Staying gluten free: making mistakes

making a mistakeOne of the risks of living gluten free is that—over time—you might get complacent. This, of course, means that you are likely to make a mistake.

There are at least five situations where mistakes can happen:

  • not checking the ingredients. You buy the same product that you’ve bought many times before… but this time, it has a “new, improved” recipe. Lo and behold: the new recipe involves the addition of something that contains gluten.
  • not asking the waitstaff or chef. You order something that you’ve eaten many times before at this restaurant; but now the recipe has changed. Or the restaurant is now ordering supplies from a different company. Or the company that supplies the ingredients have changed their production methods. Any of these reasons may mean that the meal you’ve eaten safely before is now no longer safe.
  • getting slapdash about food storage. You’re in a rush, and forget to label something correctly. Or to close up a packet tightly. Or you accidentally store a gluten free product in with our gluten products. Or there’s a spill, and it doesn’t get cleaned up…
  • cutting corners in food preparation. You’re tired, and accidentally use the same utensil for gluten free and for not-gluten-free food, or prepare food in the wrong order, without cleaning between, so that the gluten free food is handled on the same surface as the gluten-full food. Or use a not-gluten-free ingredient by mistake.
  • not paying attention in serving food. The same serving spoon is used for both types of food. Or there’s a spill of the not gluten-free food onto the plate (or cutlery) of the gluten free diner (or, worse, into their food). Or a knife is used to double-dip into the butter.

Yes, it’s happened to us too. You think you have the hang of it all, take your eye off the ball—because, after all, life is complicated, with a lot going on—and mistakes happen.

What do you do?

One important thing we’ve learnt as parents of a coeliac child is not to blame your partner if they’re the ones who’ve made the mistake, putting your child at risk. (At least, not if it’s a one-off! Obviously if they’re not learning from the mistakes, then it is a more serious problem.) But if it was a genuine mistake, try not to cast blame around; it could easily be you making the mistake another time. Just make sure that you’re all learning from the mistake so that it doesn’t happen again.

We do run a mixed house; there are 5 of us, and living entirely gluten free would be expensive. But we take precautions. For instance, we no longer keep standard soy sauce in the house, just tamari. We never have baking powder that contains gluten, just the gluten free version. And we only have gluten free worcestershire sauce. This kind of tiny action reduces at least some of the risk, especially now that the children are older, and we have 5 chefs!

Gluten free food: prescription or voucher?

vote for prescriptionThere’s an interesting article (and poll) in the BMJ this week, discussing whether gluten free food should be available on prescription.

The Yes camp argues that prescriptions improve outcomes for people with coeliac disease—and thereby reduce cost to the NHS in the long run.

The No camp argues for the replacement of prescription food with a national voucher scheme or personalised health budget.

So in practice, both agree that gluten free food for people with coeliac disease should continue to be part-funded by the state, in order to keep costs to the NHS down; they’re just disagreeing with the best way of doing it.

What do you think?

Do go and read the article for more detail but here’s what we know:

  • A gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease, and that lifelong adherence to the diet improves quality of life and reduces the risk of long term complications, which in turn would keep costs to the NHS down in the future.
  • Although gluten free foods are now available in supermarkets, they are often not found (or not reliably found) in local convenience or budget store (potentially disadvantaging poorer people or those with limited mobility).
  • Buying gluten free food in the supermarket is more expensive than the ‘normal’ equivalent—3 or 4 times more expensive.

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has quality standards for coeliac disease that highlights the role of prescriptions to ensure that a gluten free diet is affordable and accessible for all patients.

And yet the policy of restricting (or removing) prescriptions of gluten free food is being implemented all over the country.

The case for NO in the BMJ article talks about the cost and complexity of receiving the prescribed gluten free goods—and discusses the fact that the NHS ends up paying even more for a loaf of gluten free bread than we do in the supermarket.

No doubt this is true… but the fact that a system is expensive and complex doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do. It may just mean that the system needs an overhaul.

And the prices of the gluten free food in the supermarkets are kept lower than they might otherwise be because of the increasingly large people who opt to live gluten free out of choice, but are not diagnosed with coeliac disease.

It is a difficult topic in these straitened times. But I think that we, the British public, should continue to part-fund gluten free food for those diagnosed with coeliac disease. (Coeliac Daughter is no longer in receipt of free prescriptions, so I’m not biased!)

And maybe it is time to look seriously at a new way of managing the process.

When in France…

schär ciabattaAs always, we spent some time in France this summer (Beaune and the Jura, since you ask), and spent some time in supermarkets.

We usually do find some gluten free treasure, and this year we found Schär speculoos biscuits and wraps.

Speculoos biscuits are cinnamon spiced Belgian biscuits, and were very, very good—those of you who can eat gluten may be aware that Ben & Jerry’s make a speculoos biscuit icecream.

And the wrap was outstandingly successful at wrapping… soft and flexible, just as a wrap should be.

But can we find them here in the UK? No.

I called Schär to ask where I could buy them, and they confirmed that they are not available here in the UK. It doesn’t sound as though they have plans to introduce them either.

