A Plea to the NFCA to Drop their Amber Designation

Dude Note: To honor Celiac Awareness Month and to help raise awareness of our disease, I will be attempting 31 blog posts in 31 days. My goal is simple: to make most of them not suck. If you’ve got ideas for a good post or if you’d like to guest blog, by all means, contact me. Your input is more than welcome. And if you know anybody with celiac disease, give them some extra lovin’ this month. They deserve it.

There is a link at the end of this post to sign a petition to “Help Ditch NFCA’s Amber Designation!” Please consider signing it.

Question 1: When you see an amber traffic light, what’s your first reaction? CAUTION

Question 2: When you see that a restaurant is endorsed by the NFCA, what’s your first thought? MUST BE SAFE FOR A CELIAC

Question 3: Why would the NFCA have an Amber Designation as part of their GREAT Kitchens program when Amber means it’s not safe for celiacs??

I am not here to attack the NFCA. At all.

They do a lot of wonderful things to raise celiac awareness and are a great organization to have in our corner.

But I, and A LOT of others in the gluten-free community, feel that they have simply dropped the ball on this one in a major, major way, and we are asking for your help in having the NFCA drop their Amber Designation.

Here is a quick recap of what is going on…

To promote a greater level of food safety for those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) introduced a tiered credentialing system for restaurants that will enable gluten-free consumers to understand restaurant practices through a voluntary and transparent disclosure process.

As part of the program, they have two designations.

1) GREEN. This means the NFCA has approved them for the following: Ingredient Verification, Comprehensive Training, Strict Cross-Contamination Controls

And here is the stamp of approval for the Green Designation:

nfca green

Ok…so far, so good.

2) AMBER. And here is where we run into trouble. Amber means the NFCA approves them for the following: Ingredient Verification and Basic Server Training, but Kitchen practices may vary widely

And here is the stamp for the Amber Designation:

nfca amber designation

What words jump out at you? GLUTEN FREE

I look at that and it’s all I see.

And when somebody sees gluten-free, what do they think? That’s it’s safe for celiacs.

So my question to the NFCA is this?

Why would you ever have any kind of designation that says Gluten Free when it’s not safe for celiacs or people with gluten issues? 

I’m not saying they have ulterior motives, but I cannot think of one single explanation for this.

And of course, this all came to a boil when they endorsed Domino’s new gluten-free pizza, which is as far from safe for celiacs as you can get. And despite the clamor from our community, they have refused to budge and seem to be burying themselves deeper and deeper.

I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it until I’m blue in the face: Gluten-free should mean gluten-free. Period. Not kind of gluten-free. Not mostly gluten-free. Not gluten-free, but with a warning.

Why is this so difficult to comprehend and more importantly, why is it so difficult to enforce?

So please help all of those who need to be gluten-free for health reasons.

Sign the petition below and help us ditch NFCA’s confusing, potentially dangerous, Amber Designation.

Thank you.

nfca petition

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16 thoughts on “A Plea to the NFCA to Drop their Amber Designation”

  1. Thanks for an informative piece. I especially appreciate that you point out that none of us is against the NFCA or against Domino’s. We’re simply saying that the Amber Designation itself is confusing, dangerous and a bad policy.
    The simple answer is to Ditch Amber and let’s all work together to find ways for Domino’s and other restaurants who truly want to serve our gluten-free community to do it safely. We know it can be done because other restaurants (national chains, pizza restaurants, etc) are doing it already!
    So let’s all urge NFCA to work with Domino’s to achieve their Green Designation and Ditch Amber! Gluten-free should mean safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.

  2. I appreciate your honest approach in bringing this to the attention of others. I don’t believe that any of us in the gluten-free community wish to undermine the good intentions of these strong and successful organizations, such as NFCA, that do great work everyday to make gluten-free and celiac disease better understood. However, as you pointed out, “Gluten-free” is what is first and foremost zeroed in on in the “amber” label, not the “fine print”. Unfortunately,I think this is a classic case of good intention gone bad. Labeling and celiac disease safety issues, especially those involving cross-contamination, are confusing enough. Let us stick to “it is gluten-free” or “it isn’t gluten-free”.

  3. Well done Dude! I like how you broke it down and stated that we’re not against the NFCA. I signed it and hope like you and many others that it goes away. Thanks for all you do!

  4. Excellent job on this discussion! No, those of us who are gluten free and want gluten free to really mean gluten free are NOT saying down with NFCA or down with Domino’s. We’re saying down with this decision and Ditch Amber. Compromise works really well in many areas, but compromising on what gets a “gluten free” label will not work. In fact, it’s an issue that we’ve been trying to resolve for years (with 1in133.org, etc.) because “gluten free” that doesn’t really mean what it says is dangerous to us all.

