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Jane Anderson

Gluten-Free Local Bakery Products? Be Careful ... Very, Very Careful

By May 10, 2013

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This happened to me a couple of springs ago, but since I see the same vendor in the same spot at the same market every year, I thought it was worth repeating:

At one of the first farmer's markets of the year, I was drawn to a local bakery booth by a sign that advertised "Gluten-Free!" in huge letters.

The booth was doing huge business, with more than a dozen customers clustered around waiting to buy products. But I managed to get a minute off to one side with the owner, and asked him what kinds of gluten-free products he had.

It turns out that he carries gluten-free focaccia bread, along with gluten-free rolls and occasionally cookies.

Sounds great, I thought (I love focaccia). But the wide variety of gluten products on display made me nervous, so I asked him how careful he was when preparing gluten-free products.

"Honestly?" he said. Yes, I replied -- I'm very sensitive to gluten cross contamination, even in commercial gluten-free foods. "Then I wouldn't go near my products," he said. "We're as careful as we can be, but we're a full-service bakery. There's flour dust everywhere. We're just doing it for people eating gluten-free because it's trendy."

I thanked him for his honesty and (obviously) walked away empty-handed. Later, I realized this shows just how careful we all need to be -- now that the gluten-free diet is so popular, lots more local "mom-and-pop" companies are getting into the market. Some of these will understand the intricacies of the diet and how to avoid cross-contamination, but too many others simply won't take the necessary time to do it right. And people will get sick as a result.

I love to see local businesses advertising gluten-free products and meals. But ... a word to the wise: as gluten-free foods become more available, make sure those preparing the foods have a good grasp of what "gluten-free" really means before you buy. If in doubt, skip it: even the best focaccia is not worth a bad reaction.

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - @AboutCeliac.

Photo Getty Images/Tim Graham

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