How To Prevent Cross Contamination Eating Out

Gluten Free Desserts

Gluten Free Options

Eating Out when you are on a strict gluten free diet is definitely a challenge. Finding a restaurant with gluten free options is just the first hurdle. The most difficult part is finding a restaurant where they understand the serious threat of cross contamination and know how to prevent it.

Here are some of the things I do to avoid cross contamination when eating out. Please share your tips and ideas too. Since this topic is such a large and important one I decided to divide it into three sections. How to prevent cross contamination when cooking at home, eating out and travelling.

How to prevent cross contamination eating out

  • Choose 100% gluten free. Obviously if possible a celiacs best bet is to eat at a 100% gluten free restaurant. Whilst these are few and far between I’ve come across more than I would have expected on my travels and I always feel so excited when I do find one. If a restaurant is truly entirely gluten free (whether due to them serving naturally gluten free food or because they have chosen to cater for celiacs) this makes dining out a much more relaxing and stress free experience.
  • Ask questions. If a restaurant isn’t entirely gluten free but does offer gluten free options, asking questions is the best way to figure out whether or not it’s safe for you to eat there. This may sound really obvious but I know when I was first diagnosed I felt really uncomfortable questioning restaurant staff about their menu items and their preparation methods. Now however, it’s second nature to me and it’s stopped me from getting unnecessarily sick.
  • Ask the right questions. Simply asking if something is gluten free isn’t enough. When you’re celiac you need to be sure that a restaurant really understands what this means. If they serve gluten free pasta for example but they cook this gluten free pasta in the same water or pot as wheat pasta then their pasta is not gluten free. If they serve gluten free pizza but they use the same utensils that they use for ordinary pizza to put on the toppings then their pizza is not gluten free. Ask about preparation methods, ask how they deal with cross contamination. Check out my post on Asking the right questions when eating out for more ideas.
  • Choose where you eat. Wherever possible, when eating out as a group, be the one in charge of choosing the restaurant. Even if it means you find yourself going to the same places all the time, at least you will stay safe. Luckily my friends and family understand and always allow me to choose. This way I always feel comfortable eating out. If I find myself in a situation where I can’t choose, I generally eat before or after and just have a drink at the restaurant.
  • Don’t eat anywhere you’re not completely sure about. We can’t always be in charge of where we go. When eating out as a group, especially if it’s a work thing or if it’s a friend or loved one’s birthday it can be a real challenge. If the group really want to go somewhere that doesn’t have anything safe for you to eat, go but make sure you eat before you go or take something with you to stop yourself from getting hungry. Don’t just eat there to fit in because you figure it will be fine. If you’re not sure about a restaurant, you don’t have to eat there. You can still enjoy the drinks and the conversation.
  • Walking out is always an option. It can be hard to decide to get up and leave once you’re already sitting down at a restaurant. Don’t let the slight awkwardness of this type of situation keep you there, eating something that will make you sick. Not 100% sure? Not 100% comfortable? Not 100% happy? Leave.

What do you do to ensure you don’t get contaminated when eating out? Perhaps you just don’t eat out because you feel that the risk is too high? Share your thoughts in the comments below..


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  • Dining out is such a struggle, after reading through this post and your one on asking the right questions, I realize that I have been unnecessarily getting sick at places b/c I while I’ve been asking questions, they haven’t been the best ones … Thanks for sharing this advice, it is certainly helpful!!

  • Kirstin

    Aug 15th, 2012

    Thanks for this post – it was really interesting. At my work, they constantly want to go out to eat for one occasion or the other. They know my situation, but they really put a lot of pressure on me to go and kind of act like I don’t want to be part of the small work group we are. We don’t work in a city so gf options are few and far between. I often get sick, no matter if I call the restaurant ahead or not. They often go to Italian places and even after I sent my salad back because it arrived with a huge piece of bread on it and told me they’d made me a completely new salad, I still got sick. Also, I’m often paying for food I don’t even really want. I could try just getting a drink or something, but I know that TOO would make them uncomfortable and I would get looks. I just can’t win!

