Angela Wetzel
Free Press Health Columnist

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March 24, 2014
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Health Column: Are restaurants with gluten-free menus really gluten free?

A lot of restaurants are coming out with gluten-free menus, which makes the gluten-free community very happy. But are the restaurants themselves gluten free?

It seems like there shouldn’t be a difference between the two, but there are, which ultimately goes back to the issue of cross contamination. Let me explain.

I spoke to someone a couple weeks ago who had been diagnosed with celiac disease last year and who had been diligent about eating gluten free, including the household going completely gluten free to avoid the cross contamination issue. Lately, this person had been getting sick after eating out and there were a couple restaurants in particular that made them sick.

After talking a while, we figured out that even though the chicken breast at a restaurant was gluten free, it was cooked on a surface that had other items (not gluten free) cooked on them. The cross contamination was making them sick.

So what can be done to make people who request gluten-free menus aware of possible cross contamination?

First, listen. If someone asks for a gluten-free menu, make them aware of possible cross contamination. They may ask if you have a separate prep area, separate cooking utensils for gluten free, separate cookware, etc. If you do not, please be honest.

Second, explain any areas of possible cross contamination. If the chicken breast itself is gluten free, but the cooking area has had items that are not gluten free on them, just make sure and say that there may be cross contamination. We would rather hear that than to find out the hard way.

Third, please take us seriously. A lot of the population needs a gluten-free diet, even if it seems like the smallest thing.

For example, I had been on a restaurant’s email list for a long time and recently asked to be removed. When asked why I wanted to be removed, I asked if they had a gluten free menu. I got a reply which stated that they now had gluten-free bread with their breakfasts. When I asked if they had a separate toaster for the bread, I didn’t receive a response, which I took as a no.

Even the little things are big things when eating gluten free. If there are restaurants out there that would like me to come in and help educate the managers and staff on what it takes to have a gluten-free kitchen and prep area, please feel free to contact me, I’d love to help.

GJ Free Press health columnist Angela Wetzel has celiac disease and is president of Gluten Free Grand Valley, a support group for those with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Contact her at or visit Gluten Free Grand Valley on Facebook.

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