An undercover study has revealed 1 in 11 samples of ‘gluten-free’ foods are contaminated with potentially harmful levels of gluten.

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, tested 158 ‘gluten-free’ food items at 127 food businesses across Melbourne. Of those samples, almost 10 per cent showed levels of gluten that could prove to be harmful to those with coeliac disease.

The testing was conducted by City of Melbourne Environmental Health Officers, in consultation with researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Dr Jason Tye-Din, who leads the Coeliac Research Lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and is a gastroenterologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, says gluten contamination is a serious health-risk to those with coeliac disease.

“For people with coeliac disease a strict gluten-free diet is their treatment, not a lifestyle choice,” he says. “Small amounts of gluten – even just a few crumbs – can be harmful over time and lead to issues such as osteoporosis or impaired growth.”

In light of the results, food businesses are reminded to train staff, investigate their suppliers closely and to take important measures to avoid gluten contamination.

Coeliac Australia president Michael Bell says there is a suite of resources to assist food businesses prepare gluten-free options that comply with national food regulations.

“Gluten-free remains one of the top dietary requests and we urge all food businesses to treat gluten-free requests seriously,” he says.

“The Coeliac Australia online training module was developed to educate hospitality staff and it highlights how even small changes to processes can help eliminate the risk of gluten contamination.”

The City of Melbourne is now working with the food businesses found to have potentially harmful levels of gluten to help them ensure customers’ safety in the future.

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