    Thanks so much!

  5. I signed the petition earlier today and am trying to spread the word as much as I can. Another thoughtful and well-written article on an issue that needs to be addressed NOW. The term “gluten-free” is getting thrown around way too much and needs to be used more sparingly. It’s not fair to use it if you doing a half-assed attempt to please some of the “trendy” dieters but not anyone else.

  6. Dude, I signed the petition, thank you for making me aware of this. I’m going to Ruth Chris tomorrow evening for dinner, they have gluten free selections, so everyone cross your fingers! I plan on calling the rest. before hand and see if I can talk to the chef.

  7. You are exactly right. When I first saw the amber designation and what it meant (during the Domino’s newfest), I thought what is the point of that? It just makes it more confusing for everyone. Thanks for putting the petition out there!

  8. Gluten Free Jenn

    I just want to say that we celiacs need to fight for the “gluten free” label to mean it’s safe for us! I got violently sick last Friday night (even after ordering a meal noted ‘GF’ and telling them it wasn’t just to be cute). Folks will not learn what it really means and therefore they will make us sick. I almost ended up in the ER. It was one of the worst nights of my life – they marinated steak in soy sauce and said it was GF! (but it wasn’t!!!!) = )

    We just can’t live like that – every time we go out, we tell people what we need, but due to this ‘Amber’ designation, food service people are misinformed! I’ll never go out if I can’t be sure. I can NOT go through that again.

  9. Am I losing my mind… doesnt a warning from a restaurant declaring that they use gluten free ingrediants but can’t guarantee that there will be no cross contamination a good thing. Julie you have your fingers cross about eating at Ruth Chris. Wouldnt it be really cool if you could look at Ruth Chris menu on line see a “marking” that tells you Gluten Free ingreadiants but cross contamination risk. No more calling the chef…no more going back into the kitchen to make sure controls are in place. Sure I prefer every restaurant to be a Green.
    But, I’m so sick of being “glutenized” …I just want to be warned…I want restaurant to tell me” I’m only catering to the fad eaters”. Weather we like or not there is a huge demand for GF foods and restaurant are jumping on the band wagon and without the NFCA teaching restaurant what the risk to us with CD are, educating them on cross contamination and a way of warning us that they don’t have the ability to assure our safety…we will continue to inspect kitchens, interagate wait staff and get Glutenized!!! Don’t drop Amber …maybe clarfy it ..but we need to know when to be cautious!!

    1. The Gluten Dude

      My point, and I think everyone will agree with me, is that it simply should not say Gluten Free if it’s dangerous to celiacs. Period.

      No other disease would be treated this way.

  10. I signed the petition the other day (a little late to your post here, G-dude, sorry!) But just want to say you did a great job explaining this so all people understand why the amber label does not work.

    For me “but kitchen practices may vary widely”…is too undefined.
    I know in my heart there is NO way I could chance such a thing.

    Can’t seem to get people to understand the following:

    Gluten FREE eating means Gluten FREE. FREE of GLUTEN.


    It doesn’t mean “maybe, kinda, sorta”
    It doesn’t mean dabbling in it or “gluten lite”
    it doesn’t mean 4 out of 7 days and on holidays we take breaks.

    It doesn’t mean use non-gluten grains, but cook with wheat items.

    This thinking keeps people sick.

    And gets us the EYE ROLLS and frustrated sighs and the thinking that this is a fad diet.

    I walked through BJs last week and looked at the crackers and breads and said to hubs: Holy Crap–that stuff nearly killed me two years ago.

    You are either gluten free or you are not.
    No grey area.

    On the bus or off the bus.

    and…Thanks for all the good work you do, G-Dude!
    Knowledge is power. :>)

  11. I know, kiddo—we still have a long road….but we’ll get there.
    Someday, WE will be the majority.
    Totally GF restaurants will spring up like daffodils….

  12. You’ve done a great job pointing out the inconsistencies in the Amber designation. At Kitchens With Confidence, we agree wholeheartedly with IrishHeart: “No means NO” (not kinda, sorta, maybe, not much)

    Cross-contamination is a critical concept in meal delivery. It’s subtle and thrives on inconsistency and confusion. Our AllerTrain program for restaurants emphasizes the “team effort” required to safely serve the celiac-afflicted diner. It starts with the selection of ingredients but involves the entire staff and serving process to establish safety.

    And yes, we signed the petition 🙂

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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