Ask The Right Questions Eating Out Gluten Free

Breakfast in NYC

Dinner in Iowa

When you’re celiac there’s no doubt about it, eating out isn’t simple. Ensuring you get a safe gluten free meal free of cross contamination when you’re eating out means asking the right questions…but what are the right questions? You need to be sure your gluten free bread wasn’t toasted alongside whole wheat bread and that the toppings on your gluten free pizza weren’t ladled on using cross contaminated utensils. You can’t eat french fries which were cooked in the same fryer as breaded fish and you can’t eat a gluten free sandwich unless it was prepared in a separate contamination free area. I know all of these things and you know all of these things but do the kitchen staff at your favourite restaurant? I hope so!

Supper in Copenhagen

Lunch in Glasgow

Tips for ensuring your gluten free meal really is 100% free of gluten:

  • Explain to staff that you are coeliac. This way the restaurant will be aware just how important it is to keep your meal safe and contamination free. If they look at you like they’ve never heard the word coeliac before find a member of staff who does or  you may want to re-think your choice of restaurant. Normally if I say I’m coeliac they give me a ‘Ok, I  understand, we will take the necessary precautions to keep you safe’ face.
  • Ask about how they deal with issues of cross contamination. Something like ‘How do you deal with preventing cross contamination?’ is likely to be more effective than ‘Do you prepare gluten free dishes separately’ because they have to explain the process rather than just answering with ‘yes’. This way you will be able to better gauge whether they know what they’re talking about or not.
  • Ask some specific questions on cooking/preparation procedures. You’ve been at this gluten free thing for a while and have learned how to deal with/know the consequences of  cross contamination. Most restaurants aren’t as knowledgeable and may be conducting unsafe practices when it comes to preparing gluten free dishes without knowing it.  Do they use a different oven for cooking gluten free pizza? Do they have separate pots/pans for cooking gluten free dishes? Do they use separate ladles/serving utensils for toppings/sauces, etc?
  • When you order your meal make sure you double check, ‘this is gluten free, right?’. In some restaurants there is a ‘gluten free version available’  rather than it always being gluten free so you want to ensure you’re getting the safe version.
  • When your meal is served to you triple check that it’s gluten free. Often they will say ‘Your gluten free soup/pizza/risotto’ as they place it down but sometimes they won’t. Checking once more before you start eating will give them the chance to change your meal if a mistake has been made. This may sound a little over the top asking and checking so many times but at a restaurant I eat at regularly I asked for the ‘gluten free version’ of a meal, which meant it comes with rice rather than cous cous, but when they sat that plate down in front of me there it was with cous cous. I was lifting the fork to my mouth before I realised their mistake so you can never ask too many questions.
  • Don’t worry and enjoy your breakfast/lunch/dinner. You’ve asked all the right questions and you wouldn’t be eating in a place you didn’t trust to keep you safe so relax and enjoy yourself, the staff are taking care of you and doing all they can to avoid cross contamination.

If your favourite restaurant has been GREAT trained you may feel a lot safer about eating out. Training on gluten free awareness, products and ingredients, cross contamination and prevention is extremely important for any restaurant offering gluten free options but how many of them follow these or similar strict training procedures..

What questions do you find are the best for ensuring your gluten free meal is really gluten free?

 

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Comments

  • Didn’t know about GREAT training! That’s cool. Eating out is indeed complicated. . . argh.

  • These are great tips. I would just add that it can’t hurt to bring a gluten- digestive enzyme along and take some prior to your meal. Just in case, through all that asking, there still is some cross-contamination.

  • Thanks Heather. If you suffer from a gluten intolerance then perhaps a digestive enzyme could help (I don’t know much about them) but if you’re celiac then this isn’t going to do anything.

  • Great tips! I particularly like your idea of asking open-ended questions so the process needs to be thoroughly explained. Good point!

    Thanks for the GREAT Kitchens shout-out!

    - Alicia, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA)

  • I frequently tell servers at restaurants that I have a severe WHEAT allergy and this works great for me. Thanks for all the great tips.

  • One of the biggest problems for me is the issue of a dedicated fryer. If a restaurant doesn’t have a fryer just for non-coated french fries, and a separate area to dump them out where a questionable seasoned salt has not been shaken around, I pass on them. Likewise, even if the food item like corn-meal coated fish is gluten free, if it goes for a swim in the same oil that other gluten containing foods have been cooked in, its off limits! I also order most of my chinese food steamed because of the residue in the seasoned woks, and the soy sauces and sauce thickeners that can contain gluten.

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