Cross contamination is the transfer of allergens or bacteria from one food or surface to another. This is something every cook deals with on a daily basis via hand washing and the constant cleaning that comes with kitchen life. People will and do get sick when cross contamination occurs.
Doctors recommend that persons diagnosed with Celiac or gluten sensitivity practice complete avoidance of gluten. It is very difficult for you to be able to do this if you are not aware of the dangers of cross contamination. Little things like a knife in a drawer could be a source of stomach pain, or perhaps it’s the double dipped jar of peanut butter in the cupboard. Before the explosion in gluten free foods, a lot of people with Celiac would refer to dining out as dying out. The chance of getting “glutened” at a careless restaurant is very high–but with a little effort you can tell if it is worth taking the chance with that location.
People who are gluten free by choice do not worry about cross contamination. It does not impact them the same way, as they will not get sick (or sick in the same way) after experiencing it. The explosion of people requesting gluten free meals is therefore a double edged sword. Restaurants are encouraged to offer more gluten-free options due to the increase in demand, however being that a certain percentage of their customers requesting them are not diagnosed Celiac, they do not need to be as careful with cross contamination to satisfy this population. Whereas for diagnosed Celiac or those with a high level of sensitivity to this allergen, these “gluten sensitive” menus may not offer any real options. This isn’t all bad news, though! And by educating yourself you are able to lower the risk of getting sick while experiencing some really delicious food.
Here are a few things to keep an eye out for when dining out as a Celiac:
- The Deep Fryer: If the restaurant does not have a dedicated deep fryer, food can be contaminated by using one that is shared with items containing gluten. Be sure to ask if the deep fryer is shared with other items before eating anything that is cooked in it.
- The Quick Service line: Examples would be restaurants such as Subway or Quizno’s. While places like this would seem to be a good place to get a salad, every time items are placed on the sandwich there is a risk that crumbs have been transferred. You should only partake if they are willing to prepare your salad with the extra prepped vegetables they keep under the line.
- The Buffet: While the large array of foods looks delicious, it only takes one person to contaminate everything. It would be best to avoid buffets completely – and I would if it were not for the Christmas party season. Those few times where I am forced to eat at a buffet, I will ask the staff what items are safe and try to get there first.
- The Observation: You have to be the advocate for your health – and if you do not feel safe, you need to act on this. There have been plenty of meals out where I have decided NOT to eat as I was not sure the wait staff was listening to me, or I had doubts about the cleanliness of the restaurant. Take a peek at the food preparation areas you can see, and don’t be afraid to leave if you are worried.
- The Flat Grill Top: The flat top that is used to cook diner-style or for breakfast cooking is usually one large heated surface that is often also used to toast bread. I usually ask for my eggs or hash browns to be cooked in a frying pan. If they aren’t willing, I order an omelette because they always are.
- The Bakery: Gluten free baked goods are usually made at a separate time than the regular items or in a different bakery entirely, which is good. The risk with baking is that flour can escape into the air and slowly fall down over everything in the room if it is disturbed. If a bakery or donut restaurant has both gluten free and regular items, ask them what precautions they take. You may be surprised to find out that the delicious donut you are eating is not recommended for a Celiac!
Despite this list of risks, it is very possible to eat out as a Celiac. Be aware of your surroundings and your stomach will thank you. When you find restaurants that go out of the way to ensure you have a great time, reward them with return visits and positive reviews! (Tweet at the girls of GFYYC!) Build relationships with the people that feed you, and most importantly–enjoy.
Hopefully I was able to provide you with some information to help you keep healthy, and gluten free.
Thanks for listening!
Sean Emerson is a 30 year old Celiac and food blogger from Calgary, Alberta. His blog is over at http://draxa.cx/
featuring a year of weekly gluten free recipes, using skills he obtained when he attended the SAIT culinary program back in 2004. He has his food safe certification, and previously worked in the restaurant industry before moving into IT administration. Follow him on twitter at @draxapup and Facebook at www.facebook.com/Dinewithdraxa.
Interested in writing a guest blog for Gluten Free Calgary? Please contact us for information about this opportunity!