People with coeliac disease can be forgiven for thinking that despite their best efforts to avoid gluten they still seem to suffer immune reactions to the wheat protein.
A cross-sectional study of 127 randomly selected retail food outlets in Melbourne found nearly one in 10 dishes served had detectable gluten and were not compliant with the Food Standard Australia New Zealand definition of “gluten free”.
Even worse, 6% of samples contained more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, which exceeds the broadly accepted upper limit for safe gluten intake.
“One business provided wheat-based foods (> 80ppm) despite a gluten-free meal being requested, reflecting the lack of understanding reported by many people with coeliac disease,” the researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research said.
However, the research, published in the MJA, also found the rates of non-compliance with the food standards guidelines were not as poor as they had been during earlier audits in 2014 and 2015.
The 2014 audit found gluten in 20% of dishes that were meant to be gluten-free. In 2015, that figure was down to 15%.
That improvement could be due to greater scrutiny by environmental health officers and greater awareness and education of food staff, the researchers said.
“Improving training and knowledge about appropriate gluten-free food practices is probably the single most important step in ensuring the safe delivery of gluten-free food, particularly for people with coeliac disease, whose health depends upon it,” they said.