Testing 'gluten-free' dishes in Melbourne reveals nearly 10% are contaminated

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A landmark study testing for gluten contamination in foods sold as ‘gluten-free’ in 127 Melbourne eateries has found potentially harmful levels of gluten in one in every 11 foods tested.

The study, published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia, involved undercover testing of 158 food items sold as ‘gluten-free’ by inspectors from the City of Melbourne.

The findings are concerning for people with coeliac disease, and gastroenterologist Dr Jason Tye-Din, who heads the Coeliac Research Lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, says the findings explain anecdotal evidence involving people with the disease who fell ill after eating out.

“For people with coeliac disease a strict gluten-free diet is their treatment, not a lifestyle choice,” Dr Tye-Din said.

“Small amounts of gluten – even just a few crumbs – can be harmful over time and lead to issues such as osteoporosis or impaired growth.”

He said the research also examines why gluten contamination might occur with the goal of improving food handling to prevent contamination.

Melbourne councillor Beverley Pinder said the study was about education to protect diners.

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

Gluten-free is one of the top dietary requests by people eating out.

Coeliac disease, caused by a reaction to gluten, is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that causes problems as chronic diarrhoea, abdominal distention, loss of appetite and in children can stunt growth.

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