Understanding Celiac Disease


Did you know May is Celiac Awareness Month in Canada? Celiac disease is recognized as one of the most common chronic diseases in the world, affecting about 1 percent of the world’s population. In Canada, it is estimated that 1 in every 133 Canadians have celiac disease. And more people are being diagnosed as awareness of the disease continues to grow (Health Canada, 2015). Celiac disease is a chronic, autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the intestine when gluten is digested. Ingestion of gluten results in an abnormal immune response where the body attacks itself at the site of gluten absorption, causing chronic inflammation and damage to the small intestine. If a person with celiac disease continues to eat gluten-containing foods, the intestine becomes so damaged that over time, nutrients are not being absorbed in the body. This can lead to significant long-term consequences, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss and anemia. There is no cure for celiac disease. Celiac disease is managed by following a gluten free diet. 

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains, including wheat, rye, barley and other related grains. Gluten is the substance in flour responsible for forming the structure of dough, holding breads and baked goods together. According to Health Canada, gluten-free foods have been processed to meet the needs of individuals, including those with celiac disease, who need to follow a gluten free diet to protect their health. To be labelled as gluten free in Canada, a product cannot contain gluten at levels of more than 20 parts per million. This level of gluten is deemed safe for majority of people with celiac disease. There are also many grains safe for people with celiac disease to eat. For example, rice, buckwheat, corn, all bean-based flours, quinoa and pure oats. For a complete list of information, visit the Canadian Celiac Association’s website (www.celiac.ca).

How to Detect Gluten in Food

Health Canada has identified 10 categories of foods that cause majority of allergic reactions in Canadians. These food groups are known as Priority Food Allergens. Pre-packaged foods that contain any of these allergens must list the allergens on their food labels. In addition to declaring the 10 priority allergens, manufacturers are also required to declare gluten. To make it easier for people to find allergen and gluten information on product labels, Health Canada requires that this information be listed in either the ingredients list or in a ‘contains’ statement on every packaged product. Gluten is found in many grains other than wheat, rye or barley. When reading food labels, look for words that that indicate gluten, such as breading, kamut, spelt, triticale, durum, farina, graham, kasha, semolina, or malt. Looking beyond grains, people with celiac disease can safely enjoy all fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds, oil, butter and margarine.

The Challenges of a Gluten-Free Kitchen

In any foodservice operation, managing gluten-free diners is a challenge. It is important when you have consumers with any dietary restrictions that food is not unintentionally transferred from one meal to another. Cross-contamination happens when one food comes into contact with another food and their proteins mix. As a result, each food then contains small amounts of the other food. These amounts are often so small that they cannot be detected by taste, smell or sight. Eliminating the risk of cross-contamination is very important for customers’ safety.

Steps to Avoid Gluten Cross-Contact

  • Prepare gluten-free foods in a separate location from other foods.
  • Minimize the use of fans during gluten-free food preparation as airborne flour or other gluten contaminants may lead to cross-contact.
  • Cover all food containers.
  • Use dedicated cooking utensils, pots, and cutting boards to minimize risk.
  • Remember the toaster…crumbs count! Use separate toasters.
  • Ensure all food preparation surfaces, cooking surfaces and utensils have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
  • Wear clean clothing. Food can transfer from clothing, gloves and hand towels easily.
  • Wash your hands: before starting to prepare food, when changing tasks, after handling gluten-containing foods.

Using these tips is a great start to minimize cross-contact and avoid a potential gluten reaction. What are some of the other steps you take in your facilities? Please share in the comment section below.


Health Canada, 2015. Celiac Awareness Month – May 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015 from: hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/minist/messages/_2015/2015_05_01b-eng.php

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