Dining out with Celiac Disease – 5 Tips to Follow
Staying gluten-free when dining out can induce anxiety in someone with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Although many restaurants claim to have “gluten-free” offerings, you can never be sure if they follow proper procedures to avoid cross-contamination or that the ingredients used in the dishes are safe for you to consume. Gluten-free to them may simply mean that the products they use do not naturally have gluten in them.
To dine out safely as a celiac, you must be aware of the hidden sources of gluten and choose a restaurant that has been certified by GIG’s Gluten-Free Food Services (GFFS) Certification Program. GFFS closely works with food preparation experts to develop, educate, and train restaurants and other food service establishments to adhere to the highest gluten-free standards.
Don’t lose hope! There are still steps you can take to enjoy a delicious and safe meal at any restaurant, provided you follow a few simple tips.
1. Discuss Your Meal Options
Call the restaurant a day before you plan to visit or earlier the same day. Talk to the chef or head cook to discuss the various gluten-free meal options they have. Fast food or family restaurants with a standard menu may not have the time to thoroughly check the ingredients or accommodate your needs. Finer dining establishments that have a less hurried atmosphere are likely to have more time to meet your needs.
2. Share Gluten Cross-Contamination Concerns with the Chef
While by now you will certainly avoid gluten-containing foods like wheat products, you may not be aware of the insidious threat of cross-contamination in restaurants. In busy restaurants, workers often have to share utensils, pans, and cooking surfaces, making it hard to carve out a separate space for preparing a gluten-free meal for someone. Some restaurants which excel in GF items have separate kitchens for gluten and non-gluten food, but most don’t.
In order to stay safe, here are some guidelines you should share with the kitchen staff:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and change gloves before preparing the meal.
- If the order is a salad, mix it in a clean bowl instead of reusing one that may have crouton fragments or unsafe dressing.
- Do not use a grill surface that was shared with gluten-containing items.
- Instead of placing your gluten-free rolls or pizzas directly on the oven surface, put them on a pan and cover with foil paper to avoid any crumbs.
3. Dine Early or Late (Non-Busy Hours)
It is best to dine out either before or after the “rush hour” at a restaurant so you can have more time to discuss your gluten-free meal options and have easier access to people that can assist you. Even the most co-operative staff may not have the time to accommodate your needs during busy hours.
4. Be Flexible!
No matter how informed or prepared you are, sometimes you will not find a satisfying gluten-free item on the menu. There are two ways to address the problem: you can either ‘pre-eat’ before dining out, so that your hunger remains under control, or you can carry with you some gluten-free foods, such as crackers, breads, or even your favorite pasta that you can ask the restaurant chef to cook for you in a clean pot.
5. When In Doubt, Don’t Eat
This is probably the most important tip to follow when dining out as a celiac. For the most part, you will be able to find the right options per your dietary restrictions, but in the event you don’t, it is better not to eat anything at all, especially if the restaurant staff is uninformed about gluten, or worse, indifferent.