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SAFETY FIRST At the most basic level, fulfilling dietary requests is not a matter of hospitality trends, but of risk management. The increase in dietary requests, including for gluten-free meals, is “part of a larger trend around special diets and allergies,” said Robert Gilbert, executive chef for special events and catering at Walt Disney World Resort. “We’ve always been focused on food allergies, but that focus has broadened as our guests’ needs have changed. It really is one of the most important things we focus on across the resort, because it’s often a safety issue for our guests, and safety is always our No. 1 priority.” According to the Food and Drug Administra-


tion, an estimated 30,000 anaphylactic reactions to foods are treated in emergency departments each year, and result in 150 deaths. In addition to those with life-threatening allergies, approxi- mately 1 percent of the world’s population has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that is treated with a gluten-free diet. An additional 6 percent may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition about which there is little medical con- sensus. (See “What the Science Says,” p. 55.) It’s likely that some of the recent increases in


requests for gluten- and wheat-free meals also can be attributed to the effect of the top-selling book Wheat Belly, which was published in 2011 by cardi- ologist William Davis and links wheat and gluten consumption to myriad illnesses — as well as advertising by the food industry. Gluten-free foods represented an estimated $4.2-billion market in 2012, and are projected to grow to $6.6 billion by 2016, according to the research firm Packaged Facts. The cumulative effect is that, according to a survey released earlier this year by the NPD Group, nearly 30 percent of Americans said they are trying to cut down on or eliminate gluten from their diet. Despite debate about whether strict avoidance of gluten-free is medically necessary — or wise


— for such a large segment of the population, “if you are choosing to feed people today, you need to assume that people have life-threatening food allergies,” Cafferty said. “If you treat it like a big fad, you could ultimately end up killing somebody.” “Regardless of how we have gotten here,” Cen- terplate’s Prell added, “we have arrived.”


6 Questions to Ask About Gluten-Free


Even though catering staff may answer “yes” to the question of whether they’re equipped to serve gluten-free attendees, a few extra questions can go a long way to revealing how well a catering manager or sales professional understands gluten-free, said Jen Cafferty, founder of the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo.


1 Can you create a gluten-free menu or indicate what is gluten-free on your menus?


Chef Blair Rasmussen Lists of attendee allergens provided to Rasmussen by planners have included ‘cats’ — and ‘I’m certainly not going to be serving any cats.’


2 Do you have a dedicated gluten-free fryer? (For those with celiac disease, reactions can be caused by food that is fried in the same oil as gluten-containing foods.)


3 Is your staff, including your wait staff, trained to meet the needs of people with food allergies? No matter how much effort the kitchen staff has put into food preparation, it could all go to waste if the wait staff is not trained on protocols as well as in communicating about food ingredients and preparation.


4 Are you going to bring in additional gluten-free items, rather than subtracting food items from the menu? Food safety is the most important thing, Cafferty said. But


“if you serve [gluten-free] bread with dinner, or a [gluten-free] dessert beyond a fruit plate or sorbet, [gluten-free attendees] are forever indebted and loyal.”


5 Can any of your sauces and soups be made gluten-free? Many sauces and soups are naturally gluten-free, Cafferty noted. As in question 4, adding a sauce to a plain chicken breast goes a long way toward making people happy.


6 Can you offer gluten-free breakfast items? Continental breakfast, often consisting of yogurt with unknown ingredients and gluten-containing granola, mufins, and bagels, can be a culinary desert


— not dessert — for attendees on a gluten-free regimen.


PCMA.ORG


JULY 2013 PCMA CONVENE


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