I don’t know about you, but I feel we have enough gluten free versions of everyday biscuits and chocolate muffins, popular as those are. I’d like to see more exciting and unusual products on the shelf, and Schär have plenty of those. The supermarkets here have really upped their game in the last few months, and I’d like to see more Schär products on our shelves. Bring on speculoos biscuits, puff pastry, high quality wraps and croissants!

There are many other Schär products available in other countries that we can’t get yet: how about fusilli with arrabiata sauce, ricotta and chard ravioli, or ladyfingers (for making tiramisu with)?

Schär are definitely working on bringing more things into the UK; we were sent a range of goodies to try recently, including a wide variety of breads and some frozen foods.

Their frozen range is increasingly interesting. We’ve always enjoyed the Bonta d’Italia pizzas and the white rolls (the ones that look petalled), but they’ve added chicken kievs, cannelloni and caserecce. My expert taster recommends the cannelloni and caserecce ready meals… apparently they don’t look appealing at first, but when you cook them they look much nicer and are fantastic for a quick meal.

Of the breads, our favourites were the paninis and the baguettes. The paninis were good, and were perfect for packed lunches; they are surprisingly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The baguettes, too, were very well received – and the salti crackers were very, very addictive. It is more than possible that I ate the whole packet of those… (oops).

The range of foods available now amazes me when I think back to when we first started out on the gluten free journey 20 years ago. What must it have been like 20 years before that?

Teal pumpkins

teal pumpkin

Do you know about the teal pumpkin movement?

It was launched as a USA-wide project in 2014 by FoodAllergy.org, following a local awareness activity run by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET). The idea is that if you are happy to welcome trick or treaters at Halloween (not everyone is!), and would like to make the experience better for children with allergies, you provide some non-food treats (or some safe allergy-free treats) and display a teal pumpkin so that visiting children and their parents know that you can offer something safe.

Trick or treating is becoming increasingly popular over here in the UK, following the tradition set by the USA, where Halloween is a big festival. I’m not a fan of trick or treating myself—and it hasn’t happened around here for years—but thought I’d share this idea with you.

Of course, it doesn’t take away the responsibility of the parents to choose safe foods for their child, and to teach the child to make safe choices. But it might just make the experience nicer for everyone. And it might mean that some children would be able to join in. Although part of the fun of the night is dressing up, and being out after dark with your friends, part of it is the treats—and if you know that you may not be able to join in with the feasting, that can take some of the fun out of the evening.

Although we’ve hardly ever done trick or treating (and only to known houses when we did) I do remember when Coeliac Daughter would come home from parties with sweet treats, and then pick out the few that she could eat and give the rest to her siblings. I also used to keep a stock of safe treats on a high shelf, and then swapped them for the unsafe ones in her bag. She quickly learned which were safe to eat, and which were not. The trickiest treats were those from abroad, where the ingredients list (if there’d been one) had obviously been on the outer packaging, and wasn’t available to check…

What do you think? Do you let your coeliac (or lactose-intolerant, or nut-allergy) child go trick or treating? And if so, do you think the idea of a teal pumpkin is a good one?

Free From Eating Out Awards Shortlist

eating out - FFEOA

I’m delighted to have been asked to serve as judge for the Free From Food Eating Out Awards (FFEOA) again this year. Last year was great, though it’s hard to believe that it was a year ago already…

We’ve completed the first stage of the judging process, and the results of the second stage have been announced (see below). More details are available on the FreeFrom Food Eating Out Awards website.

This is the third year of the awards, and the shortlist shows how very much easier it is getting for people with allergies to find a safe, reliable – and enjoyable – place to eat out. How many of these places have you tried? If there’s one near you that you haven’t visited yet—or even if it’s your local and you go often—go and eat there soon. And often. We need to support places that work so hard to offer safe food options for people with allergies.

The winners will be announced at the Food Matters Live conference, in November.

Cafés, coffee shops and tearooms – sponsored by Can I Eat There?

Café chains

Fish and Chip shops

Independent Fish & Chip shops

Fish & Chip shop chains

Pub restaurants –sponsored by Genon Laboratories

Independent Pub Restaurants

Pub chains

Restaurants – sponsored by Riso Gallo

Independent Restaurants

Restaurant chains

Corporate Hospitality & Venues

B&Bs and guest houses – sponsored by Thomas Ridley Foodservice

Schools, colleges and universities – sponsored by Thomas Ridley Foodservice

Food manufactured for food service

Savoury

Sweet

  • Borough 22: Raspberry Pistachio Glazed Doughnuts
  • Brakes: Gluten-free Carrot Cake
  • Brakes: Gluten-free Sticky Toffee Puddings
  • Honeybuns: Squillionaire
  • Nairn’s: GF Breakfast Biscuit Breaks (Apricot)
  • Nestlé: GoFree Corn Flakes (single serve pouch)
  • Pidy: Gluten Free Sweet Tartelette Cases 8.5cm
  • Taywell: Chocolate Dairy Free Frozen Dessert