Eating gluten-free is a popular trend, particularly amongst Millennials who are looking to live a healthier lifestyle and are concerned about eating "clean." You may hear them describe themselves as "gluten-avoiding" when they ask whether a particular menu item contains gluten. Other terms you may hear include gluten-sensitive and gluten-intolerant. It's important to know the differences between these terms and how they affect people's health.
For those people who are gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, it's more than a trend. They can suffer intestinal distress ranging from discomfort and bowel problems to agonizing pain and other symptoms from eating food contaminated by gluten. The problem is even more severe for those who have celiac disease. They can suffer severe intestinal damage, along with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other serious medical conditions from even the minutest exposure to gluten.
According to a report by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), "Just over 7% of the U.S. population must avoid gluten for medical reasons, including the 1% who have celiac disease, the 6% who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and the 0.1% who are allergic to wheat (Hensel 2015)."
Unfortunately, operators often don't understand the opportunities for cross-contamination that abound in a busy kitchen, particularly at the fry station. Potatoes, for instance, are naturally gluten-free. However, frying french fries in the same oil as battered onion rings will ruin their gluten-free status and makes them dangerous for a diner who is gluten-intolerant.
Even if you have just changed the oil in the fryer and the french fries are the first order you cook in there, they can still be contaminated! That's because minute particles of gluten are difficult to completely remove from the crevices of a deep fryer. Just like water, salt, and light are enemies of fryer oil, so too is gluten when it comes to gluten-sensitive diners!
Approximately 75% of the protein content of grains like wheat, rye, and barley consists of gluten. That's why it is so prevalent in foods containing those grains and why those foods can so easily contaminate your fryer oil. According to the Gluten Intolerance Group, gluten is a problem for those with gluten-related health disorders even when it's found in microscopic quantities.
High heat has no effect on gluten. It won't kill it off or otherwise neutralize it. The gluten proteins will just hang out in your fryer waiting to contaminate everything else you cook in it. Even using the same fry basket for gluten-free foods and those containing gluten creates enough co-mingling to pose a danger to sensitive diners. A mere speck of gluten protein that reaches otherwise gluten-free foods is enough to trigger the autoimmune response in those suffering from celiac disease.
As you can see, cross-contact is rampant between foods with and without gluten when they are cooked in the same fryer. Even if your kitchen has a couple of fryers, the chances of cross-contact are still unacceptably high. That's why you might want to consider installing a dedicated gluten-free fryer and establishing (and enforcing) rules for its use.
Having that dedicated fryer is one of the steps needed to become certified by the Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS). Certification by the well-respected GFFS organization offers gluten-free diners the confidence of knowing that their food has been prepared according to strict standards and procedures designed to protect them and their health.
Even if your establishment isn't GFFS-certified yet, when their server confidently assures them that their gluten-free dishes were prepared in a dedicated gluten-free fryer, your relieved diners will enjoy their meal and frequently come back for more!