This is one of the hardest things about having coeliac disease - you want to go out, but can you really trust a stranger to keep you and your food safe from our mortal enemy gluten?
To give yourself the best chance of safely enjoying a meal out of home, consider my five-step process below:
1. BEFORE going, research: Call them up and ask if they have coeliac friendly options. That’ll give you a very quick idea of whether it’s worth a visit. If they stutter over coeliac disease, ask what it means, sound vague – give it a miss. Your health isn’t worth risking, plus there’s plenty of places that do get it.
2. SAY COELIAC, not just gluten free: Going ‘gluten free’ is one of the biggest health trends at the moment, so naturally, the number of eateries with ‘gluten free options’ has skyrocketed. Make it clear you have coeliac disease or a severe gluten intolerance so waitstaff/chefs understand the severity. Ask if they have ‘coeliac-safe options’ not just ‘gluten-free’ options – do this process again in person even if you’ve already done it on the phone.
Gluten free on the menu is a good start, but don't just trust it - ask the five!
3. ASK about cross contamination – Trust me, I get not wanting to make a fuss. You’re out with friends, and we all know that one person that rolls their eyes when you launch into your ‘even a little bit makes me sick’ routine. But every ‘glutening’ episode damages your organs and increases your risk of associated conditions – ignore the friend and ask the questions. I usually BYO toaster bags with me everywhere (pic below) which acts as a nice ice-breaker (“Oh even crumbs make you sick? Well we use a shared butter” – You – “Yes, no butter please”). Think about separate prep areas, can staff change gloves, is there a separate fryer for items marked gluten free so they’re not contaminated … If they aren’t willing to accommodate, find something else.
These are the toaster bags - I bought mine from Reject shop!
4. Be drinkwise – Gone through the whole spiel with your meal but still gotten sick? You didn’t by chance order a hot chocolate, did you? Drinks, too, can contain gluten. Typical culprits are milkshake flavourings, hot chocolate powders, some soy milks and I’ve even seen herbal teas containing it (god knows why?!) Ask the question, walk up to the counter/coffee machine and check the label, and if in doubt, go for water (it’s the healthiest option anyway 😉)
5. Exercise judgment – In our litigious world, every vendor/waitress/manufacturer wants to protect their butts. As such, the end of your conversation will typically be them saying something along the lines of “we use gluten containing products/ingredients in the same space so we can’t guarantee it’s gluten free” which, of course, is a risk you always take when dining out, unless you’re at an entirely gluten free eatery (for a list of these worldwide, check out the ‘Info section’ on my site!). This is where, after you’ve undertaken the first four steps, you need to exercise your own judgement. Are you happy with their responses to your prior questions? Do you think they understand your needs and respect you enough to accommodate? If not, don’t risk it. Yes – it sucks, but so does being on the toilet for hours. It’s for this reason, I always carry GF snacks in case.
Need more help? Get in touch via the contact page - I'll do my best to assist you.