I have a hard time trusting non-gluten free restaurants, specifically pizza and sandwich places, that try and serve gluten free foods. The risk of cross-contamination is so great that the uncertainty drives me nuts. Not only is there an excessive amount of gluten ingredients floating around but also, I can’t watch the kitchen staff handle my order. Honestly, it feels like a sick form of gambling, a Celiac version of Russian roulette, if you will.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort that restaurants are making to provide food to GF customers, but I feel that they are targeting the gluten intolerant as opposed to Celiacs, which can be confusing and dangerous for consumers.
Despite my hesitations, I recently dined at a sandwich shop that offered gluten free bread. Luckily, the sandwiches at this establishment are assembled within view of the customers so I had the opportunity to watch how they handled making a gluten free sandwich amongst a sea of gluten sandwiches!
As a UC Berkeley Bear, it is much to my dismay that my fabulous experience at the sandwich shop happened at Stanford University’s CoHo Cafe. Here is what I observed:
First, when I ordered the sandwich, I told the cashier that my reaction to gluten is severe and that my sandwich “could not come into contact with any utensils or products that have been touching wheat.” Similarly to how I sometimes describe a Celiac as being “functionally allergic to gluten,” I did not use the phrase “cross-contamination” so as to avoid confusion over jargon.
You should always remind waitstaff and/or chefs at restaurants offering GF products about cross-contamination. Some places start offering GF products before they do the necessary research about safe kitchen practices.
After placing my order I watched as the person constructing the sandwiches read my order. She promptly removed her gloves and took a few knives and a cutting board to a sink to wash them with soap and water. Next, she put on a new pair of gloves and grabbed a package of Udi’s bread from a cabinet. Interestingly, these were the largest slices of Udi’s bread I have ever seen, they must have been special ordered.
The woman toasted the bread in a designated panini press. While they were toasting, she went into a back room and brought out a small assortment of condiments that had never been used on wheat products. She assembled the sandwich on the clean cutting board and cut it in half with the newly washed knife.
It was so great to watch such efficient and proper protocol! I think Subway could learn a lot from this tiny sandwich shop! Check out this youtube video of a gluten free customer at Subway checking for cross-contamination. I also think that college campuses should try to catch up with Stanford’s quality service (I am cringing while typing this). I had a meal plan at UC Berkeley for a year and the sandwich station in the dining hall was 100% off limits for me. Not only was there an unreliable supply of gluten free bread but the staff was simply unaware about cross-contamination and how to avoid it. You know someone has fantastic service when a Bear is willing to compliment the actions of anyone or anything even remotely related to Stanford, let alone a Cafe on their campus.
My sandwich was delicious. Since my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I have been craving a deli-made sandwich. I don’t know why, but there is something special about a sandwich made by a deli…for some reason my sandwiches at home simply aren’t the same.
It is important that restaurants offering GF meals are aware about cross contamination! Next time you dine out, try talking to your server or the chef about how the food is prepared. California Pizza Kitchen had trouble with cross contamination when they tried to offer a GF pizza crust. How did they figure out there was a problem? A pro-active Celiac spoke up. Now, CPK is working with GIG to develop safe kitchen protocol for their GF products.
Cross-contamination is a serious issue. You do not have to be an expert, you simply need to advocate for yourself, in order to help a restaurant improve their GF service.