How Gluten Free Aware Are Restaurants?

100% gluten free?

Eating out...

I was eating at one of my favourite restaurants in San Francisco recently and as I sat down to eat my gluten free meal, a meal that I’ve eaten a number of times, a new concern came to me. I really should just stop thinking altogether to avoid my mind conjuring up these new ideas and concerns but I’ll continue now that I’ve begun….

Every week we hear of more and more restaurants with gluten free menus who cater for celiacs and if you’re anything like me when you discover somewhere new you get excited and can’t wait to try it. On arriving at the restaurant you check with your server that what you’ve chosen to order really is gluten free. You ensure that they understand the threat of cross contamination and check that they prepare gluten free dishes separately and with the necessary care etc, etc. But is the chef 100% sure that all of the ingredients they are using to prepare our meal are gluten free? If not then the serious threat of cross contamination is not even our biggest concern..

If you’re on a gluten free diet you know how limiting it can sometimes be to find new and interesting foods to try, foods that are safe. You’ll pick up something naturally gluten free but then discover it was packaged in the same factory as products containing wheat or you’ll spot something with a gluten free label but then read the small print that says it was manufactured on the same machinery as wheat containing products. It’s hard work and definitely not simple but as celiacs we know how important it is to double check everything and we do it for the sake our our health. Are restaurants this careful? Perhaps but I have serious doubts that this is always the case!

If they are using naturally gluten free ingredients such as meat, fish, rice, eggs and vegetables then we should be fine, the same if they make their own gluten free tortillas, breads and sauces but what about when other ingredients come into it? Where do they get their black beans for their gluten free burritos? Are they confident they weren’t packaged on machinery with wheat? What about their yoghurt? If it’s not home made can they say for sure there are no added possible gluten containing flavourings? And don’t even get me started on the current lack of a gluten free labelling law in the US which allows products to be labelled as ‘gluten free’ when they may in fact be harmful to celiacs.

Cross contamination free?

Eating out...

There are a lot of different things to consider when it comes to finding safe gluten free things to cook with and eat. I’m constantly calling companies or double checking the FAQ section on company websites so figure out if something is gluten free or to check their stance on avoiding cross contamination. Can we really be confident that those people making our food when we eat out are doing the same? The grocery who did our gluten free wedding catering for example uses 95% natural ingredients in everything they prepare so they do know exactly what goes into their food. Can all eateries offering gluten free options say the same??

As celiacs we do all we can. We  have chosen to enjoy a meal out and we have to put our trust in the chef hoping that he or she will do their best to keep us safe. Our health is in their hands. I would love to hear from any restaurant owners/chefs out there who can reassure us that you know exactly what goes into your dishes and that they are indeed gluten free.

As I recently began thinking about the safety of nuts for celiacs this led me back to this post and to wondering how gluten free aware restaurants are. One of my readers mentioned that there is a restaurant she goes to which cannot label dishes on their menu as gluten free if they contain nuts. This is because they cannot be 100% certain that no cross contamination has occurred in the production of these nuts. How many restaurants can really be 100% certain that no cross contamination has occurred in any of the ingredients which go into their meals?

Stay safe when you’re eating out fellow celiacs! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share in the comments below…

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  • I called Pizza Rustica today in Berkeley since we were considering going there and asked them the same questions that mother asked California Pizza Kitchen. (The mother of two celiacs thought a pizza at CPK was safe, then she dug into their practices and found they were likely contaminating pizzas with gluten by using the same ladles to put toppings on GF and nonGF pizzas). At Pizza Rustica they too use the same ladles and toppings for gluten-free pizzas and the pizzas are cooked in a small space in the same oven. The manager said if you are very “allergic” it would not be safe. So I wonder if the not-safe-seeming practices of California Pizza Kitchen are standard at pizzerias offering GF options. Next up to ask is Extreme Pizza. . .

  • Now this is interesting because I ate at Pizza Rustica in January and felt great afterwards. I remember they told me that all their toppings were gluten free but I didn’t ask about the ladles (fail on me). I did ask about how they cook it and they said they have a special tray for gluten free pizzas to avoid cross contamination. I can’t remember all of the details now but I am always so careful and I know that at the time I felt comfortable eating there. I’m pretty sure that these non-safe seeming practices and probably standard but that would be really sad because it would mean we can never go out for pizza 🙁 Here’s hoping we can find an exception..although I doubt Extreme Pizza are it.

  • Owen(GlutenFreeSeattle)

    May 21st, 2012

    This is exactly what I’ve been talking about lately. People are freaked out about Domnios pizza. When in reality – Dominos isn’t doing things all that different from what could be the majority of the restaurant industry. Red Robin (major burger chain) provides a Gluten Free bun – and therefore offers this burger to their customers. Red Robin hasn’t changed their kitchens to my knowledge… so its still highly unsafe. Dominos is providing a gluten free pizza, but cooking it in the same kitchen. The same is the same, is the same.

  • Great post as you know I’m a huge advocate because I work with a fair amount of restaurants. We do need to take all of this into consideration and no matter how many times we eat at the same restaurant and order the same meal we always need to double and triple check. I think your points are spot on as usual, thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Oyy- I was at the hospital (safe place to eat ?) wrong.I asked the server what can I eat as I am coeliac. She went off to ask the chef and came back saying -Irish stew.So I had a portion. No extras just the stew. I sat and looked at it, and it didn’t look hot( it wasnt). But I saw suspicious additions of barley. I went back to the servery ,chef was there. I asked him.” you said this is fine for me as a coeliac? Yeah thats right it is ok.
    I said “well it isnt as there is what looks like pearl barley in it.
    “We did thicken it with cornflour so it should be ok says he. GRRRRRRRRRR I ate the usual jacket potato.