I just have to start off by saying that I can’t believe I’m talking about Domino’s Pizza here. Ick. Even when I was 21 and broke I thought Domino’s Pizza was gross. Yeah, my favorite binges at that glutenous time were Kraft Mac N Cheese and frozen Pepperidge Farm cake, but hey… I still had standards. How’s that for pretzel logic?
On a more serious note, I want to say that when I’ve consulted with gluten-free restaurants I’ve always referred them to both the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) run through the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) and the Gluten-Free Restaurant Education And Awareness Training (GREAT) run by the National Foundation For Celiac Awareness (NFCA). I respect them both, they both have done a great job for years training restaurants, and I feel my job is to let the restaurant owners know what options they have to choose from.
This blog post has been awkward for me to write. I really like the NFCA and I truly believe that Alice Bast has been trying her best to help with celiac disease awareness. Most of you know I hate controversy and I’d rather blog about an amazing gluten-free meal or a new gluten-free bakery, but I’ve decided that I have an obligation to disclose what I know and to be transparent about my thoughts and feelings along the way.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard something about the Domino’s gluten-free pizza drama. It took me awhile to put all of the pieces together, so here’s a basic timeline of events if you haven’t been following the saga. Part of me just wanted to skip to the happy ending, but until I sorted this out, I didn’t know what to believe, so, I figured there might be other people out there in the same situation. And although I didn’t want to get caught in the middle of any debates, I also didn’t want my silence to appear as if I was not aware of or concerned with what was unfolding.
I was invited to attend a conference call about the NFCA’s new restaurant “credentialing system”. Here is the press release.
In hindsight, doesn’t the title of the press release read like an ironic article in The Onion?
“NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR CELIAC AWARENESS ANNOUNCES GLUTEN-FREE CREDENTIALING TO ADDRESS WIDESPREAD CONFUSION IN RESTAURANT INDUSTRY”
I have to admit that at first I didn’t like the sound of the two tiered system. It sounded complicated.
However, once I listened in on the conference call it started to make sense to me. Alice explained how due to the popularity of the gluten-free diet now, restaurants at the NRA were super confused about what truly is gluten-free and how these restaurants were going to move forward with their own standards of gluten-free food. The NFCA recognized that now gluten-free diners are dealing with cross-contamination issues more often from restaurants claiming to have gluten-free food. They wanted to come up with a solution – a fair warning to diners to eat at their own risk at certain establishments. This would give a warning about a restaurants limited standards and at the same time allow for entry level training that would hopefully lead to more in depth training and then a “Green” designation that would signal to consumers it was a safe place to eat.
There still were a lot of unanswered questions that I figured would be ironed out in time. Overall, it sounded good to me. There does seem to be a range of sensitivity and although we are all super careful, in my opinion a lot of restaurants and companies have what I call “cover your butt” clauses out of fear…which I appreciate. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? And it is true, in Europe some restaurants will blatantly tell you that they can not serve you truly gluten-free food if you have celiac disease. Plus, I assumed that the NFCA had consulted with their highly respected board and advisors, many of whom are celiac or respected doctors that have specialized in the study of celiac disease.
A press release that reads as if it was sent by Domino’s Pizza is released with this confusing information:
While Domino’s new Gluten Free Crust is appropriate for those with mild gluten sensitivity, Domino’s and the NFCA do not recommend it for those with celiac disease. Domino’s and the NFCA found that while the crust is certified as gluten free, current store operations at Domino’s cannot guarantee that each handcrafted pizza will be completely free from gluten.
“The NFCA is thrilled that Domino’s Pizza has developed a product that will improve the quality of life for many of the estimated 18 million Americans who are gluten sensitive,” said Alice Bast, NFCA founder and president. “Not only is Domino’s Gluten Free Crust a huge win for much of the gluten free community who can now get pizza delivered to their door, it’s also delicious. Customers aren’t going to believe they’re eating a pizza made on a gluten free crust when they try it. And the variety of fresh toppings that are available is a giant leap ahead.”
Does anyone else find it funny that the term “quality of life” is used in relation to being able to eat at Domino’s Pizza?!
Honestly, I didn’t read the whole release at the time, because I really wasn’t interested in eating at Domino’s. I did find it odd to launch a new training program with a so-so chain restaurant with an “Amber” warning label.
Shortly after this I caught the first glimpse of the unfolding drama on Twitter.
Evidently, some people wondered, “Hey, why is she eating the pizza she warned us about?!”
Alice Bast’s quote is explained on the NFCA Facebook page:
“Alice did have the opportunity to try the crust in a controlled, cross-contamination free environment and it was in this environment where the reference to ‘delicious’ originated. This was early in our partnership when we believed that it would be possible to implement strong cross-contamination controls. However, when it became apparent that operational procedures would not guarantee a pizza free of possible gluten exposure in stores, we knew it would be important to make it clear that this product is not for those with celiac and therefore, not eligible for our Green Designation. We do recognize that the reference to ‘delicious’ was taken out of context and as a result has caused confusion, and for that we apologize.“
On that same day…
Jules Shepard interviews Alice Bast for one hour and has listeners call in with questions. There’s a bit of a nervous edge in everyone’s voices, understandably. At the end Alice makes the clear plea for people to contact the NFCA with their thoughts and any possible solutions.
You can listen to the radio show here:
After listening to the radio show I checked out the Domino’s website to see the disclaimer at the bottom of the home page and to check out the FAQ’s page.
The disclaimer says:
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness supports the availability of Domino’s Gluten Free Crust, but CANNOT recommend the pizza for customers with celiac disease. Customers with gluten sensitivities should exercise judgment in consuming this pizza.
