At the 2018 ACG Annual Scientific Meeting, Columbia University Medical Center researchers – including Celiac Disease Foundation Medical Advisory Board member Peter Green and Research Committee member Benjamin Lebwohl – presented results from a new study on detecting gluten in restaurant foods. The researchers found 32% of restaurant foods labeled “gluten-free” contained detectable amounts of gluten.

Despite their best efforts to adhere to a strict, gluten-free diet, many patients find that they continue to be exposed to gluten through cross contamination, particularly when dining out.  Cross contamination is the process in which gluten is accidentally transferred to a food that is intended to be gluten-free. Because there is no regulation of the claims made by restaurants that food items are gluten-free, there is no guarantee that food items that are labeled “gluten-free” in restaurants are truly gluten-free.

In this study, the researchers analyzed data from 804 people across the U.S. using a portable gluten detection device (Nima) during an 18-month period. Each test included the date and time, food item, restaurant name and address, the presence or absence of a gluten-free label, and the presence or absence of gluten.

Out of 5,624 tests in the examined period, the results indicated about one third of restaurant foods labeled “gluten-free” contained at least 20 ppm of gluten. There were higher rates of gluten contamination in dinner foods versus foods tested during lunch and lower rates of contamination found in western states. Pizza and pasta were the most likely to be contaminated of all the foods tested.

It is important to note that these results come from crowd-sourced data, meaning these results may not be reflective of all gluten-free restaurant foods. Nima users may have been more likely to test foods they suspected were contaminated, potentially resulting in a larger proportion of foods testing positive. However, these results are compelling evidence of the challenges of maintaining a strict, gluten-free diet.

Celiac Disease Foundation Medical Advisory Board member Daniel Leffler, MD, told Medscape Medical News, “This is a very clever study done that unfortunately confirms what we have long suspected, which is that there is no such thing as a gluten-free diet. The best patients can do, and lead anything close to a normal life, is a gluten-restricted diet. Depending on how sensitive the patient is to gluten, this may or may not be enough to provide adequate control of celiac disease.”

Studies like these further underscore the need for an adjunct medical treatment for celiac disease. In order to get a celiac disease drug to market, researchers need you to participate in clinical trials. Visit our Current Trials to find a clinical trial or study near you today.


Add your data to our iCureCeliac® patient registry. iCureCeliac® is a free online portal for patients, or their caregivers, to provide critical insights into life with celiac disease. Your participation will help create better diagnostic tools and treatments for cross-contact and gluten consumption, governmental policy changes, and access to new and innovative clinical trials nationwide, which may, one day, cure celiac disease.

Hidden Gluten in Restaurant Foods Labeled “Gluten-Free”