Eating out with Celiac Disease – Why you should always ask questions

Celiac Disease, Health March 4, 2015
Eating out with Celiac Disease - Why you should always ask questions

I have celiac disease. That means I have to ask a bunch of annoying questions every time I go out to eat to make sure my meal is prepared safely. One small crumb of gluten can knock me out for a month.

I’ve been gluten-free for almost four years now. I know what restaurants around me are safe to frequent. I know which ones take gluten-free seriously.

It would be easy for me to stop asking the important questions when I eat out.

But I was reminded this week why a celiac should always always always ask the important questions. No matter how many times you have eaten at your favorite restaurant, you never know when things could change.

I went with my family to a local restaurant for Taco Tuesday. I love this place because they have clearly labeled menus, their chips are made in a dedicated fryer, and I can eat almost anything I want.

I almost felt silly to ask about the chips since I have asked so many times before. But I went ahead anyways.

“Your chips are made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer, right? I just always check to make sure.”

The waitress looked at me and said this: “We used to, but now we make churros in all the fryers. There is no way to tell if your chips have been in contact with gluten, but it shouldn’t matter unless you are very sensitive.”

I am very sensitive.

(As is anyone with celiac disease, whatever your symptoms may be.)

I asked her how long it has been this way, since I have eaten at this restaurant plenty of times before. She said the change was made sometime back in October, and I realized the last time I had been there was in October.

Phew.

But also, ugh.

This is the second restaurant where I have had this problem. Another Mexican place that I have raved about and recommended as a safe gluten-free restaurant started throwing churros in their dedicated fryer. When I asked, they said some days they may only make one or two churros.

And for those one or two churros they make, people like me are no longer able to eat their chips or fries.

There are two frustrating things about this:

1. This would be an easy problem to fix. Simply add a small fryer that is dedicated to frying churros, and keep the chips and fries separate.

2. Neither of these restaurants announced this change on their menu. The only reason I didn’t get sick is because I asked.

Even after eating there multiple times, and as foolish as I felt to keep bringing it up, I am so glad I asked.

I have spoken with one of the managers and plan to follow up with both restaurants. I know this wasn’t a deliberate attack on gluten-free patrons, just a misunderstanding and lack of education.

Hopefully we can fix this and keep people like you and me safe in the future.

So if you are eating out with celiac disease, please ask the important questions.

Always.

Flickr Photo by Timothy Brown

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  • Rebecca P. March 5, 2015 at 5:49 am

    I always love what you have to say on these topics! We all need to take the utmost care and concern ALWAYS with our Celiac. I’ve been GF for nearly 5 1/2 years now. Most days I don’t think twice about it, but I always need to stay on top of it no matter what or where I am!

  • sharon March 5, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Thanks for the reminder to always ask. I was diagnosed 6 years ago. It annoys me when restaurants choose to deep fry their nachos, otherwise they would be gf. I used to get the worst stomach aches after eating restaurant nachos pre-diagnosis. My daughter makes the best nachos at home anyway!

  • Gluten Dude March 5, 2015 at 8:45 am

    A great lesson on why we can’t let our guard down even once. What a PITA disease. Glad you didn’t get hit.

  • Kate Love March 5, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Great reminder and great that you asked! The last time I went to my favorite local restaurant I ordered off the gluten free menu, then ordered polenta fries – discussing with my server I get those because they are gluten free.

    I forgot to ask her to remind the kitchen to pan fry them and, yep, on my birthday no less, I got glutenated.

  • Vee March 5, 2015 at 10:57 am

    I have multiple food allergies so the asking becomes tedious. But it’s also frustrating and enlightening. While some restaurants have moved away from using soybean oil (thank you, Chipotle), others that used olive oil are moving to an olive oil blend that contains soybean oil (I’m looking at you, Pita Jungle) so I am constantly having to change my list of where I can or cannot eat. I pity the poor fool that is at a restaurant with me when I find out I can no longer eat there.

  • Terry J. Wood March 5, 2015 at 11:09 am

    “…but it shouldn’t matter unless you are very sensitive”, the waitstaff said.

    I think the truth of the matter is that everyone with gluten sensitivty is “very sensitive”. You’re only kidding yourself if you think you can have a little gluten. You end up paying for it in the end.

    I used to think I was OK with picking the croutons off a salad. I quickly discovered that it made me sick. I learned my lesson. I send the salad back if they forget and put croutons on it now.

    The only way to be safe is to not be exposed to any gluten at all.

    But getting back to the main topic of your article…You’re smart to ask every time. It’s a good strategy. Thanks for writing this!

  • DanielEGoldstein March 6, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Absolutely need to ask every time.

    I have a 6 year old daughter with celiac (diagnosed when she was 3.5). We are a 100% gluten free household and are VERY careful when eating out, preferring, when we can, to eat only at 100% GF restaurants. This is a question for you Alysa (and anyone else of course): our concern with Mexican food, which we love, is that the masa harina used for tortillas (or corn meal used in other Latin dishes such as arepas) is susceptible to cross contamination. Most restaurants don’t used certified masa harina or certified cornmeal. Plus most Mexcian restaurant kitchen workers are handling both wheat and corn tortillas. Are these not a concern for you, besides the non-dedicated fryer concern?

    By the way, the “how sensitive is she” question is one that really bothers me, because as you say, at least for people with celiac, this question makes no sense. Also, no restaurant would ever ask a person with peanut allergy “how sensitive are you.”

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  • Ana Paula Rodrigues March 11, 2015 at 5:47 am

    Great topic!! Sometimes we are so comfortable and safe that is easy to fail and stop to ask! I have multiple intolerance and allergies and it’s so hard to go out for eating and maybe I’m not asking enough at places I use to go!! I really love your blog! I’d love to translate your text (pt-br) and share at my page.

    • InspiredRD March 22, 2015 at 3:17 pm

      Thank you, Ana!