Sometimes referred to as “gluten-sensitive enteropathy,” coeliac disease affects nearly one percent of the population. When someone has coeliac disease, their immune system reacts poorly to ingesting gluten, a type of protein found in different species of wheat, as well as rye and barley. This negative reaction damages the inner lining of the small bowel, an effect that prevents the person from being able to absorb nutrients including Vitamin D, calcium, iron, folate and some proteins and fats.
As coeliac disease is passed on genetically, family members are more likely to develop the illness. However, not everyone with the genes related to coeliac disease will necessarily inherit it.
Symptoms of coeliac disease resemble other illnesses
Coeliac disease is very difficult to diagnose because its symptoms vary greatly from person to person, and may be similar to several other conditions. Symptoms may appear at any age after a person ingests gluten. Sometimes there are no gastrointestinal symptoms, or the sufferer may seem to have an unrelated condition such as anemia or osteoporosis. Generally speaking, the most common symptoms are:
- abdominal pain
Further symptoms not affecting the gastrointestinal system may include:
- difficulty concentrating
- mouth ulcers
- bone pain
Diagnosis is typically done through a combination of blood tests, small-bowel biopsy, and reducing gluten from the diet and monitoring recovery. The only guaranteed way to prevent symptoms of coeliac disease is to completely eliminate all gluten from the diet. If the disease is diagnosed early and gluten is removed from the diet, most tissue damage can heal and risks of other complications can be drastically reduced.
The difference between gluten intolerance and coeliac disease
When someone with coeliac disease consumes gluten, their immune system launches an attack against the gluten, damaging their body’s tissues in the process.
Gluten intolerance, also known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, has similar symptoms to coeliac, but the effects are usually short-term — temporary stomach pain and bloating. While the body of someone with a gluten intolerance also reacts to gluten as a foreign invader, triggering an inflammatory immune response, this reaction doesn’t damage the lining of the small intestine. The symptoms subside after the person has fully digested the food containing gluten.
How can food businesses help people with coeliac disease?
Food businesses have an important role to play in protecting customers with coeliac disease and any form of gluten intolerance. Understanding coeliac disease helps minimise food safety risks for customers. Here’s how you can help:
Be conscious of food containing gluten
Bread, biscuits, pizza, crackers, pasta, cereal, cake, cookies, beer: these are a few of the well-known foods that have gluten.
Some culprits — for example, dry roasted nuts, some herb and spice blends, some ground meats like minced beef burgers or sausages, soy sauce, salad dressings and even chocolate — are not so obvious, so it’s important to read manufacturers’ labels and ingredients lists before claiming an item is gluten-free.
All staff should be aware of what items contain gluten, and be confident conveying the correct information to customers.
Accommodate coeliac disease in your Food Safety Plan
Whether a customer has a mild gluten sensitivity or severe coeliac disease, take it very seriously.
Food businesses are required to build a Food Safety Plan based on the seven Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. This plan should include all the necessary steps to help protect people with coeliac disease, including preventing cross-contamination by storing and preparing gluten-free foods well away from foods containing gluten, and thoroughly cleaning equipment and utensils after they’ve been in contact with food containing gluten. Learn how to build a comprehensive and compliant Food Safety Plan using our easy to follow HACCP Food Safety Plan Kit.
Offer other options
Alternatives that have no gluten can be incorporated into recipes. These are foods such as rice, quinoa, potatoes, lentils, beans, seeds and nuts, fresh vegetables, meat, tofu and most cheeses.
Accommodate a larger group of people at your food business by providing gluten-free alternatives for customers. Not only will alternative food options keep customers safe, it can help increase profit and boost the businesses’ reputation.