Putting ‘gluten-free’ claims to the test

Putting ‘gluten-free’ claims to the test

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2018
June 2018

Dr Jason Tye-Din in laboratory
Dr Jason Tye-Din led the coeliac study that uncovered gluten
in foods sold as ‘gluten-free’ across Melbourne.

A first of its kind study led by Institute researchers and City of Melbourne environmental health officers has detected potentially harmful levels of gluten in foods sold and served as ‘gluten-free’ across Melbourne.

The undercover study revealed one in 11 samples of ‘gluten-free’ food tested were contaminated with gluten at levels that could prove harmful to people with coeliac disease.

A few crumbs matter

Study lead Dr Jason Tye-Din, who is head of the Institute’s coeliac research program and a gastroenterologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said gluten contamination was a serious health risk to people with coeliac disease.

“For people with coeliac disease a strict gluten-free diet is their treatment, not a lifestyle choice,” Dr Tye-Din said.

“Small amounts of gluten – even just a few crumbs – can be harmful over time and lead to issues such as osteoporosis or impaired growth.”

Dr Tye-Din said the study, conducted at 127 food businesses and testing 158 food items, provided the first objective evidence that foods offered by businesses as ‘gluten free’ could contain harmful levels of gluten.

“Previous evidence was only anecdotal with patients reporting getting sick after eating out. Our research not only validates these concerns, it also examines why gluten contamination might occur,” Dr Tye-Din said.

“It is fantastic to see so many businesses offering gluten-free options in Melbourne. With the right awareness, training and practices this can be done safely and in line with the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Code.”

Education is key

Coeliac Australia President Mr Michael Bell said eating out was one of the biggest challenges faced by people with coeliac disease.

“Coeliac Australia has developed a range of resources to help people working in the food service industry prepare meals that are free from gluten. We’re urging the hospitality industry to embrace our food service programs and help people with coeliac disease dine out with confidence,” Mr Bell said.

Ensuring customer safety

City of Melbourne councillor Ms Beverley Pinder, said the City of Melbourne was working with food businesses found to have potentially harmful levels of gluten to help them ensure customers safety in the future.

“We want everyone who visits a food business across the City of Melbourne to feel safe and to know that if something says its gluten free, it actually is,” Ms Pinder said.