Help I’ve been contaminated!

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Sometimes eating outside of my house makes me feel so uneasy and I’ve been a Celiac for over 10 years now.  If you’re new to this gluten-free world of eating and preparing your meals you may dread the contamination issue.  Explaining to others why you can’t eat at a restaurant with them, or why you can’t eat food they prepared in their “gluten kitchen”, can be really frustrating to say the least. Maybe you do give in and decide to try a restaurant that claims to have gluten-free items, but suddenly after your dining experience you scream in pain as you yell “help, I’ve been contaminated with gluten, again!”

If you are Celiac or involved with someone who is, you may know this all too well.  The dreaded after-eating waiting game where you both sit and wonder if the other will get sick from what they’ve just eaten. It can make going out to eat less than exciting and more work than fun.  It takes only 20-30 minutes for the gluten to begin to cause its problems, and even less time if you are “allergic” to wheat.  The symptoms may begin with a little stomach pain and increase over the next few hours and could last for up to 10 hours as the gluten works its way through your body.  To some people it may be a little cramping they can put up with and maybe you even risk being contaminated just to have a good time with your friends.  DO NOT DO THIS! I used to go out and eat places and just explain to the server that I had a gluten intolerance and thought that would be enough.  It was usually never enough and I would end up paying a hefty price in the end.  There are many places now claiming to have gluten-free menu items or items they bake in their bakery, but they are NOT certified gluten-free and the people handling your food are likely not educated on the proper procedures needed to make sure you don’t get contaminated.

When I worked in restaurants from the age of 16 to 27 I made sure I told everyone about my disease and I made sure I knew how to make a fellow celiac comfortable when they came in to eat where I worked.  But if I decided to go out, I was rarely greeted with the same comfort.  When I worked at Jack Astor’s a long time ago, I remember implementing a system for the kitchen there, where the cook would wash his hands, put clean gloves on and get a clean working space just to make a Celiac a wonderful salad, all because I made it known that it was important to take precautions.  It worked well while I was there and now I notice Jack Astor’s has an awareness of gluten-free menu items, but I can’t help but wonder if the procedures are as careful as they need to be?  As a Celiac we need to be on the lookout for ourselves because no one else is going to take your disease as serious as you will.

Here are my tips for successful eating out:

  1. Choose a restaurant with an “awareness” of gluten and celiac disease, not just a place with a few gluten-free item changes.
  2. Call ahead. Speak to a manager or chef and explain the severity of your condition and that you would like to dine there but need reassurance you won’t be “contaminated” with gluten.
  3. When you arrive make sure they know you are the one who called to say you were coming to eat there and you need to be completely gluten-free. Give them a card explaining your intolerance, order one from here.
  4. Make sure you have a server who knows what he/she is talking about. I have been places where they say they have “gluten-free spelt” which cannot exist because spelt is a gluten-grain!  Just because the chef may know what gluten is doens’t mean the server does.  So remind them.
  5. Ask to sit close to the kitchen so you can hear and see what is happening and if you feel uncomfortable with the possibility of contamination then LEAVE! It’s your right.
  6. Lastly, try to go out and enjoy having a meal made for you once in a while.  Until I open my true gluten-free restaurant where every Celiac will be welcomed and treated right, good luck to you all!

Please refer to my Restaurants section of this blog for info on where to eat in Toronto.

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One response »

  1. Cross-contamination is the bane of my existence when it comes to food allergies as well as Celiac disease. It’s great that you have the insight of someone who has worked at a restaurant and that you were able to share your knowledge with them. There needs to be more people like you! :)


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