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University of Chicago receives gluten-free accreditation

Only academic institution in U.S. to have hospital and campus facilities certified

November 24, 2014

The University of Chicago has received certification from the Gluten Intolerance Group's Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS) Accreditation Program for its medical center and campus food service operations. The designation makes UChicago one of three medical centers in the United States to carry the accreditation, and the only academic institution to do so for both its hospital and campus facilities.

The GFFS designation, the leading such program in the world, certifies that University of Chicago Dining Services staff are equipped to safely prepare and serve gluten-free meals and food items to inpatients in the Center for Care and Discovery, Mitchell Hospital and Comer Children's Hospital; visitors at the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM) outpatient clinic; and students and visitors at the Cathey Dining Commons.

The effort was spearheaded by the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, which is an international center of excellence that conducts research and provides comprehensive treatment, diagnosis, and education for both adult and pediatric patients with celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when someone eats foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

"Our Center has long been known for its expertise and leadership in research and diagnosis of celiac disease, but just as important is being able to walk the walk when it comes to its treatment: the gluten-free diet," said Carol Shilson, Executive Director of the Celiac Disease Center. "We are thrilled that the campus has now followed the hospital's lead in providing best-in-class, tasty, safe and reliable food for those with celiac disease."

University of Chicago Medicine Dining Services, provided by Aramark, began the certification process when Aramark took over as the medical center's food service provider in April 2014. Gluten-free meals for the medical center's three inpatient facilities are prepared in a dedicated kitchen with separate equipment and food storage areas.

In the gluten-free kitchen, all ingredients are carefully screened and verified with vendors, and staff members are trained to safely prepare meals and avoid potential cross-contamination with any food items that may contain gluten.

Inpatient floors in the three hospitals and the outpatient procedure areas are also stocked with gluten-free items for patients who need to take medications with food or need something to eat after a medical procedure.

Meanwhile, the university's Cathey student dining hall features a dedicated gluten-free station with separate preparation and serving areas. The dining hall underwent the same certification procedures as the medical facilities.

As part of maintaining the GFFS certification, licensed dietitians conduct ongoing quality control monitoring for all food preparation activities. Any breaches of protocol are addressed through a formal remediation process to correct training issues or problems with preparation procedures. Inspectors from the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) also conduct periodic, unannounced visits to evaluate procedures and provide guidance.

"GIG is proud to be partnering with the University of Chicago and applauds their work in making gluten-free dining a priority for all those who visit, from its staff, students, guests and patients," said Cynthia Kupper, Executive Director of the Gluten Intolerance Group. "Using the 'Best Practices' guidelines in the Gluten-Free Food Service Certification program assures everyone a healthy dining experience."

The gluten-free station at the outpatient DCAM cafeteria will be further expanded as part of ongoing renovations, which are expected to finish in January 2015. The university also plans to include a dedicated gluten-free station in its new Campus North dining hall, expected to open in 2016.

The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center is an international center of excellence providing comprehensive patient and professional education, expert diagnosis and treatment for both children and adults, groundbreaking bench and clinical research, and active leadership in advocacy efforts. The Celiac Disease Center is part of the University of Chicago, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Find out more at cureceliacdisease.org.

The Gluten Intolerance Group, also known as GIG, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to supporting persons with gluten intolerances, celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, and other gluten sensitivities, through consumer and industry services and programs that positively promote healthy lives. Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS) is a management accreditation program designed to work with all types of food service establishments that serve gluten-free consumers. This program uses training and management strategies to teach employees proper techniques for gluten-free food preparation. Find out more at gluten.org.

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