Coealiacs unhappy Maltese restaurants don’t fit the bill on gluten

Coealiac Association in talks with food and beverage industry over how they serve and cater for customers intolerant of gluten and other allergens

The Coeliac Association of Malta says it keeps receiving complaints from members and the general public on the numerous issues coeliacs experience when eating out.

Examples include restaurants whose servers or patrons claim their burgers come with a gluten-free bun but cannot be sure about the rest of the ingredients. A simple salad or soup arrives with breadsticks or croutons added, without them being mentioned on the menu.

The Coeliac Association said that even communication inside restaurants without a protocol is problematic. A first server would be notified that someone is coeliac, but the next waiter attending the table would be completely unaware. Or even worse, coeliacs who complain to a restaurant that the food might have been cross-contaminated will get a response that it is their risk for dining in their restaurant as they cannot guarantee food will not be contaminated.

“Using the term coeliac disease causes confusion, some restaurants will only be able to help after using the term ‘gluten free’,” the association said in a recent statement calling out the catering industry for ignoring these customers.

“Restaurants keep advertising gluten-free food, but state that it is not suitable for coeliacs. We cannot emphasise enough how contradictory such a statement is.”

In the past months the Coeliac Association has attempted to discuss these issues with the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and Food Safety Commission (FSC).

“The only response we received was from the FSC that these issues will be discussed during their next meeting, we have been waiting for over three months.

“As an association we tend to be repeating ourselves but something needs to change. We are of the opinion that it is time to create food handling courses targeting gluten-free catering.” The association believes all staff members must be properly trained in allergens, cross-contamination and food handling on a regular basis, with one member knowledgeable on the above always present to serve coeliacs.

They also say restaurants should store gluten-free ingredients separately from normal ingredients, and even have a separate area or kitchen to prepare gluten-free food.

“As we stated in the past, this is not a witch hunt against restaurants, however we feel the catering industry needs help to confidently cater for coeliacs,” the association said.

As it happens, even their concerns fall under a European Regulation that details regulations not only for gluten, but all 14 allergens: celery, crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya, and sulphites, which are found in dried fruits, wine and beer.

The regulation requires the “mandatory labelling for all foods of ingredients such as gluten-containing ingredients, with a scientifically proven allergenic or intolerance effect”. Furthermore, the regulation applies “also to non pre-packed foods such as those served in restaurants”.

“One should note that this European Regulation legally binds Malta,” the association said. “Our intention will remain to see Malta implement systems in the catering industry that other European countries like UK, Italy, Spain, Poland and Cyprus to name a few, have had in place for years. We urge all relative authorities to take action on these issues.”