Costa Coffee is forced to apologise after cooking author slams chain for tweet wrongly telling coeliac customers that its steam arm for frothing is ‘hot enough to kill gluten’
- Costa Coffee slammed for telling people its ‘steam is hot enough to kill allergens’
- Cooking author Becky Excell warned people not to listen to the ‘misinformation’
- The brand was forced to backtrack and delete the ‘dangerous’ advice online
Costa Coffee has been slammed for wrongly telling customers its ‘steam is hot enough to kill allergens’ – forcing the brand to apologise and delete the ‘dangerous’ advice on social media.
A father tweeted the company asking them about gluten-free options so his coeliac teenager daughter could enjoy a trip to the coffee shop and not feel like ‘an odd one out’.
It came after the chain swapped its oat milk for a non-gluten-free version, leading to concern about cross-contamination due to the using of the same steam arms no matter what milk is being frothed.
While oats are a gluten-free grain, many are cross-contaminated with gluten after being processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.
Yet Costa’s official Twitter account responded to the father to suggest the heat from the steam arm on its ‘coffee machines is ‘high [hot] enough to [sterilise] any allergen remaining and eliminate the prospect of cross-contamination risk’.
Alarmed by the ‘dangerous’ comment, gluten-free recipe book author Becky Excell, from Colchester, Essex, tweeted on the thread, warning customers not to listen to the ‘misinformation’ and emphasising that ‘heat does not kill gluten’.
Costa soon deleted their tweets, and has since apologised for sharing the ‘incorrect information’. However, the 31-year-old author said the ‘worrying’ mistake makes her concerned about practices to avoid cross-contamination in the firm’s stores.
Costa Coffee has been slammed for wrongly telling customers its ‘steam is hot enough to kill allergens’ (above) – forcing the brand to backtrack and delete the ‘dangerous’ advice online
Gluten-free recipe book author Becky Excell (pictured), from Colchester, Essex, chimed in to warn people not to listen to the ‘misinformation’, emphasising that ‘heat does not kill gluten’
A father tweeted the company (above) asking them about gluten-free options. It came after the chain swapped its oat milk for a non-gluten-free version, leading to concern about cross-contamination due to the using of the same steam arms no matter what milk is being frothed
Costa said that the tweet does not reflect practices in store and that staff follow ‘strict processes’ to avoid cross-contamination.
Becky said: ‘I follow Costa on Twitter and they’d announced that day that they were bringing out some gluten-free products so I was looking on their page.
‘I saw a father had tweeted them asking for advice about things being gluten-free at Costa because his daughter is coeliac. That’s a situation where you want to get it right because it’s a parent trying to understand if Costa is safe to eat at for his young child.
‘Then I noticed their really awful response – they said “heat kills gluten”. Heat does not kill gluten. You just think “Oh my god how can someone say that because it’s 100 per cent wrong.”
‘For all the people that have nut and other life-threatening allergies, I would be really worried now by what they’re doing.’
The author replied to the tweet saying: ‘Nooo. Please do not listen to this. Heat does not kill gluten,’ as she was concerned that the brand’s followers were being misinformed.
Yet Costa’s official Twitter account responded to the father to suggest the heat from the steam arm on its ‘coffee machines is ‘high [hot] enough to [sterilise] any allergen remaining and eliminate the prospect of cross-contamination risk’. It also appears that the brand sent similar replies to others (above)
More and more furious gluten free customers then began tweeting Costa, demanding the brand address the incorrect advice and posting about their disappointment.
One said: ‘What hope do we have when Costa Coffee are spouting this nonsense! If heat killed gluten, then all cooked food would be gluten free. Just one more reason why I won’t set foot inside Costa anymore!’
Another said: ‘I do hope they do a post apologising for posting such dangerous and misleading information.’
Within a couple of hours the tweet was then deleted and the Costa Coffee Twitter account began replying to individual tweets apologising for the mistake.
One response said: ‘We are taking this very matter very seriously and reiterating to our customer service colleagues the risk that is present in store and what our approach is in store regarding cross-contamination.’
The author replied to the tweet saying: ‘Nooo. Please do not listen to this. Heat does not kill gluten,’ as she was concerned that the brand’s followers were being misinformed
Within a couple of hours the tweet was then deleted and the Costa Coffee Twitter account began replying to individual tweets apologising for the mistake
But Becky and other members of the coeliac community were disappointed that the brand failed to tweet an open apology and correction of the misinformation, instead choosing to ‘sweep it under the carpet’.
