Whether you follow a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or other health reasons, one thing is clear about dining out gluten-free — there are many options available today. As the number of gluten-free menus increase, we need to be more cautious about where and what we eat; the issue of cross contamination is still risky and should always be taken seriously. Here are some suggestions to help you dine out safely. These suggestions can apply to various food allergies as well.
Choose Restaurants Wisely
It is preferable to select a dining establishment that has a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. Food prepared in a kitchen that is not dedicated gluten-free is always at risk of cross contamination. For example, equipment in a non-dedicated kitchen may not be cleaned properly after the preparation of food containing gluten. Flour is airborne. If dedicated restaurants and bakeries are not accessible to you, then you can choose a dining establishment that has a gluten-free menu. When you make your reservation, inform the staff about your special diet so they’ll be “expecting” you.
Ask if you can bring your own pasta. Many restaurants will allow you to bring your own gluten-free pasta, which can be prepared with their sauce. Of course, ensure the sauce does not contain gluten. Request to have your noodles boiled in fresh water in a clean pot, and not in the pot that was used to boil regular pasta. You can also request to bring your own bread or buns, however, make sure they are sliced on a clean surface, and not a cutting board covered in unsafe crumbs. Don’t bother having your bread or buns toasted.
Show Your Dining Card
Dining cards are available through most (celiac disease) non-profit organizations and they offer a list of details about the gluten-free diet which you can show your server and/or chef. They are a tangible way of demonstrating that your situation is medical, and you mean business! They are also a good conversation starter about your dietary needs and will prevent you from forgetting to relay important details to your server. When you discuss details, underscore the fact that you could become very ill if you ingest gluten. You can make your own dining card, and it can be kept in your wallet for future use or traveling.
Question the Chef
Be a self-advocate and don’t be shy. Never assume everyone is well versed with respect to your dietary needs. Speaking to your server is often not enough; you need to go directly to the source of your meal preparation. You have the right to inform the chef about your diet, and ask about cross contamination concerns and ingredient information. Ask questions about croutons in the salad, inquire about whether separate fryers, grills, pans and pots for boiling noodles are used; question rice broth, dressings, gravies, soups, sauces, fillers and fries. Dark colored sauces may contain soy sauce with wheat. Many will go the extra mile to answer your questions and it can be a good learning experience.
Confirm Your Order
When your meal arrives, confirm with your server that you have indeed been served the gluten-free meal that you ordered. If something on your plate does not look right, inquire right away!
If in Doubt, Don’t Eat It!
There will be times when you will need to turn down your meal, and reach for that emergency gluten-free snack you stashed away in your bag (yes, you should keep emergency snacks on hand). Listen to your gut instincts to avoid the possibility of getting ill!
You can connect with Lisa on Twitter at @LisaCantkier.