Cafes and restaurants who serve up gluten-free food then say it is not suitable for those with allergens are cheating consumers, an Auckland woman says.
Frequent cafe visitor Andrea Jutson says she is turned away from cafes and food outlets on a weekly basis when she is told the gluten-free items for sale are not suitable for those with Coeliac disease.
Jutson says she is not alone, and often talks to friends and colleagues who also have gone through the same experience.
"It's really demoralising because you go in with the expectation the food advertised gluten-free will be suitable for you but unfortunately you get people being extremely hesitant to serve you or pretty much warning you off eating their food," Jutson said. "If food manufacturers are held to a certain standard and can't label their food gluten-free unless they meet those standards then why is hospitality any different?"
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder which causes a reaction to gluten, found in wheat, barley, rye and oats.
One in every 70 New Zealanders is estimated to have Coeliac disease, though many more are undiagnosed, according to Coeliac New Zealand.
"You make a decision, as a Coeliac person, based on cafes a lot of the time advertising gluten-free options, then when they can't actually guarantee the food is gluten-free, that's mislabelling, and misleading."
Jutson believes it's misleading to label an item gluten-free if there is a possibility it may contain gluten. She says cafe owners are not clued up on the difference between an intolerance and the autoimmune disease.
"The ones who pay lip service to it without actually taking the trouble to make sure their food is safe, that is poor management."
Bakeries do face challenges when it comes to ensuring their products are safe for those suffering from Coeliac disease, as illustrated by one West Auckland establishment which recently put up a sign warning patrons that cross-contamination means that some gluten-free products may come into contact with gluten during the baking process.
Restaurant Association national president Mike Egan says he had not heard of cafes turning customers away because they could not confirm whether something contained gluten or not, but said perhaps cafes were taking an extra cautious approach.
"If a customer comes in and says 'is this gluten-free?' and then screams and yells on social media that 'Hey, we came to this restaurant, it was gluten-free' and [falls unwell] - it may not have even been from the product, they could have picked it up from somewhere else, but in this modern day and age business owners are really gun-shy," says Egan.
"Owners are just trying to protect their business and their reputation."
Egan says most cafes that offered gluten-free options did so to cater to demand with many choosing not to eat gluten or those who have a mild intolerance.
He doesn't know of any cafes advertising that they are Coeliac-friendly.
Hell Pizza and St Pierre's, along with three cafes and four other food outlets across the country, are part of Coeliac New Zealand's Dining Out Programme which accredits hospitality joints for safe Coeliac-standards.
Just 10 out of the 17,300 hospitality outlets in New Zealand are certified Coeliac-safe. The programme has been running for two years.
Glen Yang, owner of Auckland cafe Elk Eatery, says he began offering gluten-free products after he noticed an increase in customers opting to avoid gluten.
Asked if his gluten-free products were suitable for people who for medical reasons could not eat gluten, Yang said: "Of course".
"If I say gluten-free then it is totally gluten-free. When making the food we make sure it is definitely gluten-free otherwise it is not 100 per cent gluten-free. If it is not 100 per cent gluten-free then you can't advertise it is gluten-free."