By Rieva Lesonsky

Once considered a solution for a dietary problem (celiac disease) shared by a relative few, gluten-free products have exploded in the last few years. Datamonitor, an independent research company, projects global sales to grow over $1 billion, hitting $4.3 billion by 2015. U.S. sales are expected to account for 53 percent of those revenues. In fact, The Hartman Group, a market research company, estimates 40 million Americans are interested in buying gluten-free products.

According to insureon, the leading online agent for small business insurance, a growing trend toward gluten-free menu items at America’s restaurants and catered events is increasing the demand for a special kind of insurance designed to protect food-service businesses against lawsuits arising from bad reactions to food products.

While any restaurant could face a lawsuit arising from alleged food poisoning or food allergies, those promising gluten-free menu items are at even greater risk of a lawsuit if a customer should choose these options and still have a reaction. Because there are currently no standards that define exactly what constitutes gluten-free, some restaurants may be promoting a gluten-free product that is prepared in the same area as foods containing gluten, raising the potential for cross-contamination. While many people with sensitivities may not have reactions to small amounts of gluten, others with higher levels of sensitivity could have a severe reaction, raising the potential for lawsuits.

“As with most insurance claims, one small misstep can cost an owner the restaurant that took a lifetime to build,” said Ted Devine, chief executive officer of insureon. “Insurance is not a luxury—even for the smallest of restaurants. The new specialty insurance for restaurants will start restaurateurs out on the right foot to protecting their livelihood.”

Food service businesses, including restaurants, catering businesses, and other food service providers,  can protect themselves against the high cost of lawsuits by purchasing a type of insurance known as “product liability and completed operations” coverage, available from insureon as part of a special insurance package designed for food service businesses. This insurance not only covers lawsuits related to gluten reactions, but also those related to other food allergies, food poisoning, or other injuries or damages caused by the products a restaurant or caterer sells.

For more information, visit insureon’s small-business insurance agency, Business Insurance Now.