The North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD) invited me to take part in a conference call to release their official statement regarding the recent Domino’s Pizza announcement of their new “gluten-free” crust that, just happens not to be suitable for Celiacs.
Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict I could not make the call but did want to share their press release with you. I am in complete agreement with the NASSCD and commend them for taking a stand to help protect those of us for which there is no grey-area when it comes to being gluten-free.
North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease Comments on Domino’s Pizza ‘Gluten-Free’ Crust Announcement
May 17, 2012 – The North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD) today announced a call for all restaurants and food manufacturers to properly label gluten-free products to avoid confusion that has the potential to threaten the health of people with celiac disease. View the statement NASSCD also issued this week.
The move comes after two restaurant chains, Chuck E. Cheese and Domino’s Pizza, last week separately announced new gluten-free food product offerings that provide significantly different levels of safety for people with celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a genetically inherited autoimmune condition that can damage the small intestine, and can lead – if untreated – to further serious complications, including anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and even certain cancers. Celiac disease is triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
“We want to eliminate the market confusion that has surfaced recently, provide clarifying facts and information about gluten-free labeling to food manufacturers, and ensure the public’s safety,” said Stefano Guandalini, M.D., president of the NASSCD, and founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. “Additionally, there is too much variance from manufacturer to manufacturer.”
The announcements of new gluten-free pizza offerings by Chuck E. Cheese and Domino’s Pizza are a case in point.
In its May 11, 2012, press release, Chuck E. Cheese described a process intended to protect customers from inadvertent gluten exposure: “To avoid cross contamination or accidental exposure to gluten ingredients in Chuck E. Cheese’s kitchens, the personal cheese pizza, manufactured by USDA/FDA-approved, gluten-free facility Conte’s Pasta, will arrive to stores in frozen, pre-sealed packaging. The bake-in-bag pizza will remain sealed while cooked and delivered and until opened and served with a personal pizza cutter at families’ tables by the adult in charge.”
On the other hand, in a May 7, 2012, press release, Domino’s Pizza announced a gluten-free pizza crust that it said was “appropriate for those with mild gluten sensitivity” but not for people with celiac disease because “Domino’s cannot guarantee that each handcrafted pizza will be completely free from gluten.”
“Our position at the NASSCD is that a product is either gluten free or it is not,” Guandalini said. “There is no in between. In fact, gluten exposure – including in minute amounts from cross-contamination – can be detrimental to people with celiac disease. Repeated exposure can lead to potentially grave medical complications, not to mention a poor quality of life.”
According to Guandalini, as little as 10 mg of gluten in a day can reactivate – in very sensitive patients – celiac disease.
“We strongly encourage Domino’s and other restaurants and food manufacturers to properly label and market gluten-free offerings, as so many responsible companies have done” Guandalini said. “There should be no need for disclaimers. A product is gluten free, or it is not. Marketing a product to be “sort-of” gluten free or “low” gluten is completely useless for those who require the strict diet.”
The NASSCD, along with other organizations, has been working with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to put forth a “gluten-free” standard. That standard would require that, in order to claim a food product as “gluten free,” the end product must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten (equivalent to less than 20 mg in about 2.2 lbs.). Anything short of this standard would be considered false advertising.
The NASSCD was founded last year to advance the fields of celiac disease and gluten-related disorders by fostering research, and by promoting excellence in clinical care, including diagnosis and treatment of patients with these conditions. Approximately 1 percent of the population is estimated to suffer from celiac disease, though the condition often is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a less well-understood condition with a broad range of symptoms, including fatigue, migraine headaches and digestive disorders, and whose mechanism or cause is not yet identified, and that presently cannot be diagnosed by any medical test.
Stefano Guandalini, M.D., is president of the NASSCD, and founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. He is also a professor of pediatrics, and serves as chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital.