Everyone loves to eat out. So nice to have someone cook for you, no dishes, right? Well, if you have celiac disease you must avoid even tiny amounts of gluten. So eating out is sadly a huge problem in this geographic area as there are very few restaurants that have a real gluten free menu. If we were in California, that’s another story; most every restaurant there has a gf menu and they know what they are doing. Here in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania it is not like that. Most of the times I get glutened I am eating in a restaurant, food that was allegedly prepared for me knowing I have celiac. And yet I get sick sometimes. Why is that I wonder?
I was glutened just recently and since this place has a gluten free menu I felt it shouldn’t have happened. I have eaten there several times safely in the past three years. Great food generally. I know the chef was in so it wasn’t like someone was subbing for him. I have asked and am told they have separate pots for gluten free pasta. I didn’t get desperately ill; call it medium sick so I know it’s not like they served me regular pasta. But there must have been some form of definite contamination. Bummer. The thing is, when restaurants go to the trouble of having a gf menu and serving great safe gluten free foods they are providing an important service. People with celiac celebrate birthdays, events, anniversaries, have dates or just get sick of eating at home. There are so few places one can eat dinner out; it would be a shame to no longer go to my once favorite restaurant. It took me six days to get over this moderate illness from my dinner out. Six days of tummy pain and not feeling myself. It is something I take seriously as the problem is not just the pain, it is the damage to my digestive system. It can cause cancer and a whole host of diseases when you get glutened again and again.
So, I want to go over a few basic facts to remind folks who say they serve gf food what that should be like. Maybe that place will read it and take some notes!
Pasta: If you have gf pasta on your menu you need a separate pot for boiling the pasta, separate strainer, separate colander and separate spoons. You can NOT use the same water for gf pasta that you were making regular pasta in. You can not use the same colander or strainer; tiny gummy bits of pasta stick in the holes and it is incredibly difficult to get them completely clean. You can’t use the same baking dishes to make gf baked goods like muffins or cake; the tiny crumbs that remain even after a good washing are a major source of contamination. Twenty parts per million, yes I said Million are considered contaminated food that a person with celiac disease cannot tolerate. We are not exaggerating, we really, really need you to be careful.
Spices and Herbs: You can’t use spice blends as they often have flour in them. But you can use single spices like cinnamon, paprika, ginger, etc. I find much gf menu choices to be incredibly bland and lacking in any spices or herbs. How drab. All fresh herbs are safe, so are typical dried ones like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, etc. Just skip the blends, or make your own, I do. All single McCormack spices are all safely gluten free. I have made gf homemade taco seasoning, garam masala and other blends. Garlic is safe and adds a lot of flavor. Sometimes I am served a bone plain tomato sauce with not a single kind of herb or garlic. That is just not appetizing. For anyone. Why should folks with celiac have to eat drab boring bland food? Shouldn’t!
Misc. Ingredients: You can’t use butter from a common stick or dish; the knife that dips there might have touched regular bread. Not safe for anyone with celiac. You can’t use the same mayo or mustard jar for the same reason.
Meats and more : Avoid meats that are sold in a marinade solution. Ditto for poultry like whole turkeys or chickens. Unless the label says gf don’t get any meat in a marinade as they are more often than not unsafe for someone with celiac.
Misc. Stuff: No regular bread crumbs; they sell gf ones, get some or grind up dry gf bread. The canned broth stores sell is a contamination issue; wheat is in them for some darn reason. But, there are safe brands; find one and stick to it. Or make your own which is far cheaper and there is no real reason for wheat flour in broth.
Okay, Restaurant Chefs: now that I have covered the basics; you know what you need to do. Just stick to these simple rules for cooking your gluten free menu items. And do it every single day you are open. So I don’t get sick again. Plus, you will be rewarded with repeat gluten free customers who tell all their gf friends to come to your place for a safe gluten free meal. I know I share great eating places with others on social media and so do others. Just please make it actually safe if you say it is gluten free on your menu.
I feel like sending a copy of this post to every restaurant within 40 miles of Hellertown. Maybe I will!