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Ask The Allergy Chef: New to Celiac Disease

Ask The Allergy Chef: New to Celiac Disease and want to eat out, tips?

    Hi. I’ve recently been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I’ve been very strict with avoiding gluten and would now like to try eating at a restaurant. Online, there seems to be mixed reviews. Any tips?

    Congratulations on making it to this point on your journey! Eating out with any kind of dietary restriction is a big deal. So, there are several points to think about when you’re gluten free.

    1: Is this a celiac safe, fully gluten free restaurant? Where each raw material is sourced from gluten free suppliers? If so, this is the absolute safest option and I’d start there.

    2: Let’s assume it’s not the above. Do they bake with wheat flour? If so, gluten (wheat) is in the air and settles on surfaces etc. There’s no way they can truly guarantee your absolute safety.

    3: How well trained are the staff? That includes both front and back of house. In a recent survey, some restaurant staff said that if they picked the nuts off of a plate it was now nut free. Oh my goodness we have a long way to go. People just don’t understand trace amounts, cross contact, and so on.

    4: Let’s say there’s no baking on site and we don’t have to worry about gluten in the air. What about all of the equipment? Is it a divided kitchen, or is everything shared? What’s your true risk for cross contact? Depending on the establishment, it can be high.

    5: Do they have shared fryers and other key equipment that’s shared that can easily transfer gluten to your order?

    6: Have they made any claim that they can serve you safely? If so, grill them (ha! No pun intended) on what their protocols are.

    Now, you can do all of those things and have an awesome experience. You can also do all of those things and still be glutened.

    The thing with restaurants that most people don’t understand is the turn over. It’s how fast meals are coming out, but also the sourcing of raw materials. If a restaurant happens to source X from a GF facility but they ran out, guess what they do? Hey Joe! Run to the store and get us some X. We don’t know about the sourcing of X now because Joe got what was available. The menu is still accurate, he didn’t change the item, just where it came from. See my point?

    Restaurants and packaged foods not strictly avoiding what you can’t have will always carry an inherent risk. Your job is to assess how much risk is there. That’s going to be relative to your individual condition.

    I had a bakery customer once, with his diagnosis, he told me how less than 20PPM of gluten had him in the ER. Let that sink in. That’s a micro-crumb. If you’re like him, you need to go back to point number one. Restaurants like that do exist now, you just have to look for them.

    The other option is to look for restaurants (and food services) that cater to diet types that you overlap with. Paleo, AIP Paleo, GAPs, and SCD would all work. You won’t find a restaurant for the last three, but Paleo restaurants are totally a thing now. There’s even a place online that does AIP Paleo meal delivery via the mail, so it’s good food landing on your doorstep.

    Again, only you can decide if a restaurant is safe for you. Once you have the experience, take notes and determine if it’s somewhere you can eat at again (or even order extras for lunch the next day).

    This free article talks more about the subject. I’d suggest reading it before making your calls. If you’re unsure of what to ask and how to go about things, visit the downloads section of the website and get the free checklist to use when calling a restaurant.

    Good luck on this endeavor!
    ~The Allergy Chef

    Food Allergy Help 101: Celiac Disease Eating Out at Restaurants with Food Allergies and Celiac Disease
    Hidden Sources of Gluten and Hidden Sources of Wheat

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