Fryers and Cross-Contamination

Once again I was reminded how diligent I need to be when eating out. For those of us with celiac disease, a tiny amount of gluten can cause a reaction and damage to the intestines. I’m talking about a single breadcrumb, and NO I didn’t believe that could be true when I first heard about it. One of the hardest things about dining out is the risk of cross-contamination—when a gluten-free food comes in contact with gluten and therefore is no longer gluten free.

There’s a restaurant that the hubby and I like because they have a huge outdoor patio and delicious food. They make most of their dishes from scratch, so I have started to feel more comfortable eating there since the staff knows what ingredients are in each dish. We’re talking about a simple list of ingredients you would find in your own home, not sauces in plastic containers trucked in from some warehouse with an ingredient list of chemicals a paragraph long.

This particular restaurant marks gluten-free items right on the menu. One of my favorites is a roasted half chicken with mascarpone polenta, sautéed spinach, fennel confit, and truffle pan sauce. They also have delicious grilled fish tacos with corn tortillas and many tasty fresh salads. I enjoy eating here and have never gotten sick.

On our last visit, I noticed they had an Asian-style calamari appetizer marked as gluten free. I haven’t had fried calamari since my diagnosis because the typical preparation is to dip the squid into a batter with flour or breadcrumbs and then drop it in the fryer.

I was excited that maybe they came up with something new. So when the waiter arrived I started asking questions.

“I notice you have an Asian calamari appetizer marked gluten free. I’ve never seen that here before,” I said.
“Yes. It’s really good,” he said.
“Since it’s Asian style, I need to ask if there’s any soy sauce in the preparation,” I said.
“Great! I see it’s deep fried. What is used for the coating?”
“Rice flour.”

Now I’m excited. He seems to understand gluten issues, but this place has never offered fried items as gluten free. So I ask, “Do you have a dedicated gluten-free fryer?”
He cocked his head, waited a beat, and then said, “That I’m not sure about. Let me go find out.”
“I’d appreciate it,” I said.

I asked that because if a restaurant uses one fryer, even though the item being put it is gluten free, once it comes out it isn’t. The gluten from the other things being fried (e.g., mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, crab cakes, etc.) have now cross-contaminated your initially gluten-free dish.

Upon return he said, “I spoke to the chef and he says that we don’t have a dedicated fryer. We fry it in the same fryer as everything else, so if you’re really sensitive, you shouldn’t eat it.”

And I’m pissed. I don’t expect all restaurants to cater to my needs. I would never show up to McDonald’s or Pizza Hut and think they could serve me. But when a place marks items on the menu as gluten free, I darn well expect they have the customer’s best interest at heart and have educated themselves.

I ordered the amazing chicken dish, but must admit I’m holding a little grudge.

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