Be sure to read the FAQ’s page. I’m beginning to wonder who is supposed to buy Domino’s gluten-free crust? Do they have a target market?
Cynthia Kupper of GIG writes an open letter to Alice Bast using forceful language asking her to stop the “Amber” designation. You have to download the letter from the home page of the GIG website to read it. There is also a link to an online petition to “Ditch Amber.”
Fox News steps in to report on the Domino’s gluten-free crust drama.
(How cute does Suzanne look with that sassy dark hair?! Love it!)
I received this private invitation from the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD) via the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
Due to your exemplary work creating awareness and educating others about celiac disease, we’d like for you to join us on a conference call tomorrow about the recent Domino’s launch of gluten-free crust, and the need for industry standardization for those who must eat gluten-free.
PLEASE NOTE: This announcement is embargoed until Thursday, May 17th, 12 p.m. Central.
What: Is it Gluten Free or is it Not? A Public Health Concern, A Call for Standardization – An invitation to participate in a discussion of the issue via conference call.
Detail: The North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD) will announce tomorrow a call for all restaurants and food manufacturers to properly label gluten-free products to avoid confusion that has the potential to threaten the health of people with celiac disease. The full news release, embargoed to Thurs., May 17, 2012, appears below. A related statement NASSCD posted to its website today is also available here: http://www.nasscd.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/NASSCD-Statement-on-Dominos-Pizza.pdf.
Why: Wide variance from food manufacturer to food manufacturer in labeling as “gluten free” is one of the key factors driving a public health concern that calls for resolution through standardization, labeling norms.
Who: The conference call will be led by expert source, Stefano Guandalini, MD, president, NASSCD, North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD). He is also founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
News Release: Embargoed to Thurs., May 17, 2012 @ Noon CT
North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease Calls for Industry Standardization of “Gluten-Free” Labeling(Chicago, IL-May 17, 2012) The North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD) today announced a call for all restaurants and food manufacturers to properly label gluten-free products to avoid confusion that has the potential to threaten the health of people with celiac disease. (View the statement NASSCD also issued this week athttp://www.nasscd.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/NASSCD-Statement-on-Dominos-Pizza.pdf. The move comes after two restaurant chains, Chuck E. Cheese and Domino’s Pizza, last week separately announced new gluten-free food product offerings that provide significantly different levels of safety for people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is a genetically inherited autoimmune condition that can damage the small intestine, and can lead – if untreated – to further serious complications, including anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and even certain cancers. Celiac disease is triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.”We want to eliminate the market confusion that has surfaced recently, provide clarifying facts and information about gluten-free labeling to food manufacturers, and ensure the public’s safety,” said Stefano Guandalini, M.D., president of the NASSCD, and founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. “Additionally, there is too much variance from manufacturer to manufacturer.”The announcements of new gluten-free pizza offerings by Chuck E. Cheese and Domino’s Pizza are a case in point.In its May 11, 2012, press release, Chuck E. Cheese described a process intended to protect customers from inadvertent gluten exposure: “To avoid cross contamination or accidental exposure to gluten ingredients in Chuck E. Cheese’s kitchens, the personal cheese pizza, manufactured by USDA/FDA-approved, gluten-free facility Conte’s Pasta, will arrive to stores in frozen, pre-sealed packaging. The bake-in-bag pizza will remain sealed while cooked and delivered and until opened and served with a personal pizza cutter at families’ tables by the adult in charge.”On the other hand, in a May 7, 2012, press release, Domino’s Pizza announced a gluten-free pizza crust that it said was “appropriate for those with mild gluten sensitivity” but not for people with celiac disease because “Domino’s cannot guarantee that each handcrafted pizza will be completely free from gluten.”"Our position at the NASSCD is that a product is either gluten free or it is not,” Guandalini said. “There is no in between. In fact, gluten exposure – including in minute amounts from cross-contamination – can be detrimental to people with celiac disease. Repeated exposure can lead to potentially grave medical complications, not to mention a poor quality of life.”According to Guandalini, as little as 10 mg of gluten in a day can reactivate – in very sensitive patients – celiac disease.”We strongly encourage Domino’s and other restaurants and food manufacturers to properly label and market gluten-free offerings, as so many responsible companies have done” Guandalini said. “There should be no need for disclaimers. A product is gluten free, or it is not. Marketing a product to be “sort-of” gluten free or “low” gluten is completely useless for those who require the strict diet.”The NASSCD, along with other organizations, has been working with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to put forth a “gluten-free” standard. That standard would require that, in order to claim a food product as “gluten free,” the end product must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten (equivalent to less than 20 mg in about 2.2 lbs.). Anything short of this standard would be considered false advertising.
The NASSCD was founded last year to advance the fields of celiac disease and gluten-related disorders by fostering research, and by promoting excellence in clinical care, including diagnosis and treatment of patients with these conditions. Approximately 1 percent of the population is estimated to suffer from celiac disease, though the condition often is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a less well-understood condition with a broad range of symptoms, including fatigue, migraine headaches and digestive disorders, and whose mechanism or cause is not yet identified, and that presently cannot be diagnosed by any medical test.
Stefano Guandalini, M.D., is president of the NASSCD, and founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. He is also a professor of pediatrics, and serves as chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. Contact Dr. Guandalini at: email@example.com
TO BE CONTINUED…I HAVE TO GO FOR A WALK, AND YOU PROBABLY SHOULD TOO AT THIS POINT. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS SO FAR?