  • I like to e-mail restaurants as well as following up with a call. It’s obvious when communicating with different people from the same establishment when they don’t understand the cross-contamination thing because they are unclear. If I tell them that this could result in a trip to the hospital in both the e-mail and call, they are more precise. I explain to people that celiac disease is a condition much like various health conditions like being diabetic and would they expect someone to put their life in any type of danger by consuming sugar and suffering some diabetic shock etc…? By putting it in the context of a health condition that has dire consequences usually one person in the group gets it and having an ally on our side helps as they feel protective once they understand.

    The important thing is to not feel like a victim and I understand that after being ‘smucked’ three times by gluten in a six week period that this is not always easy to do!

    I was on the Canadian Celiac website the other day and they offer a silicone pan with sections for two of each –
    hot dog buns, submarine buns and hamburger buns. I’m going to purchase one.

  • It’s not always possible, but I have better experiences when I call them ahead of time, rather than waiting until I get there to ask my questions. Some places have very limited experience or knowledge about what gluten-free really is and other places seem incredibly knowledgeable. Talking to them on the phone beforehand is a good gauge of how safe a place will be.

    I have an added difficulty because I also have tons of food allergies. I’ve found places that are 100% gluten-free but they also use a lot of nut and sesame ingredients. 🙁

  • SnowGlobe

    Jan 12th, 2013

    In addition to calling ahead, I talk to the waitress one-on-one after I get there, especially if I’m with a large group of people. It goes like this: we walk in, sit down, order drinks – as usual. That’s when I figure out who our waiter is. Then, I excuse myself from the table (same as if I’d gone to the restroom) and find our waiter. I explain my situ and allergies, severity, etc one-on-one. Then, decide with him/her what I will be eating. This conversation usually causes the waiter to have to talk to the chef once or twice. This works out perfectly because it’s not happening at the table in front of everyone – with the waiter going back and forth to the kitchen. I feel more comfortable, and the dinner conversation doesn’t become a discussion of my allergies every time. Yay for that. Once sorted with the waiter, when he/she returns to the table to take everyone’s order, we’re all set. It’s easy. He already knows what I’m getting and any special changes. I’ve been much happier and safer eating out in groups after this. Works great!

    Of course, if it’s just my boyfriend or a small group I’m close with, I can skip finding the waiter on my own and have the conversation at the table. But, it’s essential to have that conversation. So, if the group you’re eating with may stop you, just leave the table and find your waiter. It’s worth it!

  • I appreciate all your insights. I am still learning as I do not have celiac but another form of gluten intolerance with health effects. It was challenging for me to take it as seriously at first but I have gone 100% GF and am going to start to be more vigilant about restaurant cross contamination.

    What do you do in this situation? When I first was diagnosed I went to an Indian Restaurant with a good friend. She kept making all kinds of menu recommendations for me, even though I’m perfectly capable of picking out my own selections. Then she really pushed me to try a particular dessert she liked. So I asked the server if it had any wheat flour in it. The server said no it did not. When I took a bite of it, it seemed to cakey to not have any flour. So I asked what they make it from if not flour. She said ‘Bisquick.” So what about “overly helpful friends” and servers from other countries who may not be educated about gluten, even if you think you have been clear?

  • Hi Karen!

    It’s hard, especially at first, but I think the most important thing when eating out with friends (old and new) is to ensure they understand how important your dietary restrictions are and what you are dealing with. This way they will leave you to make your own safe decisions rather than suggesting you try something that may make you sick. I’m going out for dinner with a new friend tonight. I told her that there are only certain places I can safely eat at in the city so we are going to one of those. Sometimes it may come across a little bossy but being honest is the only way to go. It’s for our safety. 🙂

    In all eating situation, whether with friends or whilst travelling, if I’m not comfortable or sure that I’m getting something safe to eat I walk away. It can be boring sometimes but I’d rather eat rice with veggies and feel healthy than eat something I’m unsure about that may make me sick.