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Catering’ for the growing Gluten Free Community - Gluten free food manufacture requires stringent control

30 April 2014

Meeting the production demands of food that is to be labelled ‘Gluten Free’ requires very strict and traceable production. Marco’s Becky Hart- living gluten free due to Coeliac disease- outlines the challenges involved and how her company is helping food companies to ensure their GF production is secure.

The words ‘Gluten Free’ are lighting up the food industry at present, fuelled by a combination of increased diagnosis of coeliac disease, healthier lifestyles and popular celebrities endorsing the diet. All this is creating more awareness of which foods contain gluten and how to cater for those on a ‘GF’ diet.

The nuances of providing food which can be certified ‘gluten free’ are varied. For anyone diagnosed with coeliac disease, a complete life-long avoidance of gluten is the only known treatment. Even the tiniest trace of gluten can cause symptoms - from a speck of flour to a crumb of bread. As such, gluten free food ideally needs to be made on its own factory lines, if possible in a separate factory.

With an estimated 1% of the population living with coeliac disease (as specified by the Coeliac UK Charity) and a further 10-20% avoiding gluten due to intolerances, allergies or lifestyle choice, the market for gluten free food is increasing year on year.

As a result many popular high street chains have started offering a gluten free version of current menu choices, such as pizza and pasta. Pizza Express have gone one step further and fitted out their kitchens with only gluten free flour, so when the regular pizza dough is stretched, normal wheat flour cannot accidently contaminate the gluten free dough.

The contamination issue is the biggest pit-fall when it comes to producing gluten free food. Legally, no matter how well you clean the line in the factory before making your gluten free product, the fact is that it has been produced on the same line as gluten containing products. This means it cannot be labelled as ‘gluten free’, which will automatically put off the gluten-avoiding community. As The Food Standards Agency explains:

‘Manufacturers producing foods with no deliberate gluten containing ingredients, but with a high risk of gluten cross-contamination, will be unable to label foods as 'gluten-free' or 'very low gluten'.’

Given the diversity of product variations and ingredients, a significant number of recipe formulation processes are carried out manually. These may be complete recipe processes or form sub-batches of larger mixes carried out semi-automatically. The manual assembly process increases the risk of cross-contamination. The Marco Recipe Formulation Module (RFM) has been specifically developed to manage manual recipe processes, accurately and repeatably. The system manages the whole recipe process including sub-batch control through to final mixing, keeping account of the Bill of Materials and ‘use by date’ protocol. The RCM functionality has the added security of ‘locking out’ an operator should they try to ‘scan in’ the wrong ingredient- which could be a regular wheat flour, as opposed to a specified gluten free version.

The system can go one step further, by displaying allergen warnings on operator terminals for specific ingredients. Operators have to ‘log in’ to carry out the assembly process and, overall, the system provides a complete traceability record – relating to which batch was made where, when and by whom.

These functions, coupled with the precision and effectiveness in controlling recipes from start to finish, will not only ensure that the product complies with the strict guidelines on being gluten free, but will also minimise costly waste and provide a rapid return on investment.

With the recent improvements in diagnosing coeliac disease, the number of people requiring a gluten free diet is set to keep rising in the coming years, as more people discover they have to adapt their lifestyles to live without gluten. The food industry will have to react, in order to provide for an increasingly large sector of the population. This is a lucrative industry, with traditionally high mark-ups, and unlike many other sectors, it is not over saturated with products and choice for the consumer.

For more information, please contact:

Marco Ltd
Enterprise Way
United Kingdom
Tel:  +44 1732 782380
Fax:  +44 (0)1732 863674
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