Celiac Awareness Month, recognized every year during the month of May, is a time of unification, collaboration, and togetherness for those with celiac disease and for the gluten-free community as a whole. For 31 days, a focus is on the efforts to raise awareness for the millions of people worldwide who are affected by the immune and autoimmune response to gluten. The gluten-free community does not disappoint or shy away from this time in the spotlight. From social media campaigns to increased requests for donations, an elevation in effort and output is seen from every organization, company, blogger, and consumer for the entire month. But what happens when the calendar turns to the next month? People needing educational resources after their first day of diagnosis are still there. Food safety research to assure that safe products are available for consumers living the gluten-free lifestyle still needs to be done. A place for individuals and families to turn to within their own communities still exists. A 12-month continuous effort is needed to fulfill the needs of those living gluten free and for the past 43 years, the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) has been giving 110% to make sure that celiac and gluten intolerance-awareness is something that is recognized beyond a 31 day window.
Since 1974, GIG has been empowering the gluten-free community through consumer support, advocacy, and education. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, GIG was the first entity to help people diagnosed with gluten reactions to identify safe and appetizing gluten-free foods. The creation of community support groups, educational materials, and the Celebrate Gluten-Free magazine provided outreach resources to thousands of organization members looking for more information. In addition to its outreach efforts, more than a decade ago GIG created the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), a program that has become a global leader in the verification of quality, integrity, and safety of gluten-free products. The certification label of the GFCO program stands as the symbol of trust for the gluten-free community and can be found on more than 40,000 gluten-free products worldwide. To assure that food service locations are held to the same standards as manufacturers of products, GIG also founded the Gluten Free Food Service program (GFFS) to help establish best practices for facilities offering gluten-free options.
The maintenance and growth of GIG’s Food Safety and Outreach programs require a consistent and high-level effort from GIG’s staff, auditors, and volunteers; all committed to doing everything that they can for the benefit of the gluten-free community. Keeping these efforts consistent with the expectations of the public and consumers is a 24/7, 365 day initiative. GIG’s commitment goes beyond these activities and includes continual program improvements and exploring new opportunities that positively affects the quality of life for all persons living gluten-free. This past year GIG has embark on the several new and exciting projects.
• GIG announced that its Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) program received ISO/IEC 17065:2012 (ISO 17065) accreditation from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA). ISO 17065 is the international quality standard for organizations certifying products, processes and services. The accreditation differentiates GIG from certification organizations that only focus on a company’s management and processes, and allows the consumer to know that GIG also certifies that the product was produced at 10ppm or less gluten.
• GIG continues to conduct Food safety research studies. A first of its kind, GIG’s pilot study “The Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Conventional and Gluten-Removed Beer“, was published online by the Journal of AOAC International, and was conducted by GIG at the University of Chicago’s Celiac Research Center. A second study, the “Definition of the ‘Purity Protocol’ for Producing Gluten-Free Oats”, written by GIG and published by AACC International (formerly the American Association of Cereal Chemists), provides transparency to the industry and gluten-free consumers, and allows for auditing of the Purity Protocol claim. GIG is committed to continuing these types of studies to assure customers of the safety of their foods and assist the food industry in making educated decisions in gluten-free products.
• At the beginning of Celiac Awareness Month, The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) and Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) announced a partnership to improve the services provided to all persons living gluten-free. To create the most comprehensive nonprofit source of education, research, advocacy, social networking, and support for the millions of people living with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten/wheat sensitivity, CDF transitioned the operation of its Support Group program to GIG. As part of the collaboration, GIG is promoting CDF’s iCureCeliac® patient registry and patient enrollment in research studies and clinical trials.
• GIG’s Generation GF program, an initiative to build confidence in gluten-free kids, teens, and young adults, continues to thrive and assist families worldwide, recently signing on its 2,000th member. Generation GF is creating opportunities for families to become part of a larger support network and providing kids the chance to grow into gluten-free ambassadors in their communities. Generation GF also announced the inaugural Teen Summit & Family Retreat to take place in June 2018.
• GIG’s GFFS (Gluten Free Food Service) program certified Kent State University to start the 2016 academic year. Kent State became the first university in the country to feature an entirely gluten-free dining hall, the Prentice Café, on campus. Prentice Café was restructured after administrators noticed that the number of students arriving on campus with gluten intolerance was rising each year. Kent State joins the University of Chicago, Auburn University, Boston University, and the University of Toronto Mississuaga in having certified locations where their gluten-free students can dine safely.
• In an effort to maintain our commitment to helping everyone living the gluten-free lifestyle, GIG recently adopted a free membership program. This change was implemented to assist all individuals who are interested in receiving the latest community updates, regardless the level of their intolerance or sensitivity. GIG members receive a regularly published digital magazine, are offered coupon incentives for products, and are the first to receive the latest news in the gluten-free industry. Becoming a GIG member only requires a valid email address and can be achieved by visiting the “Join” page on our website at www.gluten.org.
These are just some of the highlights of what has been a productive time for the Gluten Intolerance Group. In an environment with multiple influencers, it is the commitment of this organization to be the voice of the gluten-free consumer. We are proud to say that the State of GIG is stronger than ever and no matter what month it reads on the calendar, we will continue to develop programs and resources that make living gluten-free a little bit easier for you.