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DOP - Mercy Hospital Dunedin

Dining Out on a great idea with Mercy Hospital Dunedin

It’s now over two years since the launch of our Dining Out Programme (DOP) – and what a great two years those have been. Recently, Mercy Hospital in Dunedin have become accredited with the programme – making them the first hospital/medical facility to do so, and that’s something worth celebrating.

For those of you who are new to Coeliac New Zealand, or just haven’t heard about DOP yet, here’s a little background information about the programme and why we developed it.

Tasty safety at home

For people living with coeliac disease, it’s relatively straight forward to prepare your own gluten free meals at home. Sure, you may need to carefully check the labels on packaged foods – but with the variety of options on the market now, there’s more variety in a gluten free diet than ever before. And when you combine all the easy and naturally gluten free foods out there, like fruit and vegetables; meat, fish and chicken; eggs, milk and cheese; nuts and seeds; and all kinds of grains like rice, millet, quinoa and amaranth.

But eating food you’ve prepared yourself at home isn’t always an option – and even if it is, sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the work!

Public understanding of coeliac


It’s one thing for cafes and restaurants to be aware of gluten free diets and offer options with gluten free ingredients. But it’s another thing to really understand the risks of cross-contamination, how trace amounts of gluten can do damage, and what the actual result of ‘glutening’ a person with coeliac disease can be.

The creation of the Dining Out Programme

Brett Thorburn, now a member of the Coeliac New Zealand Executive Committee, first brought about the idea for DOP while living in Italy. A nation where sharing food is central to the culture, Italy has had a programme in place to cater to coeliac sufferers for some 20 years. Over 3800 ristorazione senza glutine, or gluten free restaurants, are part of a programme where venues are trained in their gluten free practices and continuously monitored.

With a couple of years of development and some help from Coeliac UK, Coeliac New Zealand unveiled the Dining Out Programme in May 2016. It’s our version of a food industry education and certification programme providing those with coeliac disease with the confidence that an eatery truly understands the needs of coeliacs and possesses the knowledge and processes to safely prepare and serve gluten free food.

The programme today


Today, there are restaurants and cafes across the country who are accredited to DOP – and we hope to see that number continue to rise. And as mentioned earlier, one of the places we are most excited to have on board is Mercy Hospital Dunedin.

Mercy Hospital Dunedin and DOP


One of the values at Mercy Hospital is Hirangi – excellence in care. They recognise that eating away from home is a big challenge for those living with coeliac, and that being in hospital can be stressful enough without worrying about what you can or can’t eat!

It’s their hope that being part of DOP will mean that those with coeliac disease in their care will feel assured that all aspects of their health and wellbeing are being taken seriously – and that they will feel confident in the food that is served to them during their stay.

In the past five years, the chefs at Mercy have reported a large increase in the number of patients requesting gluten free menu items. After their room service menu launched in February 2018, 12.5 percent of the reported patient food allergies or intolerances have been related to coeliac disease. A further 18 percent of recorded preferences were for low or no gluten menu items – so the demand is definitely there.

The processes in place

Both the back and front of house staff have completed the appropriate Coeliac New Zealand training. One of their chefs has been specifically nominated as their gluten free ambassador – overseeing their processes and training new staff members. They also have regular audits from their dietitian to ensure that all incoming products and ingredients are up to par. Their wards are also equipped with toaster bags and gluten free bread to ensure that options are available even when the kitchen staff aren’t involved.

Looking forward

Hospitals and medical providers are a major area where we are keen to develop further DOP relationships. Being in hospital is a difficult thing, and removing the stress of worrying about whether or not the gluten free options are actually coeliac-safe is a significant thing to be able to do.

The Mercy Hospital Dunedin team are very supportive of the DOP toolkit, highlighting the step-by-step guide to ensuring food service meets the required standards. They also advise allowing plenty of time to plan and research both the menu overall and which ingredients are safe to use. So if you’re connected to a hospital who would like to get on board with DOP, get in touch with us and we can start taking steps to get you there.