A cautious approach to gluten-free

by Dan Malovany
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Papa John's gluten-free pizza crust
Unless gluten-free products are prepared properly in a gluten-free facility and prepared in a separate oven — or separate kitchen for that matter — the risk exists for cross-contamination.
 

Papa John’s recently rolled out its ancient grains gluten-free pizza, but if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, the chain has some honest advice: Don’t eat it. Give Papa John’s credit for transparency.

The company noted that the crusts are made in an offsite, gluten-free facility, and it employs procedures to prevent contact with gluten in its restaurants. However, during the ordinary in-restaurant preparation process — in a kitchen that also handles gluten-containing dishes — cross contamination may occur. Papa John’s isn’t the only company that cautions gluten-intolerant consumers about its gluten-free menu items. Domino’s, too, warns about “unrealistic expectations” for its gluten-free pizza.

“Domino's would rather be honest and transparent about this product and avoid risking a customer ordering this product under false pretenses,” according to its web site.

But such a cautious approach is not limited to pizza joints. For example, Chick-fil-A offers individually packaged, gluten-free buns but stated it cannot ensure that any menu item is completely free of gluten because its restaurants are not gluten-free. That said, research firms Mintel and Technomic reported a surge in gluten-free menu items during the past five years.

The fact is, unless products are prepared properly in a gluten-free facility and prepared in a separate oven — or separate kitchen for that matter — the risk exists for cross-contamination. So why do mainline chains offer gluten-free (but not really, sorry!) items? Many say they’re just providing what the market wants. Others report it’s because of millennials (it’s always because of millennials, right?). Why don’t chains just promote that their healthy pizza is made with sorghum, teff, amaranth and quinoa? Hmm. Maybe because many people might not buy it, even if it comes loaded with a “healthy dose” of triple sausage and five-times pepperoni.

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