Eating out

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: If I don't feel sick after eating out, can I feel good about going to the place again or telling other people it's okay? Do I have to keep checking that things are gluten free each time I go?

Answer


Part of having celiac disease is that we have to check everything we ingest, and that includes eating away from home and every time we go to a restaurant. We have to notify restaurant staff of our gluten free (GF) need each time we go and confirm about ingredients used and prep methods.

When kitchen staff is notified of celiac disease/GF requirement, the order is usually handled differently in the kitchen than if you would just order without letting them know. Just because we ate there once and it seemed safe does not mean things will not change.

In addition, be careful with recommendations from others - only because your friend who has celiac disease ate at a specific restaurant and they said it was fine does not remove the need to check that the restaurant indeed can provide safe GF meals.

It can seem cumbersome at times, but it is important. In a study of 105 patients with celiac disease 29% of gluten exposure was attributed to problems ordering at restaurants.1 There is always going to be a risk of getting exposed to gluten when eating away from home. However, with a bit of research and extra communication it is possible to enjoy a safe GF meal at a restaurant.

Here are some general tips for safely eating out at restaurants:

Research:

  • Look up restaurants and menus online, check out our restaurant finder.
  • Use an app such as Find Me Gluten-Free to find restaurants near you and read reviews.
  • Call the restaurant and ask about GF options and preparation methods– off hours are best as staff may not have time to talk on a busy night.

At the restaurant:

  • Alert the manager and all staff about your GF requirement, tell them it is a serious health issue - not a lifestyle choice!
  • Ask for a GF menu if available.
  • Use our restaurant card that explains the GF diet.

General food preparation guidelines:

  • Wash hands and change gloves
  • Separate preparation and cooking station
  • Separate/dedicated equipment, fryer, utensils, and tools
  • Clean grill before cooking
  • Place items on aluminum foil when toasting
  • Do not steam, bathe or warm vegetables over pasta water

Ask about all foods and ingredients used. The dishes below almost always contain gluten:

  • Sauces and thickeners
  • Broths and soups
  • Soy sauce
  • Spice mixes and flour dusting
  • Salad croutons and dressings
  • Breaded or battered foods
  • Fried foods (fried in non-dedicated fryolator)
  • Bread served on top or side of food
  • Vegetables cooked in pasta water2

Check out our handy Restaurant Guidelines that you can print out and bring with you.

Finally, when you receive your order always confirm with the server or manager that the meal is GF. I have had mishaps happen between ordering and prep before, so it is definitely worth confirming once you receive it. Although, all of these steps may seem daunting at first, they will soon become second nature to you and you will be able to enjoy eating at restaurants.

Check out this post on how to eat pizza safely at restaurants.

References:

  1. Silvester JA, Graff LA, Rigaux L, Walker JR, Duerksen DR. Symptomatic suspected gluten exposure is common among patients with coeliac disease on a gluten-free diet. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016;44(6):612-619. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27443825 . Accessed January 4, 2020.
  2. National Celiac Association. Gluten-Free, Off to A Fresh Start. Presentation. Updated May 4, 2018.

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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