Gluten free awareness is increasing across Australia, but education on cross contamination still has a long way to go. So how do you go about eating out?
Do you just eat at Coeliac Australia accredited businesses? There are more restaurants coming on board all the time. Accredited venues use the Coeliac Australia’s guidelines to operate at best practise. They review all procedures from ingredient ordering, through to staff training and meal delivery. They must pass rigorous audits and show “no detectable gluten” test results to keep their accreditation. They may have gluten containing ingredients on site and available for others to order, but their processes are designed to ensure no cross contamination. These businesses may be safer than your own kitchens.
If you would like to hear more about Coeliac Australia’s accreditation process, head to their website. https://www.coeliac.org.au/gf-accreditation/
Do you stick to businesses that are solely gluten free? It’s expensive and very time consuming to get Coeliac Australia Accreditation. Some specialised gluten free venues are considered to be just as safe. Their guaranteed gluten free premises and their need to retain a spotless reputation will mean you can rely on these places. They will most likely follow Coeliac Australia’s gluten free standard or something similar and be just as strict when purchasing ingredients. For more information on the foodservice standards visit https://www.coeliac.org.au/gf-standard/
For recommendations on these types of great places to eat in your area, search the myriad of coeliac groups on social media.
Do you eat at traditional restaurants? You may stick to a few tried and true places that offer a few meals or be adventurous and go all over town. And if so, how do you minimise your risks?
Many traditional restaurants are happy to work with customer needs, answering questions and providing safe food. Sometimes they will even have a special gluten free menu. The number 1 rule for restaurants like these is to ask questions. Question the restaurant when booking, when ordering and when receiving your food. Different people can come into contact with your order so all must be sure it is gluten free, right up to the time it is placed before you.
Before your actual visit you might want to research your venue online, in chat groups or over the phone with the restaurant. If ringing, choose a slow time when the staff has time to discuss your requirements properly. You don’t want to turn up to find there is nothing you can eat.
Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants often offer plenty of naturally gluten free items but you still need to remember to ask questions. Ask the chef, the manager or the wait staff; whoever seems the most knowledgeable. All staff must understand that you aren’t “allergic to wheat”, but as a coeliac, your food must not have any contact at all with barley, rye, oats and wheat.
Never assume a dish is gluten free because it is marked that way. Most of the time those gluten free chips are only gluten free before being cooked.
Common things to ask include:
What meals are easiest to convert to gluten free?
Are the chips fried in oil that has also been used to cook traditionally battered foods?
If pizzas are cooked in the same oven, do they touch the oven floor at any time? Is there flour flying through the air and are the other ingredients contaminated?
Are the pasta or noodles cooked in the same water as traditional products?
Is bread toasted on grills used for wheaten bread products?
Do you have systems in place to avoid cross contamination? This includes separate utensils, preparation areas, and cooking equipment.
Do any ingredients have “may contain statements for gluten, wheat, rye, oats or barley?
Does the salad have croutons or an unsuitable dressing?
Does the soup contain barley?
Does the soy sauce contain wheat?
Can you check the chocolate powder for gluten and can I have my coffee without the biscuit?
Is there contaminated icing sugar sprinkled on the cake?
There is a myriad of things to question, depending on what you wish to order.
Be the first or last person in your group to place an order; it is more likely to be remembered and for you to get correct answers from the kitchen. Simple dishes without sauces are usually the safest or can be adapted to be safe. Be prepared to also eat something that isn’t your first choice.
Be realistic with your expectations and remember that the wait staff you speak to are probably not professionally trained in food technology, but are just making ends meet. Before diagnosis most coeliacs also didn’t know that chips should be cooked in a separate gluten free fryer. And if the wait staff or hopefully the management would like more information, direct them to the appropriate pages on the Coeliac Australia website. Aussie restaurants are getting better but there is still a long way to go and extra education is always beneficial.
If you have a good experience, thank the staff and tell everyone. On the flip side, it’s okay to send back food if you are served an unsafe meal after clearly explaining your requirements.
Everyone feels confident with different levels of risk. While eating out may take a little effort, try not to let it compromise you on enjoying your life. Enjoy the friends, enjoy the drinks and enjoy the ambience. Even when you don’t quite get the meal you want, enjoy the occasion. Life is for living, not just eating!