Restaurants need to accommodate dietary restrictions adequately


Graphic by Selina Ding.

By Zara Ali

It seemed perfect from afar. I’d never had gluten-free bread at a restaurant, since most places don’t accommodate people with  Celiac’s disease, like me. So dining at Mussel Bar—where they claim to have gluten-free bread—seemed like a dream. But the minute they placed the gluten-free bread on the same oven grill as regular bread, that all changed.

After eating the bread,  I felt pangs in my stomach for hours the next day.

In fact, for the one percent of Americans like me with Celiac’s disease, even 50 milligrams of gluten (wheat, barley or rye), or  1/70 of a slice of bread, is enough to cause intestinal erosion. Problematically, restaurants that claim to be gluten-free don’t always deliver on their promise. In fact, 1/3 of “gluten-free” foods sold in U.S. restaurants aren’t actually gluten-free, according to a Columbia University study.

Restaurants should deliver on their promise of gluten-free menu items and take the extra effort to prevent cross-contamination. For example, California Pizza Kitchen has a separate menu dedicated to gluten-free items that aren’t cross-contaminated, distinguishing them from items that are prepared in a gluten environment.

This issue applies not only to people with gluten intolerance, but also to people with extreme allergies to foods like peanuts or sesame. For people like my brother, who has a peanut allergy, going to Asian restaurants can be extremely risky. When no one but the chefs know whether any cross contamination occurs, finding dishes that meet his dietary restrictions can be difficult.

Every time junior Anna Krushwho has a peanut allergy goes to a restaurant, she makes sure to inform the waiter and ask them to double-check with the chef that a dish is safe.

Waiters often insist items are allergen friendly without taking cross contamination into account, Krush said. Usually, people with allergies need to make judgment calls about whether the waiter knows what they’re talking about before eating a dish, Krush said. Some restaurants, like California Pizza Kitchen, have taken extra steps to educate their waiters regarding serious allergies to prevent mishaps from occurring like explaining to them the intricacies of cross contamination. Although it can be difficult for restaurants to thoroughly educate waiters, it’s a process that should be taken seriously to satisfy customers and ensure their safety.

If restaurants want to be food allergen or Celiac-friendly and advertise as such, they need to take the extra step of ensuring that cross-contamination during preparation doesn’t occur. Until then, people like me must continue to pester waiters, call managers and question chefs to protect on our own health.