Papa John’s: Almost gluten-free doesn’t cut it

I generally try to keep the Healthy Gluten-Free Family space positive and upbeat but the recent flurry of news articles surrounding Papa John’s launch of a “Gluten-Free Pizza” has me all worked up.  It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last, but it’s the most recent, so here goes…

Backstory:  If you’re not familiar with it, yesterday Papa John’s announced they’re launching a Gluten-Free pizza crust made in a separate facility but not “recommended for customers with Celiac Disease or a serious gluten intolerance.”

Why? They say it’s possible for the crust to come in contact with gluten once in their stores.

Here are two of the articles:

Fortune Magazine: “Papa John’s says you shouldn’t eat its Glutenfree pizza if you can’t eat gluten”

Business Insider Magazine: “Papa John’s issued a serious warning about its new gluten-free pizza”

Why am I so annoyed?

Why would a company go through such great effort to actually make a gluten-free crust in a separate facility but not take the extra steps to have procedures in place to keep it gluten-free once in their stores?  Who are they making it for?  Seems just a bit opportunistic.

Everyone is always telling me how easy it is to have a child who eats gluten-free, that there are so many options, that everyone offers gluten-free now.  Yes, lots of places have gluten-free options but not everyone makes it safely.  Case in point above.  When you have Celiac, a crumb matters, cross contact matters.  People think they get it, but many do not.  Then others like Papa John’s outright say “not safe for you.”

When was the last time you saw a restaurant say “peanut free”‘ or “dairy free,” but not if you actually have a peanut or dairy allergy? They don’t. So why do so with gluten? For someone with Celiac, it either is or isn’t gluten free.  I’m not naive– I understand that every time we eat out, we take a risk of cross contamination. But we much prefer to dine at a place that makes an effort to keep our son safe.

My biggest sadness for our son is that as he goes out on his own or with friends he can’t trust the gluten-free label.  He has to find the maturity, strength and patience to be a detective and ask questions each time he orders out and determine if he feels safe.  Dining out is part of our society, part of being social.  It’s tough enough having to do it with a food restriction.  Companies behaving like Papa John’s are making it even harder.

So we will continue to dine out, but we choose to support companies and restaurants that make efforts to take the extra steps necessary to keep gluten-free food truly gluten-free.  So to those places, we send a big thank you!

To more opportunistic places like Papa John’s, we say no thanks, and we hope others will too.  Perhaps they will see the error of their ways and develop some in-store protocols so that their gluten-free pizza is safe for those who need to eat gluten-free.

Photo by Dawn Huczek


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