Jacqui Reed is fed up with restaurants treating her disease as a “lifestyle choice”.
Jacqui Reed is fed up with restaurants treating her disease as a “lifestyle choice”.

Diner’s rant: ‘Gluten-free is not a fad diet’

A MELBOURNE restaurant has been forced to apologise to a diner it made physically ill because of a simple - albeit common - mistake on its menu.

Jacqui Reed spent six hours vomiting and the next day in recovery after a Spanish-themed restaurant on busy Chapel Street promised gluten-free options and did not deliver.

It's a problem she faces all too often after being diagnosed with coeliac disease 10 years ago, but she's had enough.

In a self-described "rant" on Twitter, Ms Reed listed all the steps she took to avoid getting sick, including asking four times about the restaurant's gluten-free menu items and joking with the waiter "that I didn't want to die on a Tuesday".

"Ok, so I'm having a rant but I'm sure there are plenty of other coeliacs who are frustrated too," she wrote.

"Last night I went out for dinner to a tapas place on Chapel St with a friend - we went because it had heaps of GF options. I specifically asked at least four times and even said I don't want to die on a Tuesday as a joke as I ordered my food to make sure it was gluten free.

"Still, last night I was up for hours vomiting and today has been a wipe out. I emailed to ask what happened this is the response: 'Unfortunately all the food that you had was fried. The dishes themselves are gluten free, however, the menu does indicate that there may be trace elements of gluten in fried food.'

"So why then is FRIED calamari and FRIED chips offered as a GF option if it's only GF before it's cooked? I assumed they had a separate deep fryer like plenty of other restaurants.

Also, just about everything is gluten free before you add sauce or flour or deep fry it with other non GF crap."

She said far too often restaurants treat gluten free as "a fad diet".

"Something has to be done to crack down on this. This is not a choice, it's the only way to live with this auto immune disease and should be treated seriously."

Since speaking with the restaurant manager, Ms Reed told news.com.au the venue was "considering" changing its menu to remove the ambiguity.

"'Considering' it. They still don't get it," Ms Reed said.

"What most people don't realise is that it's not a food allergy, it's super serious.

"Symptoms range from person to person; for me, it's vomiting, and really bad pain in my back and stomach. It is exhausting.

"Long term, the repercussions of eating gluten are serious, including bowel cancer, possible fertility issues and auto immune issues, so sticking to a gluten-free diet is really important.

"Putting gluten-free bread in a toaster that has had normal bread in it or on a cutting board that has normal breadcrumbs is all it takes for contamination to occur.

"So while most people see heaps of GF options on menus these days, I still always have plenty of questions. 'Do you have a separate toaster for the gluten-free bread?' 'Is the deep fryer separate from the one you use to fry non gluten-free food?'

"Basically, kitchens need to have a gluten-free section for it to actually be guaranteed safe for me."

Ms Reed said the situation is not helped by the public's perception of gluten-free diets.

"Lots of people say to me, 'oh this was never a problem years ago', or they assume I'm being fussy. Well, the marks on my teeth show that I was a coeliac as a child; a side effect of the malnutrition that comes with undiagnosed coeliac disease. It's been around a long time, lots of people don't even know they've got it."

Coeliac Australia developed a gluten-free standard for food service providers, but it is not compulsory.

A number of restaurants are accredited by the organisation but there is no overarching regulation. It's something Ms Reed says needs to change.

"Every single time I order out it's a risk. And it doesn't have to be. If a restaurant can't guarantee complete gluten-free food, it shouldn't offer it.

"I hate having to read a menu like a contract, looking for 'some food may contain traces of gluten'. It's getting ridiculous. I understand some people have just an intolerance to gluten and can have some of it, but that is just confusing restaurants as to what levels of gluten are acceptable in an item labelled 'gluten free'. This is why it needs to be regulated. All or nothing I say. No in between."

News.com.au has reached out to the restaurant Ms Reed ate at last Tuesday night.

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