(interview) National Foundation for Celiac Awareness Helps Me Understand Their GREAT program. (Or Advice on How to Dine Safely in Restaurants)
April 24, 2013
After I attempted to dine in Burlington, Vermont at restaurants that offered a gluten-free menu but clearly had no idea what that meant, I was irritated. (Thankfully, the Outback and Uno's made safe meals for me.)
I turned that irritation into research and learned that the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) offered a training program for restaurants called Gluten-Free Resource Education and Awareness Training (GREAT) Kitchens. Started in 2007, the program trains restaurant staff how to safely prepare gluten-free menu items.
Interesting, right? I wanted to know more about what this meant for me, the diner. So I reached out to the NFCA. Beckee Moreland, the NFCA's Director of Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives, kindly answered my questions.
Honestly, after reading this, I'm motivated to talk to restaurants about their gluten-free program. Let me know what you think!
Question and Answer with Beckee Moreland, Director of Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives, National Foundation of Celiac Awareness. (NFCA)
Elizabeth Barbone: The NFCA began the GREAT program in 2007. What was the motivation behind it?
Beckee Moreland: NFCA launched GREAT Kitchens because we saw a need to educate the foodservice industry about gluten-free preparation and improve the quality of life for those with celiac disease. The only difference is now it's more imperative than ever. Celiac disease diagnosis is on the rise, and gluten-free needs now extend to those who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity and other health conditions that see improvement on a gluten-free diet. All of these consumers have helped to increase the demand, so there is an urgent need for education and clarity about gluten-free safety and protocols in the foodservice industry – and that's what we're looking to achieve through GREAT Kitchens. The lessons we teach in the GREAT Kitchens program can be utilized in all aspects of foodservice…restaurants, catering, healthcare, schools, colleges, camps, hotels, resorts, institutions, senior centers, even food trucks! We have successful GREAT grads making a difference in their communities by completing and implementing their gluten-free training.
In the past, the GREAT logo appeared on the windows and websites of establishments that completed GREAT Kitchens training, indicating that they had been educated on gluten-free needs and proper protocols. Now, with our revised GREAT Kitchens gluten-free training program that we introduced last June, we are asking restaurants to step up to even greater responsibility and accountability to earn the GREAT Kitchens logo (there is a separate logo for GREAT Schools, too).
The distinction now indicates that the staff has been GREAT-trained and the establishment has completed an application process demonstrating their proper implementation of gluten-free protocols. Approval depends on their ability to fulfill a variety of checklists, including verifying gluten-free ingredients, creating a system for segregating gluten-free ingredients and equipment, and instituting a training policy for new employees.
With the new training we have also added more value. NFCA's online training course contains 5 modules: GF Guest, Ingredients, Front-of-the- House, Back-of-the- House, and Implementation (Managers). If you would like more information and see a preview of the Kitchens course, go to www.celiaccentral.org/great .
The GREAT Kitchens program focuses on giving foodservice staff the knowledge and tools to understand the medical needs of customers with gluten-related disorders and to implement front-of-house and back-of-house procedures to avoid the common risks in preparing gluten-free meals. Certification visits are not part of standard program due to the cost, but we have 3rd party HACCP consultants who we contract with who can provide this service. When we do have a GREAT affiliate in the area, we think it is beneficial to have that affiliate meet with the staff and tour the facilities.
In our experience, restaurants and dining halls that have completed GREAT gluten-free training have done a fantastic job of putting those lessons to use. Our new GREAT Kitchens modules have a more modern presentation style and interactive elements, and we find these changes are helping to drive home the messages that 1) Gluten-free is a medical necessity, not a health fad, and 2) Gluten-free food preparation requires the utmost caution and attention.
As I mentioned earlier, the new GREAT Kitchens program also involves an application process. This is allows us to evaluate the establishment's gluten-free protocols in their entirety, rather than get a snapshot from a quick visit. We also are requiring GREAT Kitchens to renew their training every two years, to ensure that staff training is ongoing and to keep the seriousness of gluten-free requests front of mind. Establishments can also purchase multiple logins for new employees for ongoing training. We feel it is important to have a solution in place for high turnover which is so prevalent in foodservice.
GREAT question! First of all, diners should always use their best judgment. If you don't feel comfortable about what they are offering, you should not jeopardize your health. Leave if you must. This sends a strong message.
However, part of our mission at NFCA is to empower our community to ask those tough questions about food preparation and training. We have developed Gluten-Free Dining Out Tips from NFCA, a tool for communicating needs to the restaurant. It includes basic tips: Call Ahead, Be Detailed, and Be Proactive. Each of these tips comes with a checklist of questions to ask the manager, chef, or wait staff. These questions will help you begin a dialogue. It also includes a note that you can sign, tear off, and hand to the manager or leave with your check encouraging the restaurant to sign up for gluten-free training.
Do you have any GREAT success stories you'd like to share?
Absolutely, we have many successful GREAT graduates.
Our “early adopters” include Fresh Brothers, which has eight locations in California, and Minsky's, which has 15 locations in Kansas and Missouri. Both have done an incredible job of implementing gluten-free protocols, and it shows. They have such a strong gluten-free customer base that they are continuing to introduce new gluten-free options.
Since the launch of our updated version of GREAT Kitchens last June, close to 200 college and university dining service managers, culinary instructors and university dietitians across the country have completed GREAT training. Each will make a difference for students across the country, from New York to Hawaii. Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles just earned recognition as a GREAT School and will be proudly displaying the logo in their dining halls.
Grandview Terrace, a Sun Health Senior Living community in Arizona also earned GREAT Kitchen status just this month. I had the opportunity to visit Grandview Terrace, meet the staff, and see the excellent implementation of GREAT Kitchens firsthand. They are leaders in this industry where many seniors are searching for accommodations with gluten-free training in place.
GREAT affiliates are people passionate about gluten-free who want to increase the number of GREAT Kitchens in their community. They refer businesses to register for the GREAT Kitchens program. Some have their own businesses as dietitians and foodservice consultants; others are just interested in gluten-free options in area restaurants.
GREAT affiliates are our “feet on the ground,” and they help restaurants to see the importance and value of not just adding a gluten-free menu, but doing so with the training and protocols to back that up. Affiliates earn commission for every establishment that completes GREAT training, so it's really a win-win.
Those interested in becoming an affiliate must invest in taking GREAT Kitchens gluten-free training themselves, submit an application, and refer two restaurants that go on to complete training before being considered for the position. We believe these criterions prove a GREAT commitment to our program.
Who should someone contact if they are interested?
If you are not interested in becoming a GREAT affiliate, you can still play a role in helping more restaurants get gluten-free training. We encourage everyone to download the Gluten-Free Dining Tips Sheet and use the tear-off section to recommend gluten-free training to a restaurant, dining hall, caterer or another foodservice establishment. Often, it's a simple customer request that gets the ball rolling.