On March 26, school nutrition directors and managers attended the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts Chapter 3 Meeting Gluten-Free at School at Marshall Middle School in Billerica. At the meeting, participants increased their knowledge and awareness about gluten-free diets to meet the special dietary needs of students.
Christanne Harrison from JSI taught the differences between:
- Celiac disease: a genetic, autoimmune disorder where an individual is unable to digest gluten.
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: an adverse food-induced reaction where an individual is not able to digest gluten normally, but does not have celiac disease.
- Food allergy: when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein, an allergen, as a threat and attacks it.
The nutrition staff learned about gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains, that causes adverse symptoms in celiac disease. Participants identified food sources of gluten by looking at sample lunch menus and reading food labels. They found that hidden sources of gluten may be found in meats, such as hot dogs, bread and flour products, cereals, vinegars, and salad dressings. Gluten-free labeling is voluntary, so it is important to read food labels carefully to identify hidden sources of gluten, and to contact the food manufacturer if you are unsure if a food is gluten-free.
Participants shared gluten-free options that they have at their schools and learned about gluten-free alternatives, including gluten-free pizzas and breads, gluten-free chicken nuggets, and gluten-free cereals.
Strategies to avoid cross-contact at school were explored by reviewing scenarios where cross-contact could occur. Ways to avoid cross-contact include preparing gluten-free foods first, having separate color-coded kitchen equipment for gluten-free foods, proper hand washing, and washing equipment and surfaces thoroughly with cleaning agents.
Learning about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is important to address the needs for students on gluten-free diets. Find out more about celiac disease and gluten-free diets in this handout from NFSMI and from resources in the Special Dietary Needs page in the JSI Resource Center.