As more and more celebrities popularise wheat-free diets, it is not surprising that people find difficulty in having coeliac disease taken seriously when they ask for gluten-free food.

The most difficult thing for them is eating out. While there is always a banana in the supermarket, it would be good to have the option of a sandwich, muffin or croissant while out and about on the high street. It’s essential for long-term health that people with coeliac disease stick to the diet and, when you eat out a lot or work away from home, poor availability of foods challenges your ability to do this.

Supply and demand, I hear you say... but the demand is out there! Coeliac UK is the leading UK charity that supports and campaigns for people with coeliac disease and we currently have over 80,000 members with over 1,000 new members joining each month.

While it is great that food issues come under the media spotlight, it can be confusing to food retailers and producers when the terms ’food intolerance’ and ’food allergy’ are used interchangeably, when in fact they are entirely different things. So, let’s clear that up!

Food hypersensitivity is a term used to encompass food allergy and food intolerance. Food intolerance is not triggered by the immune system and is generally non-life-threatening. It may affect digestion, and common symptoms include digestive discomfort, diarrhoea and bloating. Food allergies are generated by the immune system (IgE mediated) and usually occur within seconds or minutes of eating the food in question. Tiny amounts can cause potentially life-threatening allergic reactions.

Coeliac disease is not an allergy or simple food intolerance. It is a lifelong, auto-immune disease, generated by the immune system (IgA mediated) affecting the gut and other organs. It is caused by an intolerance to gluten, which is found in the cereals wheat, rye and barley. Some people are also sensitive to pure oats. The only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet.

There is a clear procedure for diagnosing coeliac disease. This involves an antibody blood test that can be carried out by the GP, followed by a gut biopsy at the hospital. Undiagnosed coeliac disease increases the risk of osteoporosis, bowel cancer and neurological problems, which is why following a gluten-free diet is so vitally important.

Dietary management involves avoiding all foods that contain the cereals wheat, barley, rye, oats and ingredients derived from these cereals. While gluten-free ’substitute’ foods, such as bread and pasta, can be obtained from the pharmacy, supermarkets, health food shops, by mail order and via the internet, it can still be hard for people to find products. Gluten-free foods are listed in Coeliac UK’s Food and Drink Directory (available as a hard copy and online) and it is free of charge for manufacturers to list their gluten-free products in the directory.

Our annual ’Awareness Week’, from 12-18 May, focuses on the foodservice sector as part of our nationwide ’Food without Fear’ campaign. We’ve produced a brand new ’Catering Toolkit’, which will help anyone in the catering industry learn more about providing gluten-free food.


=== Keeping your products gluten-free ===

Dry gluten-containing ingredients, such as flour and breadcrumbs, are high-risk ingredients for contamination and cross-contamination when you are producing gluten-free food. So careful sourcing of gluten-free flours and substitute products is necessary.

Steps to avoid contamination include:

* cleaning surfaces immediately before use

* using clean frying oil for gluten-free foods - do NOT reuse oil that has cooked breaded or battered products

* keeping all pans, utensils and colanders separate during preparation and cooking

* using a clean grill, separate toaster or toaster bags to make gluten-free toast

* making sure that butter or spreads are not contaminated with breadcrumbs.

The FSA has provided guidance on gluten-free food preparation. It is available on [].