Can We Talk About Cross-Contamination?


gluten cross contaminationWell, hello there gluten haters. Today in GIMB we’re going to have a quick discussion about that time someone served you an English muffin with your scrambled eggs, and after you screamed like a little girl, took it off and handed you that plate of eggs to eat as if no poison had come anywhere near them. We’re also going to talk about those five million times we’ve gone into a restaurant that made an amazing gluten-free dish even though they were not a 100% gluten-free kitchen, and there was peace in the valley.

Because the fact is, as celiacs (and gluten intolerants), sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. I know that we all get that, but what I think is fascinating is how differently we define winning vs. losing.

Me? I’m a “glass is halfway gluten-free” kind of gal so I believe I’m winning most of the time. Which is why I was super surprised at what happened when I took my girl out to lunch at PizzaRev and found this sign posted at the front of the line -

gluten cross contaminationHaving had a good gluten-free experience at the Rev before I wondered if I hadn’t just been lucky and now was prepared to leave if necessary. After all, I need to be gluten-free. Like, seriously. Like, I don’t want to poop my pants in front of the children, need. Like, I’d prefer not to get cancer in my stomach, need. Also, when I first talked about my meal at PizzaRev I did hear from some of you that your experiences were not quite so stellar. “This,” I thought, “is what everyone on the Internet is talking about!”

So when I stepped up to order my gluten-free proscuitto and arugula ‘za, what happened next was a celiac dream. Not unlike before, I was asked if my gf request was a preference or allergy (I know, but using allergy is a-OK as long as you’re not talking to a physician). When I said “allergy” shit got real.

The guy handling my order stopped what he was doing and yelled “GLUTEN ALLERGY” and everyone stopped to look at where he was  on the line. He changed his gloves, and fetched my gluten-free crust and placed it atop a pizza pan (other pizzas are baked straight on the oven floor) and grabbed a container of marinara that squeezed out, thus avoiding the big vat where all the other pizzas got their sauce and mucked up the spoon and biz. A brand new ladle came out to smooth that sauce out and everyone on the line changed their gloves before coming near my pizza. One guy on the end was even caught up with something else and when he turned around and saw my “gluten allergy” pizza, jumped back to avoid touching it with his old glove hands. The dude making the pizzas yelled “gluten-free pizza going in” when he slid my pizza, still on its pan, into the wood burning oven, and everyone turned to take note and make sure their pizzas stayed away.

So what kind of cross-contamination (or cross contact, as I know some of you prefer) could have POSSIBLY occurred? There was no room for error, and no way gluten got up in my pizza. Flour in the air? OK maybe. But that means I’d better not walk into any restaurant, ever, from now on.

And I know that some of you do just avoid going out at this point, because the risk is too great. Honestly, the risk to all of us is too great given the seriousness of not only the long-term problems, the short-term kick in the ass that can lead to loss of wages, loss of relationships, and loss of general good times. It’s serious. Yet.

I want to go out, and I NEED to go out. I can’t stay in my gluten-free kitchen 24/7 and I can’t enjoy going out if I’m going to have a panic attack every time I walk into a restaurant. So, yes, cross-contamination is real but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’m not willing to take a bite of gluten and live with the consequences, but I am willing to put my trust in an establishment that says and does the right things to keep me safe. Maybe that’s living dangerously, but hey, that’s all I can do.

But when I saw that sign at PizzaRev it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to my food safety and I should go home and make my own damn gluten-free pizza. After watching the hoops the Rev employees jumped through to make sure my pizza didn’t touch one damn morsel of gluten? Well, if I’m not OK with the attention to detail at that level, I’d better start growing my finger and toenails and living like the hermit I would quickly become.

Srsly.

How you do it?

20 Comments

Filed under Celiac Disease, Gluten Free Restaurants, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Can We Talk About Cross-Contamination?

  1. I love that they yelled “Gluten Allergy!” I actually have trouble eating at lots of completely GF establishments because of my other allergies. They tend to make lots of items that use their gluten free flour, which frequently has tapioca. So, when I eat out, I try to stick to places that have good policies in place to prevent cross contamination, but there’s always that slight risk.

    • emisformaker

      I have a similar situation with corn. So, just because something says it’s GF, I still have to check. May times, I just have them bring out the packaging (most GF things are bought in), because corn goes by so many different names, it’s just safer if I check. If I was in your shoes, though, with no tapioca… My current favourite pizza crust mix is tapioca based, and I’ve decided I cannot live without it. The situation would be dire.

  2. Marlena

    I like to eat out, and having an intolerance makes its interesting. I have come to know to be flat out honest with the server. Before I order I tell them “I am allergic to gluten and bread.” In places where there is a GF policy & practice in place, they will jump through hoops just as described in your blog. If I get a blank look from the server I know I might be in trouble. LOL – I have been places where I ordered the gluten free and they serve non-gf sides or croutons on the salad. I will send it back and then I take one of my Gluten-ease pills and hope for the best with the rest of the food. It is up to us to educate restaurants the affects of gluten allergy & intolerance (even if it means you are stuck at their restaurant longer than expected because they think it is not a real medical condition).

