Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus

Ten days ago I posted a photo on Instagram of an awesome gluten-free pizza using Udi’s Gluten-Free crust that I enjoyed at Flatiron’s American Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t eaten at this restaurant for over six months because all I could ever order was salad. You all know what that’s like.

Some Restaurants Shouldn't Have Gluten-Free Menus

So imagine my surprise when I learned Flatiron’s now had a huge gluten-free menu that could also accommodate my dairy and soy and corn allergies. We’d just picked the College Celiac up from the airport and I was thrilled we went to Flatiron’s because he could eat safely. I even tweeted my appreciation. The restaurant is locally owned and I like to support neighborhood businesses.

Last night I was craving that pizza. So my husband and I went to Flatiron’s and I ordered the exact pizza I ordered ten days earlier: Veggie pizza but substitute the poblano peppers and garlic for pepperoni. I clearly stated that I was celiac and needed the pizza to be as clean as possible.

The pizza arrives with cheese, which was entirely my fault. I sometimes forget pizza typically comes with cheese! I send the pizza back and the next one arrives with no cheese and no pepperoni. Overcooked, barely any sauce, it tastes awful. And I know that Udi’s Gluten-Free pizza crust tastes good when cooked correctly.

I whip out my camera and show the ten-day-old Instagram pizza photo to the manager who says matter-of-factly, “That doesn’t look like our gluten-free crust, it looks like our regular crust.”

Here’s a photo of the one I got last night. The only difference I see is this one is overcooked and lacking sauce and pepperoni.

Bad Gluten-Free Pizza at Flatiron's

I turn to my husband. “So I guess I can eat gluten now.” I was being sarcastic. It was late and I was hungry.

The manager says, “Maybe you’re not allergic anymore, I’ve heard that can happen.”

I just stared at my husband with my mouth wide open. Here is a manager of a restaurant with a huge gluten-free menu–they even advertise 20 percent off gluten-free items on Thursdays–who clearly has no understanding of celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

I should have said something like, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease with over 300 symptoms and it is not reversible. The only cure is to not eat gluten.” But at that point, I just wanted to go home and get in my jammies and heat up a can of soup.  We left cash to cover our wines and bolted out the door.

Of course, as soon as I got home I tweeted about my bad experience.

People jumped to my defense and were appalled by the manager’s ignorance.  I just love my Twitter friends.

So here is what I woke up this morning thinking: If a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, every single employee must be educated and trained. They must understand what celiac disease and food allergies are, and why preventing cross-contamination is so important. They must understand that one wrong ingredient can be life-threatening. They must take their customers’ health concerns seriously.

Otherwise, don’t even bother offering a gluten-free or allergy-friendly menu.

I’d rather order that boring old salad than risk getting sick. I certainly don’t want my youngest son with celiac disease and my oldest with dairy and egg allergies to think they are ordering safely when they aren’t.

Ten days ago, I thought I’d re-discovered a restaurant I could eat in. Obviously I was wrong. Just because a restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu doesn’t mean you should eat there. I’m pretty sure this restaurant, like so many others, jumped on the gluten-free diet movement to make a profit. If they are serious about serving their celiac and allergic customers, they’ll immediately remove the gluten-free menu while they get proper training for the waitstaff and the chefs and the managers. This experience makes me question every restaurant’s reason for offering gluten-free choices–unless I see a certification from a third-party or talk to a manager who clearly “gets it,” I won’t feel safe dining out.

Here’s the other thing that bothers me about this whole experience. As a blogger and social media guru, I recommended this restaurant to my celiac and food-allergic brothers and sisters. Less than two weeks after doing so, I realized this is not a safe restaurant to eat in. So should I stop reviewing restaurants and posting food photos on Instagram? I’m still trying to figure this one out.

Oh, and by the way, I did get sick the next morning–even after eating one small piece of the pizza.

Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus appeared first on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Should Allergies and Intolerances be linked together?

Angry Dude Fires Back About Food Allergy/Intolerance Term

When I recently posted about what restaurants did wrong in 2013, folks in the allergy/celiac community flooded my inbox with their own horror stories.

Did I hear from anyone in the food industry? Nope. Not a peep.

