There are many restaurants now that adverstise gluten free pizza or gluten free menus but you cannot assume that these places can provide you a safe gluten free meal. Unfortunately, we have to ask ourselves Are they really educated on celiac disease? or Do they really know where gluten can hide? and also Are they making sure that my food is not going be cross contaminated?
So many worries go through your mind before you choose a place and when you are there as well.
Here are some tips that can help make your decision less stressful:
Just because a restaurant has a gluten free menu doesn’t mean that it will be safe for you to eat and also, just because a restaurant doesn’t have a gluten free menu doesn’t mean that it won’t be safe.
- Call the restaurant and ask: 1. Do you cater to gluten free?
2. What are my choices for eating a gluten free meal there?
3. What steps do you take to make sure that my meal will be safe to eat and that there is no cross contamination?
4. Do I need to call ahead?
5. Is my food going to be made on a flat top? (if they say yes, then ask if they can make it in a separate clean pan since flat tops are not safe)
6. Can I get your name? (write her/his name down and bring it with you)
If the person on the phone didn’t seem sure of herself when answering then ask for a manager/chef and then ask all of the above questions. If he doesn’t make you feel like he knows what he’s talking about then you know that this restaurant you can cross off your list of safe places to eat. Please remember that your waiter should know the importance of cross contamination because waiters are the ones that prepare salads, drinks, dressings etc.. Depending on the restaurant waiters prepare some of your foods back in the kitchen and are more involved than you think. I know because I am in the pizzeria/restaurant business.
Once you decide which place passes the phone interview test and you get there for dinner/lunch, here is what I recommend you do:
- Give the waiter your celiac card(even if you don’t have celiac you should use this card) you can go to: http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/ and print it out.
- Tell the waiter you spoke to _____ and assured you that you can have a safe gluten free meal here. Let him or her know that you/child are very allergic to gluten.(Even though my child doesn’t get symptoms I still tell them that)
- If you don’t feel as though he knows anything about it than ask to speak to the manager/chef.
- Ask if they can prepare your meal in a separate pan(if they have a flat top)
- Ask if they make their own chicken stock, barbeque sauce, mole sauce, etc. if so, then ask if it has gluten it it. If they don’t make it themselves then have the food made without these ingredients. Rice in a restaurant is sometimes made with stock/broth or with just water… make sure you ask.
Please remember that pizzerias that adverstise gluten free pizza most likely will not be safe unless you ask the following before going there:
1. How do you make sure that your gf pizza is safe from cross contamination?
2. Is it placed in the oven in it’s own designated pan?
3. Is the sauce and cheese that you use for the gf pizza the same as the one you use for the other pizzas? if it is, then it’s not safe! They should be using a designated sauce and cheese for only gf pizzas.
Since I am in the business, I know not to let my daughter not even eat the salad or dressing from pizzerias… there’s no guarantee that they clean the knives properly in between cutting, bread and salad etc. Their house dressing are put into squeeze bottles sometimes and they put their fingers on the tip of it to shake it. You are better off using olive oil and red wine vinegar or bring your own dressing. The pre-cut salad is handled by their hands that may have touched bread etc. before placing it on your plate.
If the pizzeria passes the test when you ask the above questions, then relax and enjoy your safe gf pizza.
If the person on the phone is pleasant and really sounds like they know what they are talking about, most likely you can be reassured that it will be safe. Be friendly and communicate that it is very important for you to feel safe eating there. And remember, just because it says they provide gluten free meals doesn’t mean they are safe for us. Unfortunately, until a truly gf restaurant opens up, you are really very limited on what you can order when you go out to eat. High end restuarants sometimes are more knowledgeable when it comes to celiac disease but you still should call ahead and ask the above questions just to make sure.
One last thing… When a restaurant is busy during lunch and dinner hours, I don’t recommend going because there’s more of a chance of them making a mistake with your food. So the best times to go are when it’s slow such as: lunch (11am) this is the time that they usually would open and they are preparing for the lunch rush, you’ll get more undivided attention from your server and chef …and dinner (3-5pm) Some restaurants that cater to just dinner usually open at 4pm for dinner and the ones that have been open are preparing for the dinner rush and will be able to give you their undivided attention.
Hope this information is helpful to you and makes you feel more confident when deciding where to eat.