*EMBARGOED All research presented at the 2018 ACG Annual Scientific Meeting and Postgraduate Course is strictly embargoed until Monday, October 8, 2018, at 8:00 am EDT.

Benjamin A. Lerner, MD
Benjamin A. Lerner, MD

Oral 8 Gluten Contamination of Restaurant Food: Analysis of Crowd-Sourced Data

Author Insight from Benjamin A. Lerner, MD, Columbia University Medical Center

What’s new here and important for clinicians?

Approximately one-third of “gluten-free” restaurant foods contain detectable amounts of gluten, according to a new study conducted by my colleagues and me at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University using crowd-sourced data provided by users of Nima, a portable gluten sensor. People avoid gluten for various reasons, but for patients with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which ingestion of gluten causes injury to the small intestines and various symptoms, gluten exposure has well-defined serious health ramifications. Restaurants are now offering more gluten-free options than ever before, but while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates packaged foods claiming to be gluten-free, no similar oversight exists for restaurants. Given the possibility of cross-contamination, eating out can be a source of risk and anxiety for patients.

What do patients need to know?

Our study provides data from across the United States on rates of gluten contamination of restaurant foods. In addition to identifying an overall high rate of gluten contamination, we found that certain dishes are significantly more likely to contain gluten; approximately one half of pizza and pasta dishes labeled gluten-free contain detectable levels of gluten. We also found significantly higher rates of gluten contamination during the later hours of the day. While our study provides much-needed data regarding gluten contamination of restaurant foods, one should keep in mind that our study utilized crowd-sourced data from users of a portable gluten sensor; the foods these users chose to test may not be representative of all gluten-free restaurant foods, and may be tested specifically because of doubts regarding their gluten-free status. In future research, we hope to investigate mechanisms of gluten contamination of restaurant foods, as well as interventions to reduce its occurrence.

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Author Contact
Benjamin A. Lerner, MD, Columbia University Medical Center

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