For people with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, eating out can seem like a minefield of wheat products. When you can’t see your own food being made, you have no idea whether it is prepared with the same utensils as something that included wheat flour or on a surface that has been used for rye or barley products. It is possible to avoid cross contamination when you dine out, though it can be tough. You have to plan ahead and prepare to stick up for yourself and your health. Keep yourself safe from bad gluten reactions to food by following these tips for avoiding cross-contamination.
1. Research Your Restaurant
Luckily, many restaurants have become aware of gluten intolerance and allergy issues, and they may offer special menus for people who eat gluten-free. Before you go out to eat, research restaurants ahead of time online or by calling the establishments. Restaurants with specialized menus are more likely to have trained staff to avoid cross contamination.
Upscale restaurants that make items from scratch are also more likely to have ways to avoid cross contamination. They likely have the prep space and tools necessary to create your meal in a safe way. They also are likely to have enough knowledge of their recipes to know how to adjust meals to fit dietary needs.
2. Read the Reviews
Thanks to websites like Yelp!, you can find out a lot of information about a restaurant before visiting there. You can even search terms like “gluten-free” on Yelp! to find specific reviews related to those items. A former diner who has had a bad experience with cross-contamination may give you the heads up you need. With any luck, you’ll find positive reviews instead that let you know which restaurants offer great service and cater to special dietary needs.
3. Sample a Gluten-Free Culture
Some cultures, including Thai, Indian and Japanese, don’t use much wheat in their cooking. Traditionally, they use more rice products, and they don’t often thicken sauces with flour – one way that gluten can sneak into your diet. These traditional cooking practices can reduce your risk for cross-contamination and give you more gluten-free choices on the menu. For instance, raw (not tempura) sushi rarely uses gluten, and a sushi bar’s prep space and knives must be kept very clean because of the raw fish. Sushi chefs often make sushi where you can watch them prepare your food, so you can ensure they avoid cross-contamination.
4. Call Ahead
Once you have your list of options narrowed down to a few restaurants, call the restaurants and ask how they prepare gluten-free meals. Speak directly with the manager or head chef, so you know you are getting the right information from someone who knows. If they don’t seem to have answers to your questions, you may want to avoid dining there. It’s much harder to leave a restaurant once you are already seated, so calling ahead gives you an easy out if they don’t take your dietary concerns seriously.
You can also let the restaurant know about your needs when you plan to dine with them, so they can be prepared to serve you. When making a reservation, you may be able to add a note to their system so the host or hostess, server and chef are all aware of your dietary needs from the moment you arrive.
5. Bring Your Own Education
If you don’t get to choose where to eat or want to be sure the server and chef understand gluten intolerance, bring along gluten-free restaurant cards. These cards, available online or from your physician, help explain why it is so important for you to avoid gluten. By giving the cards to staff at the restaurant, you can help educate them without having to give a long lecture.
6. Let Your Server Know Your Needs
When you arrive at the restaurant, let the server know about your needs. Stress the importance of avoiding cross-contamination. If you have not already spoken to the chef, you can request to speak to him or her to go over the menu and its ingredients. With the chef’s help, you can plan out your entire meal from appetizer to dessert and be sure that you are avoiding gluten.
You may also want to ask or tell your server or the chef to:
- Avoid bringing the bread basket to your table
- Ensure kitchen staff changes gloves and uses clean, unused utensils before preparing your foods
- Avoid using any work or cooking surfaces that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned before they are used to prepare your food
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Double-Check
You may not want to be a pain, but accidental cross-contamination is not worth the days of discomfort you may experience after eating gluten. Double-check that things are gluten-free at every step of your meal, especially if someone who is not your server brings out your order. If you experience any doubt, always ask if an item is gluten-free or how it was prepared.
8. Don’t Eat to Be Polite
If you feel like the chef or server is not taking your concerns seriously or doesn’t seem to know about gluten, don’t eat there. Even if the rest of your party eats, it may be easier for you to be hungry for a few hours than to deal with the side effects of cross-contamination. Though it may not feel natural to ask so many questions at a restaurant, you need to protect your health. By following the tips above, you can enjoy time out with friends and family without risking a painful reaction to gluten.
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