However, Dine Aware, a company that trains and certifies restaurants in understanding and addressing special dietary needs, sent me their new video. Thrilled to see a company making a difference for those of us with food allergies, intolerances, celiac disease and other eating issues, I tweeted this last Saturday evening:

Within minutes I got an unexpected response from an angry dude in the UK.

Tell me that FAI doesn’t stand for Food Allergy Intolerance . . . not  to get on my high horse but shit like that is the reason people don’t take allergies seriously.

Huh? It took me a while to figure out what Angry Dude was so worked up about. (Words of wisdom: Do not debate on Twitter when you are cooking dinner and late for a hockey game.)

Apparently, Angry Dude doesn’t like Dine Aware’s use of the term FAI.

Referring to allergies and intolerances as one and the same makes me angry, which I assume fai stands 4 . . . I think making up dodgy acronyms for anything just sounds a bit twee/lame :-/  . . . what’s going to get a sterner message across to the food/service industry?   . . . “You can kill me” or “you might make me feel rough for 3 or 4 days”?

Yikes! According to Angry Dude, we have to tell restaurants we will die to get them to leave off the cheese or the breadcrumbs or the __________ (fill in your allergy or intolerance here).

Though Angry Dude said he has food intolerances himself, I got the impression he didn’t think intolerances were on an even playing field as life-threatening allergies. I’ve run into people like him before. And not to get on my high horse, but . . . even though my allergies and my kids’ intolerances won’t kill us, we deserve to eat in restaurants and in campus cafeterias without getting sick! My oldest son’s intolerance to dairy won’t kill him, but a reaction will make him horribly sick and he’ll probably miss a day of work. Eating a smidgen of soy will cause my esophagus to painfully constrict, making me feel like I’m choking. A couple croutons in a salad won’t kill my youngest son or me, but gluten will wreak havoc on our bodies and can cause serious consequences, possibly death, in the longterm.

I told Angry Dude as much.

He held his ground. The term FAI watered down the message to restaurants and would be sneered at, he claimed.

Giving myself a few days to calm down, I re-watched the video this morning. Three woman–a young professional whose social life is impacted because she can’t eat out, one who lost a daughter to anaphylaxis, another who feels anxious to eat in restaurants–speak eloquently and clearly. Those of us with dietary restrictions worry when we eat out; a Dine Aware “seal of approval” would give us the confidence to frequent restaurants. Good for the food industry, good for the consumer.

The acronym FAI doesn’t make the message less effective.  I hold my ground, Angry Dude.

Angry Dude Fires Back About Food Allergy/Intolerance Term originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Working Together to Avoid an Allergic Reaction

How do you feed a conference full of food allergic people?

One of the steps The South Point in Las Vegas took for the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference was listing the ingredients in the food served in the buffet line.

Food Labeling in Buffet

This labeling made eating easy–and safe!  But such attention to detail doesn’t always happen when those of us with food allergies eat in restaurants. In fact, studies have shown:

* 24 percent of restaurant staff believe consuming small amounts of allergens are safe;

* 25 percent believe a fryer destroys allergens; and

* 25 percent believe it is safe to remove an allergen, such as shell fish or nuts, from a finished meal.

Scary, isn’t it?

Dr. Lama Rimawi, founder of Tasterie, and Nona Narvaez, founder and executive director of Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota,  offered some terrific ideas for those of us wanting to eat out and for the folks making and serving our food.

For Restaurants

*  The most important statement you can make to a food allergic person is:  I don’t know.  It’s okay if you don’t know what’s in a product used in a dish, but it’s critical to be honest.

* Training your staff.  There are three different companies that certify food allergy training.  At least one person with food allergy training should be in the restaurant when food is being prepared and served.

* Listen to your customer!  Communication is essential.

For Consumers

* If you withhold information from restaurant staff regarding your dietary restrictions, the food establishment cannot accommodate your needs.  Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But many diners are too embarrassed to communicate their food allergies.

* A good restaurant is going to send the chef to your table.  If they don’t, ask to speak to the chef or the manager.

* If you or a loved one has a reaction, report it to the restaurant. If that initial call never gets made, there is no tracking of the allergic episode.

* The FDA Food Code is a model code that assists governmental agencies to develop their own food safety rules. The model code is produced every four years, the last one being in 2009, and takes into consideration the best of food science to keep the public safe.  To find out what your state’s regulations are, contact your state health department.