May 28, 2023

Coeliac disease and the importance of gluten-free food

Helen North, Director of Fundraising and Commercial Services for Coeliac UK, outlines some of the challenges facing people with coeliac disease while travelling plus gluten-free accreditation schemes offered by Coeliac UK.

Providing good quality gluten-free food options for travellers can present difficulties. Coeliac UK’s recent Eating Out survey reveals that there is still a high level of dissatisfaction among gluten-free consumers.

Over 75% of respondents reported finding it difficult or very difficult to find a gluten-free meal at the airport. A similar number also reported difficulties when on an aircraft. Yet the dissatisfaction level rises to over 90% when travelling by train.

Some providers, though, are making inroads into the market. Marc Warde, Owner/Director of Niche Free From Kitchen, supplies airline special meals that are certified as free-from via his Libero brand.

Gluten Free Accredited

Warde’s restaurant, Niche on London, Islington district, is a Gluten Free Accredited venue, meaning that an independent audit against the Coeliac UK Gluten Free standard is carried out each year.

“Gluten Free Accreditation is difficult for an airline or travel business to apply internationally as they take food from multiple countries and jurisdictions,” said Warde.

People with coeliac disease in all countries face challenges to avoid consuming gluten while ravelling. Ingesting gluten for someone with coeliac disease, even as little as a crumb, may not result in an anaphylactic shock, but it can produce violent and long-lasting symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea and severe gut pain. These cause significant issues for the individual and often for fellow passengers. Many people with coeliac disease report carrying their own meals and snacks with them while travelling.

“The thought of getting glutened when confined to my seat is a nightmare that I face on every trip. I get some particularly nasty symptoms that no one needs to share, so if I’m uncertain of whether the food I’m being given is safe, I’d rather go hungry. I always have a supply of gluten-free snacks – they take up most of my hand luggage,” commented Warde, a frequent traveller who was diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Food risks

Managing food risks can be a real worry for any catering business. Coeliac UK’s food safety schemes can not only improve your risk management, but you could also be gaining many more loyal customers, meeting your customers’ needs and reduce complaints.

Coeliac UK is a charity that has been supporting people needing a gluten-free diet for over 50 years. A strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for anyone with coeliac disease. Coeliac UK is a member of the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS), recognised worldwide as the expert in the gluten-free diet.

It provides trustworthy, research-based advice and support to those who need it, works with healthcare professionals to improve diagnosis, fights for better availability of gluten-free food and funds critical research.

Working closely with the Food Standards Agency and other key stakeholders in the UK, Coeliac UK is regularly consulted to ensure that the provision of gluten-free food can be improved.

Food safety schemes

Coeliac UK delivers two food safety schemes so that people’s lives are not limited by gluten. Gluten Free Accreditation is for catering while Crossed Grain licensing is for food manufacturers. The charity also provides catering training via the Gluten Free Academy and its online courses are available to everyone.

The Gluten Free Accreditation scheme from Coeliac UK is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023. For many caterers, it has become a vital part of maintaining the highest levels of food safety for their customers.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Oats do not contain gluten but most are contaminated with gluten-containing cereals during growing or processing. Therefore oats must also be declared in the allergen information.

Only gluten has a legally defined threshold for labelling foods gluten-free for people with coeliac disease. Currently, there are no threshold doses for the other major allergens although work is ongoing.  

To label a dish gluten-free on a menu, caterers need to be sure that what is being served contains 20 ppm or less of gluten. Regulation (EU) No 828/2014 covers the absence of gluten in food to meet the standard for gluten-free food and is separate from allergen labelling legislation.

Crossed Grain licensing

For food manufacturers producing packaged food, the Crossed Grain licensing scheme could be the way forward. The Crossed Grain symbol, which is trademarked across the world, provides consumers with the reassurance that the manufacturer is showing its commitment to the highest standards in food safety for gluten-free food.

“We are incredibly proud of our food safety schemes. By joining the Gluten Free Accreditation scheme, or the Crossed Grain licensing scheme, caterers and manufacturers are able to give customers certainty of the gluten status of a dish or product and this assurance plays an important role in their choice,” said Hilary Croft, CEO of Coeliac UK.

Anxiety at 35,000 Feet

Marc Warde among WTCE attendees at the Taste of Travel Theatre. He will moderate a Taste of Travel session called Anxiety at 35,000 Feet on June 6 2023.

On Tuesday, June 6 2023, between 10.45 and 11.45 am, Marc Warde will moderate a panel of industry specialists during a Taste of Travel session entitled Anxiety at 35,000 Feet. It will explore how airlines are dealing with the challenging issue of food safety and allergies.

The speakers are Melanie Berry (Director of Customer Experience, Iberia), Simon Soni (Director – Guest Experience Activation, WestJet), Julianne Ponan MBE (Founder, Creative Nature), Lauren Costello (Executive Director, IFSA) and Kimberley Guanci (President, IFSA).

The venue is the Taste of Travel Theatre in Hall A1 of the Hamburg Messe. See the full Taste of Travel programme on the WTCE website: