It has happened to most all of us at one time or another. You have just finished a meal at a restaurant when you notice you aren’t quite feeling right. For me, that starts with a stabbing headache and a hot flash. Immediately you know your meal has come into contact with gluten. Now what do you do? How can you turn your negative experience into a positive one?
After your body has been ravaged by gluten and you are starting to feel better, the first thing I always do is contact the restaurant and I encourage you to do the same. Too many times, the affected person decides never to eat at the restaurant again and doesn’t report the incident. If you knew you could affect change that would benefit others by simply reporting it, why not take that step?
There are only a small percentage of 100% gluten free restaurants in the U.S., so the possibility that your meal could come into contact with gluten when it is being prepared is always there. This can be true even if the restaurant has been through gluten-free training and the staff is following safe handling procedures because there is such a high job turnover rate in the restaurant industry.
I have experienced first-hand how reporting cross contamination to the source can benefit others and I want to share my tips for turning cross contact into a positive situation:
- Respect the restaurant’s limitations. When it comes to handling food intolerances/allergies, if the restaurant is hesitant to meet your needs due to the limitations of their kitchen/staff, then accept it and go somewhere else to eat. If they aren’t truly invested in providing a 100% gluten-free meal, then you won’t receive a safe one, so there is no need to patronize the restaurant.
- Report the incident. Management needs to know what happened and be given the opportunity to address the situation. If you don’t tell them you were cross contaminated, then they simply don’t know. Most restaurants are not vindictive and don’t set out to intentionally contaminate your meal. They need to know there was an issue, so they can address it internally.
- Suggest a course of action. After you have learned what happened, work with management to prevent this situation from ever happening again by suggesting a course of action. I was cross contaminated at a restaurant I frequented. When I reported the incident, I was asked to reference my receipt for the time and table number. The restaurant was able to track my order down to the exact person who put regular and not gluten-free french fries on my plate.
- Follow up. After you have spoken to management at the restaurant and the issue has been resolved to your satisfaction, touch based with them to make sure they are following the updated procedures they said they would implement.
- Report the incident to the gluten-free community. Only put this plan in motion if you have been through the steps above and the restaurant is unwilling to address the issue and/or make changes to their procedures. A little properly placed word of mouth can have an impact on a restaurant’s reputation in the gluten-free community, soPLEASE only do this if you can’t gain any headway with the restaurant. Not every restaurant fully understands what it means to offer a gluten-free meal/menu, so this step could save others from unnecessarily suffering through gluten cross contamination.
As a former board member of the Gluten Intolerance Group of Atlanta, I have received numerous complaints from members about restaurants. In most situations, when I reached out, I was able to address and resolve the situation, but there have been a handful of incidents where restaurant management didn’t seem to take the issue seriously. When this happened, I told restaurant management that I would not recommend their establishment to any of our members and that we would advise anyone on a gluten-free diet not to frequent this restaurant.
I have been the victim of cross contact two times in the last month. One incident was from a product and the other at a local restaurant that I frequent. When I reported the incident to the restaurant, I was contacted by the owner the same day and I received an apology and an explanation as to how the incident occurred. We then talked about how to prevent the issue going forward and came to a resolution.
Since then, I have been back to the restaurant to see that they have implemented the new procedures, and I am happy to eat there again. If I had not told the restaurant and just stopped eating there, improper preparation would have just kept going on and more people would be getting sick and not knowing why. I have not been in a position to ‘out’ the restaurant because they jumped to action and have modified their procedures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Have you ever experienced cross contact at a restaurant? Did you report it? Do you think following these steps would have helped resolve the situation?
Author Information: Jennifer D. Harris, Atlanta, GA
Jennifer D. Harris, http://www.jenniferglutenfreeingeorgia.blogspot.com
Gluten-Free Product Specialist, Return to Eden
Program Chair, Atlanta Metro CeliacsTwitter@jenniferGFinGA