She then emailed the chain with a formal complaint which elicited a longer response, again apologising for the misinformation and explaining that they deleted the tweet ‘in order to try and prevent further confusion’.
The email said: ‘I want to reassure you that the posts do not reflect the approach taken in our stores to minimise the risks of cross-contamination.
‘We know that there is always a risk of cross-contamination when preparing drinks in store, and our teams follow strict processes in order to minimise this risk.
‘This includes the use of separate jugs and cloths when preparing any drink with a plant-based alternative.’
Becky said: ‘It angered a lot of people who have been coeliac for a long time but what really worries me is that there might be newly-diagnosed people reading that who are confused about it now.
‘You would expect that a big brand like Costa would be giving out the correct information.
However Becky and other members of the coeliac community were disappointed that the brand failed to tweet an open apology and correction of the misinformation, instead choosing to ‘sweep it under the carpet’
‘The fact that they didn’t properly address it and just deleted it is quite worrying because there are probably a lot of people who saw it that aren’t sure now.
‘Places like that seem to do that all the time, try and sweep it under the rug and think it will just go away but when it’s to do with someone’s health it shouldn’t just go away.
‘It would’ve been really nice if they just apologised openly to everyone and maybe referred people to Coeliac UK to get some information on it, but they chose to just hide.’
The author is an ‘undiagnosed coeliac’ as constant stomach issues and brain fog – symptoms of coeliac disease – led her doctor to tell her to cut gluten out of her diet.
WHAT IS COELIAC DISEASE?
Coeliac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
Gluten provokes inflammation in the small intestine which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
The condition is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide.
One percent – or three million Americans – are living with coeliac disease.
There are more than 200 symptoms of coeliac disease but the more common ones are:
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Chronic diarrhea
- Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
- Weight loss
The only treatment for the disease is a strict gluten-free diet.
Only foods and beverages with a gluten content less than 20 parts per million are allowed.
Source: Celiac Disease Foundation
When her symptoms improved after changing her diet, she says the doctor offered to test her for coeliac disease but to be accurately tested she would need to reintroduce gluten to her diet.
Due to how ‘poorly’ eating gluten made her feel, she opted to continue being gluten free without the official diagnosis and has never eaten gluten since, 13 years later.
Through her work as an ambassador with the charity Coeliac UK, she claims she has discovered that there are ‘hundreds of thousands’ of other undiagnosed coeliacs in the UK on top of the diagnosed figure of one in every 100 people.
Despite this, she says gluten free options in coffee shops remain ‘poor’.
Becky said: ‘Things have got so much better over the 13 years I’ve been eating gluten free – at the beginning you couldn’t find much in the supermarkets and what options there were, were really bad.
‘But generally in the supermarkets now there’s a “free from” aisle and even eating out at restaurants and cafes and stuff they’ll often have a gluten free menu.
‘But places like Costa and coffee shops are still really poor – up until last week Costa didn’t even have a savoury option.
‘There’s so many people that have to eat gluten free, including myself, and you have to really plan in advance and it can be really difficult and frustrating, especially when places are offering out misinformation.
‘It makes it quite nerve-wracking because you don’t want to go out to eat and worry that you might get poorly after it because going out for food is supposed to be an enjoyable occasion.’
Following her ‘huge lifestyle change’ in adopting a gluten free diet 13 years ago and struggling with cooking and eating out, Becky became an author of books aimed at helping the coeliac community.
Her first two books – How to Make Anything Gluten Free and How to Bake Anything Gluten Free – offer a wide range of gluten free recipes.
Her third book – How to Plan Anything Gluten Free – which is due to be released on 24 March, offers further recipes as well as tips on eating out as a coeliac.
A spokesperson for Costa Coffee said: ‘We take the safety and wellbeing of our customers extremely seriously and apologise for the incorrect information that was shared from our Twitter account.
‘As soon as we were made aware of the error we apologised and shared a correct version of our in-store process to those who contacted us.
‘We also removed the original tweet to avoid further confusion, following feedback from customers online.
‘In our stores, to help reduce the risk to customers from cross-contamination, we have strict training and procedures in place.
‘When a customer informs us about an allergy or dietary requirement our team members are happy to explain the measures we can take to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, so they can make an informed choice.
‘This can include the use of additional equipment, such as separate jugs and cleaning cloths.
‘Steam wands are also cleaned with the relevant cloths and purged after every drink preparation to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.’
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