NFCA Suspends Amber Designation for Gluten-Free Menus

If you’ve been following the news regarding Domino’s foray into gluten-free and the NFCA’s Amber Designation for their pizzas — and judging by the comments and shares on our post about it, many of you have — then it will come as no surprise to you that the NFCA decided to act.

In light of the uproar, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has opted to suspend the designation; Amber was supposed to indicate that a restaurant had completed, “Ingredient Verification and Basic Server Training, but kitchen practices may vary widely.” The NFCA has removed the program from their website and issued a press release indicating that they will review the, “most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination and the use of the phrase ‘Gluten Free.'”

For now, the gluten-free crust is still available at Domino’s, and the pop-up warnings indicating that it is not recommended for people with celiac disease are still loudly in place. The company’s website is host to a FAQ about their gluten-free options, and although it mentions the NFCA it does not mention the word Amber anywhere.

So, in general, this seems to be a good thing. The Amber Designation was confusing (I think Gluten Dude did a good job of explaining it) and no doubt whatever revisions the NFCA comes up with will be more easily understood by the general community.

However, the question remains: should Domino’s even have a gluten-free crust?

Opinions will differ, but I want to pull some text from their website to add into the conversation:

Why won’t Domino’s stores use a separate area of the kitchen or use new ingredients when making pizza with the Gluten Free Crust?

Domino’s worked closely with the NFCA and recognizes that with our current operational model we cannot, beyond all doubt, provide the environment needed to assure those with celiac disease that the whole pizza is 100 percent gluten free. Domino’s does not want to set unrealistic expectations of how the Gluten Free Crust is handled in our stores. Domino’s would rather be honest and transparent about this product and avoid risking a customer ordering this product under false pretenses. Domino’s includes its Gluten Free Crust disclaimer in store, online, in all advertising and on all pizza boxes.

Well, it’s nothing if it isn’t honest. And given that we all know that the opportunity for cross-contamination is a very real thing, and that a fast food chain pizzeria is maybe the most difficult type of kitchen to eat from safely with celiac, it’s this blogger’s opinion that credit should be given where credit is due: they warned us.

In my 9 years since diagnosis, I’ve seen a lot of gluten-free menus and “gluten-free menus” — but I’ve never seen so many disclaimers. And I’d hate to think that the outrage over Domino’s admitted inability to guarantee safety for celiacs will negatively influence other restaurants in the future , and tempt them to be more vague about the risks in their own kitchens.

And that’s the thing — there will always be risks (OK, maybe not at Chuck E Cheese’s). There’s a far greater gray area between safe and unsafe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity than the words “gluten-free” can make it seem, and a quick trip to any gluten-free forum (or the comments sections here) will make it clear that different people make different decisions about their own health, and have different needs. As time goes by, it’s true that we have more and more gluten-free options, but it’s also true that we each still need to make sure we’re vigilant about our own health — in whatever way, shape, or form we deem appropriate.

How do you think restaurants should handle the risk of cross-contamination?

3 thoughts on “NFCA Suspends Amber Designation for Gluten-Free Menus”

  1. As someone who is gluten-intolerant, I can definitely see how it would be frustrating for people with celiac disease to be disappointed time after time, being unable to eat out due to risk of cross contamination or shared equipment.

    As someone whose family owns chain restaurants, I can also see how difficult and expensive it would be to created separate preparation spaces and equipment for gluten-free products. Unfortunately, food allergies are not the ‘mainstream’ and are not nearly as common as the typical American who just eats everything, and it would cost a lot with possibly, very little return.

    So I can see both sides.

  2. I feel like Dominos is taking a step in the right direction, even if many with celiac are displeased. It is a middle ground, in which some people with intolerance can be served, and the businesses will not have to suffer.

  3. Hawaii seems to be very aware of people needing GF products. Two great places on the island of Kauai are Sweet Marie’s (breakfast, muffins, cookies, granola, etc.) and Living Foods Market (fresh GF bread made daily, get there early or it’s gone). Our last day there, I bought 2 loaves, froze it and brought it home on the plane. Wherever you go, go online and check-out the area for GF products.

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