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Gluten Free Restaurants: National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) Expands GREAT Kitchens Program

Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 10.18.25 AMAre you familiar with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness's GREAT Kitchens Program? This is a 5-year-old program in which NFCA rigorously trains both chain restaurants as well as independent restaurants in the intricacies of providing gluten free meals. Their "Train the Trainer" course for chefs and food service managers provides the knowledge and tools to educate their entire kitchen staff on safe GF food handling and preparation. 

At GlutenFreeTravelSite, we've recently worked with NFCA to further get the word out about these GREAT-trained restaurants by adding them to our site. As you know, typically a restaurant or other business must be reviewed by someone in the GF community in order to appear on our site. However, with NFCA's GREAT Kitchens-trained restaurants, we've made an exception. We are confident in NFCA's strict protocols for training and vetting restaurants and want visitors to our site to learn about these designated restaurants. 

We can look forward to more safe choices in gluten free dining, since today NFCA announced the expansion of their GREAT Kitchens gluten free credentialing program. Af few of us had the opportunity to speak with NFCA Founder Alice Bast and her team this morning, and they are very committed to serve the gluten free community in this ongoing role. 

The objective of the GREAT Kitchens expansion is to address the restaurant community's growing interest in offering gluten free menu items. While this is theoretically a positive thing, NFCA -- and all of us in the gluten free community -- recognize the need for restaurants to execute any gluten-free strategy correctly. Currently, there are inconsistent standards within the restaurant industry -- and a lack of understanding about the seriousness of cross contamination for people on medically necessary GF diets due to Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity. 

Interestingly, Alice pointed out that while gluten free has been a top culinary "trend" for the past 3 years, it has simultaneously resulted in more incidents of cross contamination as restaurants rush on board to offer gluten free menu items, without having the training to consistently offer them in a safe manner.

Dr.Ritu Verma, Pediatric Gastroenterologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and member of NFCA's Medical and Scientific Advisory Board echoes that sentiment, "While eating out is such an integrated part of our social fabric, the lack of consistent standards creates a stressful experience that erodes confidence and leaves many families preferring to opt out."

The updated GREAT Kitchen program will go live on May 15 and will include five multimedia modules providing interested restaurants with the knowledge and tools they need to safely serve the growing population of gluten free diners. Training modules cover topics like ingredients, implementation, and training both "front of house" and "back of house" staff (servers and kitchen). A two-tiered credentialing system, consisting of green and amber designations, will help gluten-free diners assess a restaurant's level of safe gluten free practices (how robust are their protocols and how well-trained is the staff). The goal will be to eventually migrate all restaurants to the higher green designation (indicating full training of ALL staff and strict cross contamination safeguards), but the amber designation allows interested restaurants with basic training to be transparent about what they can and can't offer with gluten-free confidence.That way, gluten free diners will know when to exercise caution and to inquire about things like dedicated fryers, for example.

For more information about this fantastic step forward for the gluten free community, you can read NFCA's just-posted Press Release.