If you're gluten-free like me, you probably don't dine out multiple times a week. I have celiac disease which means I'm very sensitive to gluten and I don't take cross contamination lightly. Oh a restaurant offers something that is "gluten-friendly"? Yea, no thanks...bye. I always try my best to make sure that every meal that I order is as safe as possible no matter where I go. I've been gluten-free for over 8 years and yes, dining out is still extremely hard. If you still want to go out and have a social life (with food), then you should definitely be aware of what to watch out for when it comes to cross contamination. Here are the 3 most common places for cross contamination in a restaurant from my own personal experience. (Obviously that doesn't mean all of these items are off limits...just be aware)
More often than not, anything that you think would be naturally gluten-free before frying will not be gluten-free due to the restaurant's fryer. Most restaurants fry all of the same foods in the same fryer which means breaded chicken wings, breaded fish, or anything else will be fried in the same oil as the "gluten-free" fries that you'd order. Always ask the staff if the kitchen has a dedicated fryer for french fries. If not, steer clear my friend.
Some restaurants toast hamburger buns or place other foods on the stove that contain gluten. Even if you're ordering a steak or something that you think would be safe, still mention that you have celiac disease and ask them if they cook buns or anything else on the same surface as what you order. If so, kindly ask them to clean the grill surface before your order. Yes, you may feel like a hassle but they will understand if you mention that it is for a "food allergy".
Now this one varies per restaurant but it's important to know. Most restaurants have a "salad station" in the kitchen where the staff make all of the salads on their menu. This station includes bins of lettuce, vegetables, dressings, and yes...even croutons. It can be easy for a waiter to accidentally get crumbs of croutons into various salad ingredient bins if not careful. Again, not all restaurants are like this. However, even if you're ordering a salad, please make sure to tell the waiter about the severity of your intolerance / celiac disease. You want to try your best to ensure that no croutons or anything else end up in your salad which should be safe in the first place.
Ordering "gluten-free pizza" from a restaurant should always be taken with caution unless they have a dedicated oven. Most restaurants use the same oven and surface to bake their pizzas so beware!
Also, fast-casual joints like Chipotle can be risky due to the lines not being cleaned. It's best to go during the times of the day that are not busy. On top of that, always mention from the start that you are gluten-free due to an "allergy" and ask the staff to change their gloves and the ingredients that you will be getting for your dish. As Sweet Brown once said...
I know you're probably thinking, "what will I even eat at a restaurant now?" The truth is there is always a risk for cross contamination at a restaurant no matter where you go. It's one thing that has remained difficult over the course of my gluten-free life and yes, it does really suck. With that being said, I've always found that there is one thing that keeps me safe more often than not; knowlegde.
You can only save yourself from getting glutened if you know what is best to avoid. Does that mean you should avoid eating at restaurants altogether? Of course not. However, you should always speak up for yourself no matter what you order or how safe you think it is. If you speak up and still wind up getting sick then hey, at least it's not on you. You did everything you could to ensure your order was safe so just try another restaurant and go again next time. That's all we can do in this gluten-free life so stay educated, keep advocating, and try your best to stay gluten-free out there.
For some help on what to do when a restaurant messes up your food allergy order, check out my latest post!