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How to eat out safely when gluten free

This week is Coeliac Awareness Week in Australia! It's time to spread the word about being medically required to be gluten free. The theme this year is eating out at cafes/restaurants. Finding safe restaurants can be a difficult process. It usually requires research (website, menu, recommended by other gluten free individuals), phone calls, and asking many questions. Here are my tips for finding hidden sources of gluten in cafes/restaurants.

My tips when ordering Drinks:

  • When ordering, ask to read the ingredients list for specialty tea bags, flavoured milks, syrups, and chocolate topping if ordering a cappuccino
  • If ordering a drink which uses shared equipment. Ask the chef/waiter to take you through the process of making your drink to minimise contamination where possible (e.g., washing shared equipment if no dedicated gluten free drink container is available)

Drinks with potential gluten:

  • Tea bags
  • Flavoured milks (including soy)
  • Chocolate topping on cappuccinos
  • Syrups used in milkshakes and hot/iced chocolates/coffees
  • Using the same drink containers to heat up/mix drinks (different types of milk for coffees, milkshakes, juices etc.)

My tips when ordering Food:

  • Inform the waiter you have Coeliac disease, gluten intolerance and/or a wheat or gluten allergy. Stress the severity of your condition (this is very important!)
  • Ask to speak with the chef about which are the safest meals for your condition (e.g., ingredients, shared equipment risk, cooking process)
  • Ask to check the ingredients list for any items you have concern over (e.g., flours, grains, nuts, herbs and spices)
  • If you decide to order a high risk meal, confirm your order with the chef/waiter when ordering the meal and when it arrives at your table
  • When it doubt, it is best to choose the safest option (salads with no dressing, meat/fish with vegetables), order only a drink, and change to a restaurant you feel confident in
  • If the restaurant only has one grill where everything is cooked, ask if all the items cooked on it are gluten free, if not ask to have your meat and vegetables cooked in their own clean pan
  • If the restaurant only has one deep fryer where everything is cooked, ask if all the items cooked in it are gluten free, if not change your order or ask for your chips to be cooked in the oven on a clean tray
  • If the restaurant only uses one pot of boiling water when cooking, ask if all the items cooked in it are gluten free, if not ask if they will put on an extra pot for you and stress that you don't mind waiting the additional time for your meal
  • The majority of restaurants will only have one pizza oven used for everything. If this is the case, ask them to prepare your pizza on a tray or to cook it in the oven to minimise the gluten free base being contaminated
  • Ask the chef to use fresh chopping boards, knives etc. when preparing your meal
  • For any meal prepared using a buffet, make sure the staff member changes gloves/tongs/knives, and then ask for fresh items straight from the kitchen or for them to use fresh containers of toppings. For example, at an ice-cream parlour crumbs from the waffle cones can land on the ice-cream or be mixed into the ice-cream due to using the same scoop for multiple flavours and touching the cone when placing the ice-cream. Same for burgers/sandwiches/pizzas (salad ingredients and buns)
  • If buying an item from a food cabinet (e.g., cakes or sandwiches in cafes), only order something if the gluten free items are on top shelves (above ALL gluten items), and fresh tongs/knives are used to serve the food
  • If a sauce, soup or stock has gluten it in, ask the chef to prepare your sauce or soup without the flour to thicken it or ask the chef to substitute in alternative gluten free flours such as corn

Food with potential gluten:

  • Shared grill, deep fryer, pizza oven, or pot of boiling water
  • Shared buffets (shared spoons/tongs/knives used to serve multiple items)
  • Shared food cabinets (gluten crumbs can land on gluten free items below, or shared tongs/knives)
  • Same preparation area (shared chopping boards, knives)
  • Check sauces, soups and stocks in your meal (may contain flour as a thickener or unsafe soy sauce)
  • Check salt and pepper labels at table
  • Check garnishes (e.g., baked goods)
  • Understand your risk if you order high risk items (pizza bases, pastas, sandwiches, crumbed items, cakes)

Please comment below any tips you have for being gluten free and eating out.

Happy eating!

Image credit: Kaboompics

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