Catering for a gluten free diet

One in 100 of your pupils could have coeliac disease. What are you doing to support them? Coeliac UK’s GF Accreditation scheme can help you implement safe kitchen processes to help ensure you deliver safe gluten free food to your pupils.

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is not an allergy or food intolerance, it is an autoimmune disease, which affects one in 100 people. When someone with coeliac disease eats food containing gluten their body’s immune system attacks their own tissues. This causes damage to the lining of the gut which reduces the absorption of nutrients from food, like calcium and iron. Once diagnosed, the only treatment for the condition is a strict gluten free diet for life. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and it commonly found in foods made from wheat flour, for example breads, pasta, biscuits, crackers and cakes.

Some people with coeliac disease can also react to oats, as oats contain avenin, which is a similar protein to gluten. Most people with coeliac disease can include oats in their diet however, sometimes oats are produced in the same place as wheat, barley and rye, and then become contaminated with these grains so it is important to only use oats that are marked gluten free as these have been specially grown.

Others follow the gluten free diet to help with the symptoms of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or they have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.  

What is “gluten free”?

By law, only dishes that contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or less of gluten can be called gluten free. Caterers must also provide allergen information for all dishes or menu options served in school. This means if a recipe uses any cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley and oats), or any other of the 13 other major allergens, then this information must be provided to anyone who asks for it.

It is important that all staff, especially kitchen and service staff, can talk to pupils about catering to gluten free requirements and demonstrate that kitchen controls in place to prevent cross contamination.
Why is it important to cater safely for the gluten free diet?

For people with coeliac disease, accidentally eating food containing gluten is described as being “glutened”. If this happens, children are likely to experience symptoms like stomach pain, cramps, bloating and vomiting and diarrhoea over a number of hours or days. It does not cause a life threatening reaction or anaphylactic shock but it can cause the child to feel very ill and have an impact on school attendance and subsequent learning.
Managing the risk when catering gluten free can be controlled with minimal costs, once you know how. By working with Coeliac UK to gain GF accreditation, you can ensure you are safely catering for the gluten free diet by following Coeliac UK’s gluten free standards.

Why should schools cater for gluten free diets?

It can be frustrating and upsetting for both the parents and the child if they need to gain constant reassurance that the food being provided is safe for them to eat. It can also be very isolating for children if they are unable to eat the same food as their friends, which in turn may draw unwanted attention to them. Many children are excluded from school activities, trips or after school club snacks simply because they have a chronic health condition.

The rules around the provision of school meals, including catering for medical conditions or specific dietary needs, vary depending on where you live in the UK. Free school meals are not available across the whole of the UK but if they are available, it is important that children with coeliac disease can have access to them. Coeliac UK has produced guides for parents and schools, for every part of the UK, on the rules and expectations on schools to help ensure no child is excluded due to coeliac disease or the need for a gluten free diet. For further details, please visit

What can schools do to improve the provision of gluten free food?

It is important to enable pupils with coeliac disease to eat with their peers but this requires careful meal planning and clearly labelled menus providing gluten free options or signposting to meals that are suitable for a gluten free diet.

Making sure catering teams know how to produce safe gluten free food is essential when providing meals for pupils on a gluten free diet. It is important to ensure the risk of cross contamination is removed by having the correct controls and procedures in place. It is not difficult or complicated and there is lots of guidance available to help.

School staff and catering teams should work closely with parents of children on a gluten free diet to make sure their children have varied and nutritious options at meal times and are confident that the food served is safe.

How do schools gain GF Accreditation?

By working with Coeliac UK, you’ll be able to use the trusted GF trademark, a symbol of safety. The symbol assures staff, parents and pupils that pupils on a gluten free diet can trust your procedures and can eat safely at your cafeterias.

The accreditation does this by carrying out specific gluten free audits to show that you and your staff are following all the correct procedures to deliver safe gluten free food.

Accreditation signposts that you’re a safe gluten free site, showing parents you’ve gone the extra mile in food safety for their children.

It also helps your staff understand coeliac disease so they can understand why all the daily procedures are needed and ensure they feel confident.

The gluten free audits will review all your kitchen processes to ensure they are up to our strict research based gluten free audit standards, assessing: Storage, Equipment, Communication with staff and pupils, Supply chain, Training, Food preparation and hygiene, and Menu labelling.

Peter Burt, Catering Manager at St. Faiths School (Chartwells Independent School) said: “The accreditation guidelines were clear and easy to follow, so it was easy to implement. Coeliac UK were very helpful to work with, as we wanted to implement the changes at our pace. Operating the GF accreditation procedures is now part of our daily life and works well for us.”

For more information about how to gain GF accreditation for your school, please visit or email

Coeliac UK Online Gluten Free Training:

We offer a great Education Sector online training course so everyone can learn how to safely cater for the gluten free diet. Exclusively for Education Business readers, claim your 15% discount off our training until the 31st Jan 2020 by registering at and entering in the discount code EduBiz19 at checkout or contact