurants with gluten-free menus but unbeknownst to diners.

I saw it as simply adding uncertainty. In early talks about rules for gluten-free labeling on packaged foods, consumers said they did not want two designations for gluten-free products. They did not want low-gluten and gluten-free labels, which is essentially what you get for restaurants with NFCA’s two tier system.

But my biggest worry about the two tiers was that it would similarly divide the gluten-free community into two groups – those who have celiac disease and those whose gluten-free needs are not as specifically medically defined.

Gluten-free was once strictly the purview of people with celiac disease. Hardly anyone else had heard of it. Few food makers and restaurants cared about it. And it was much more difficult to live with.

Slowly word began to spread. A stalwart group of people with gluten sensitivity went gluten free despite medical advice the diet wasn’t necessary until their true need finally started to get recognition. And suddenly the world at large was picking up on the gluten-free diet.

Those with celiac disease have been benefiting all along the way. Supermarkets now carry a wide variety of gluten-free products, restaurants have more gluten-free choices, and foods that you once had to give up entirely are easier to make or buy.

But if we are honest in the celiac disease community, in the back of our minds, there has always been a fear that a day would come when the gluten-free desires of the larger world would start to work against us. That “gluten free” might not be “gluten free” enough.

Domino’s seems a first broad, national, highly advertised step in that direction. Still, I am not surprised the petition is not calling for Domino’s to stop making the crust. Instead it asks the NFCA to stop putting a stamp of approval, however qualified, on the pizza.

It’s not easy navigating a special diet. That task becomes harder when someone with celiac disease has to explain why the pizza a well-meaning friend has just bought for them isn’t safe even if a seal from a national celiac disease support group is attached to it. My daughter has received messages from multiple friends excited about the news that there is now gluten-free pizza at Domino’s. They have no idea it’s not safe for her.

A restaurant's half-hearted effort to be gluten-free is not really all that new. Most gluten-free diners have found gluten-free menus that really aren’t safe just by asking the questions they know are critical. What is new is a celiac support group saying we can live with this.

That’s why the NFCA is taking the heat. In my personal opinion, it's justified. This misstep does not wipe out all the good NFCA has done for those who have celiac disease, as some insinuate. But no matter how well intentioned the two-tier system is, it simply does not work.

Amy Ratner

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cinco de Mayo-Saturday, May 5, 2012

Unreal! I purchased my Hass avocados yesterday because I know they need a few days in a bowl with a couple of apples to ripen just in time to make guacamole for a Cinco de Mayo celebration this weekend. However, I just received the basketball tournament schedule for the weekend. My 11 year old has a basketball game starting at 8:10 PM this Saturday. Are they kidding? Don’t these tournament directors know that Cinco de Mayo is the new St. Patrick’s Day? Everyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo these days, and why not?

I love the melting-pot nature of adopted holidays and this one is so perfect for a gluten-free diet that it just screams to be celebrated if you are gluten intolerant. A good salsa, a good guacamole and a delicious bowl of corn tortilla chips with a fresh lime margarita and a collection of good friends is all it takes for a celebration! I saw a tweet from Slate with a delicious sounding guacamole recipe and then another guacamole tweet from Whole Foods which got me all excited about the weekend, but then the coach’s email came in with the game schedule.

When I was at Expo West, the one category I saw that had expanded greatly was the “chip” category. Blue corn tortilla chips used to be the new kid on the block in terms of an unusual chip. Many vendors now are infusing chips with spinach or sweet potato or tomato so they are getting great color and good flavor, I wonder if they count as a vegetable? And how bummed am I that can't I sit around on Saturday night stuffing my face with corn tortilla chips?

Some of these new chips literally are vegetables. There are many varieties of lentil chips and kale chips, some even have a south of the border flair. Brad’s Raw Foods has a Natural Nacho Raw Leafy Kale and Rhythm Superfoods has a Zesty Nacho flavor! I’m not sure they would hold up for dipping, but they would be a nice change of pace as a stand-alone Cinco de Mayo snack bowl by the pitcher of margaritas!

I really don’t want to go to this basketball game, I really want to be sipping a margarita and digging a corn tortilla chip into a bowl of guacamole! This is a holiday where no one has to make any special effort for gluten-free party foods for an invited celiac guest. For everyone else, I hope you have festive weekend plans and think of me in a hot gym cheering on eleven year olds playing basketball while you sip your margarita!

Kendall Egan