  3. Great article! I think eating out is always a risk, no matter where you go. Sure, there is less risk in some than other places, but there is still the chance for a mistake that’ll bite you in the butt later. Sometimes in life, though, I think you have to take a chance in order to enjoy life to the fullest. And, for me, eating food that I haven’t cooked is a big part of that! :)

  4. I think it’s interesting, but not surprising, that using the word “allergy” prompted such caution. My son has an allergy to a few foods, wheat among them, so we only dine at a select number of restaurants. The best is one where the food is prepared in front of the customers, a European open-kitchen model with cooking stations (It’s called Richtree and it’s in Canada.) We always order him steak and a baked potato, and ask the chef to use new tongs/clean a spot on the grill in case of hamburger bun contamination. The best part is we can stand there and watch if we like.

    When I see signs like the one at PizzaRev I always think, ok, they have to cover their legal asses. As your experience has shown, the chefs are fully capable of accommodating these types of needs.

  5. Not to hate excessively on the Rev — but I’ve never not come out without a painful night of no sleep, and here is my theory:

    New gloves? Check
    Different bottle of sauce? Check
    New utensil to spread that sauce? Check
    BUT FROM CHEESE ONWARD THEIR GRUBBY LITTLE WHEAT HANDS HAVE BEEN PULLING THE SAME FOOD BUCKETS.

    Until they have a little cheese/meat/veggie section that is only for the gluten free, cross-contamination is happening, even though the bells and whistles and dramatic show of caution is impressive and I don’t want to discourage it. But someone with wheat-gloves is pulling cheese from the same cheese pile as the person with fresh gloves. It’s still just reducing, not preventing.

    Still, I’ll never forgive some teen employee for telling me their sausage was gluten free causing me to double ends vomit in the Vons parking lot instead of go to a $100 ticket concert.

    • Oh, right. I remember your vomitous situation with the sausage. UGH.

      I guess my thought was with new gloves, the chances of cc would still be infinitesimal. Say they put cheese on a gluten pizza, it’s not like they’re taking their gloved hand and rubbing it all over the pizza crust. Same with the pepperoni, or mushrooms, or whatevs. (Although they did bring my proscuitto and arugula from a new container and placed it in little plastic containers touching nothing else, so that was obvs safe.) The contact with pizza/cheese leftover would be small. They use a ladle to put the sauce on and a wooden paddle to transfer the pizza into the oven. Sure, there’s a small chance of brushing an old glove up against the dough, then using that same glove to get the cheese, but then they change gloves and the chances are so, so, so small.

      Still, if I were you, nope. I’d never go back. Gluten me once, shame on you…

      • Beth

        I just discovered your book on Saturday and love it! You are the first person I have heard speak the facts and be brave enough to even speak of puking or of crapping pants! Unfortunately just reading your book caused me to have my first issue with poopy pants in months, so thanks for that! (Or it could have been the fried potatoes at brunch.) I still think I am about to be a huge promoter of you at book group tonight where we will have our gluten free,dairy free and vegetarian meal. Thank you April!

      • Thanks Beth! And SO sorry about the pooping.

    • Casey, I’ve never been to the Rev. But, that’s exactly why I don’t eat at Chipotle or similar-style restaurants. Although, I have heard of wonderful stories of staff going to the back and grabbing fresh lettuce, toppings, etc. so it doesn’t come out of the bucket.

  6. It does look like they are trying. As for the sign, I can tell you, as someone who works in a related field, that sign is required by their attorneys to limit liability in the event of a suit. That’s the beginning and end of it.

  7. This is amazing. I want one near me! I used to eat pizza that was cooked in the same area and regular pizza…but then I got sick. So I won’t be doing that again unless I know they do this!!

  8. I love this post for a bunch of reasons. First, your description of the dramatic and awesome G Allergy! announcement, hilarious and fantastic. But also this post is so timely for me and my family because seeing more and more of those disclaimer signs and it’s confusing to us. I think you have to see how each place deals with GF and use your best judgement. Btw that pizza looks awesome!
    -Dana

  9. Bunni B.

    The new America’s Test Kitchen gf cookbook has an amazing GF pizza crust recipe. It’s labor intensive, but it’s worth it, IMHO. It’s par baked, so any extra crusts are freezable for later use. It tastes like a chewy, whole wheat crust. Absolutely the best gf crust I’ve ever had, homemade, frozen commercial or restaurant! If you’re in the mood to bake, I highly recommend it! And April, I love your site!!

  10. Christy

    I 100% agree with your attitude toward eating out. Like so many things in life, when eating out with Celiac you weigh the risks and commit to a decision. Loved the article; your writing is clever and spot on.

  11. I love your story about how the kitchen handled your gluten-free pizza! These days, I only go to places that I know are good about cross-contamination— and when I find places I like, I keep going back, and let the waitstaff know why.

  12. Cory

    Ok my comment was eaten :D
    I refuse to let this shitty (ha!) disease run my life, so I eat out. A lot. I have been glutened a few times but for the most part no issues. Most times its my own fault, like this past week at Disney…. I ate fries. Really??? Really?? What is wrong with me?
    I try to be as careful as I can, many places are very willing to be accommodating and I hope that I can help educate those places that are not up on celiac/gluten sensitivity.
    Chipotle is SO wonderful about changes gloves, wiping surfaces etc but I get sick every time I eat there. Not sure why that place is so harmful to me :D
    I love this article, you always make me laugh!

  13. Pingback: Gluten free blogs (USA edition) - Dietitian without Borders

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