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When I was diagnosed with celiac several years ago, Kim Koeller’s book Let’s Eat Out! was one of the first gluten-free books I purchased. I needed to learn how to eat out in Europe and that book taught me how to do exactly that. It was not until I returned from that trip that I found out about and purchased The Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide and excellent dining cards from Triumph Dining. Those tools helped me learn how to eat out in the U.S. – and most importantly, where to do so.

Kim Koeller has multiple food intolerances and avoids much more than just gluten. Due to her job, she had to learn how to eat out all types of cuisines all over the world. If she could do that successfully, I figured that I could learn how to do this ‘gluten-free thing’. Today Kim works with the hospitality industry, striving to affect change in how they handle their customers, many of whom have at least one food allergy or intolerance.

According to a recent press release, Kim Koeller will appear on the TV show The 700 Club this Wednesday (Nov. 11th) at 10am EST on the ABC Family channel. Kim will be discussing how to ensure worry-free dining while managing special diets. Specific gluten and allergen-free eating out advice will be given as well. Kim is an internationally recognized expert on safe dining & travel with special diets and award-winning author of Let’s Eat Out with Celiac / Coeliac and Food Allergies!

Below is part of an interview I did with Kim a couple of months ago. Though we’ve come a long way in the U.S. regarding gluten-free and allergen dining, we still have a long way to go.

TJ: Most European countries are years ahead of the U.S. regarding celiac and gluten-free knowledge as well as food intolerances and allergies. Slowly but surely it’s getting better here. What can people in the allergen communities do to drive even faster change here at home?

KK: Overall, our market research indicates that the quality of life for hundreds of millions of Americans as well as their extended social networks (ie. family, friends, schoolmates, children’s’ playmates and business colleagues) can be enhanced by:
1- Increased public awareness
2- Widespread understanding of special dietary needs
3- Expanded gluten and allergen-free offerings, products and services

At the same time, empirical data illustrates that hospitality, food service, manufacturing and health care industries are missing opportunities to address this ever-rising yet under-represented market segment leading to greater financial return. It is time for companies to develop the right capabilities to ensure that gluten and allergen-free customer requirements are consistently addressed with quality service.

Special diet consumers must feel safe eating both inside and outside their own homes in order for organizations to realize increased revenues from this extremely loyal, repeat and profitable market. In order to capitalize on these tremendous opportunities, the primary next steps are to:
1- Train hospitality and food service on ingredients, food preparation and cross-contamination considerations which ultimately decreases the current gaps in understanding special diets
2- Increase the safety and comfort level associated with gluten & allergen-free diets thereby increasing the number of consumers eating out and traveling
3- Educate medical professionals including physicians, dietitians, pharmacists and hospital staff on special dietary needs and expectations
4- Develop and manufacture great tasting foods representing wider selection, enhanced labeling, greater availability and expanded distribution channels

The next steps are clear: We, as gluten and allergen-free customers, need to work with businesses, government and the general public to further understand, accept and support special diets through awareness programs and educational initiatives throughout the US and the global marketplace.

Be sure to set your TIVO or VCR to record Kim’s appearance on Wednesday. I’m betting that she will inspire you to be part of the change you want to see in the world. She certainly did that for me. Together, we can most definitely make a difference!