Idioma / Language: Spanish

What do you think are the measures against cross-contamination that should be applied in restaurants?

Answering the question of the title: Ideally, they should have a separate kitchen and everyone should have received the necessary training. This is what we have always heard… It’s clear! But let’s be realistic… on many occasions, this is impossible:

  • As for separate work space: Most restaurants either don’t have enough space, don’t have the capital available to make such an investment, or simply don’t want to. Whatever the reasons for not doing so is understandable and respectable as long as they are transparent with the people who have to follow a special diet!
  • As for the training of cooks and waiters: on the one hand, this implies an added effort in time (and money) for the different establishments; on the other hand, the person who has to train them does not have the necessary resources to train and keep all the restaurants trained either.

Before continuing, this is just an open reflection to generate some debate and share opinion among us. There is no desire to offend anyone. Just like when I published the post “The problem of cross-contamination in restaurants“, if someone from the industry can explain the measures they take in their restaurant it would be perfect.

Since we started this blog, we have shared our experience of eating gluten-free in more than 240 restaurants in 25 different countries. Of these restaurants, only a very small percentage is endorsed by a Coeliac Association. Unlike Austria, Spain or Italy (to give a few examples), in other countries such as France, South Africa, Morocco, Mauritius, Thailand or the United States (to give a few examples) no such associations exist or they do not have such a strong influence.

Unfortunately, sometimes being certified by an association is not a guarantee of safety either. This is NOT AT ALL an attack on Coeliac Associations. Most of the Associations I know are doing a great job in raising awareness and training the various establishments that serve gluten-free food. Besides, I always say this in the talks I have given over the last few years. Whether we like it or not, the result of your work depends on how responsible the people are. They are who are going to have to put this knowledge into practice in their restaurant. It also depends on us. We coeliacs must warn the Coeliac Association in case we have been victims of some negligence. I add this comment because of some experiences I have had. I give two examples:

  • A few months ago, I shared my experience in a restaurant that was not certified by the Coeliac Association. Although the restaurant was in the process of being certified by the Coeliac Association, the response of some readers was quite negative due to the fact that it was not certified. Their reaction was probably due to a very different experience from mine. Luckily my experience was very good and I enjoyed eating their gluten-free pizzas and desserts very much.
  • Another time, I went to a restaurant that was certified. On the gluten-free menu there were two sauces that we could eat. I ordered one of them to accompany the meat. As both sauces were also on their standard menu (with gluten), when the waitress brought it to us, I asked her if this was the gluten-free one. Her answer was that we coeliacs could not eat that sauce. I explained to her that this sauce was on the gluten-free menu. After checking it, the manager came over to explain that they had changed the supplier a few weeks ago and that the sauce now contained traces of gluten. “We haven’t updated the gluten-free menu yet,” he said. If I hadn’t asked, I would have been contaminated in a restaurant that is certified. Obviously, I notified the relevant Coeliac Association and they indicated that they would take action. However, when I go back to this restaurant, I don’t eat so confidently anymore.
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Today, while writing another article about one of our trips, some doubts arose about the gluten-free bread bag:

  • Theoretically, does this bag allow the bread to be baked in a contaminated oven?
  • What happens when the coeliac opens the bag to take out the bread? The outside of the bag may be contaminated.
  • There are restaurants that bring the gluten-free bread out of the bag, others with the bag open but with the bread inside, and others with the bag closed. How would you prefer to have it brought to you?

Some measures to avoid cross-contamination have also been criticized for being too extreme. What is the balance then? This was the case at Foster’s Hollywood. Before, they brought you the plate, the cutlery and the base in a transparent sealed bag. Now they only differentiate people with coeliac disease by using dishes of different color that they take out of the kitchen under a stainless steel lid.

Other restaurants do it differently:

  • Some, like the Mussol in Barcelona, sometimes (depending on the waiter), when you say you’re coeliac, they change the cutlery for one inside a tupperware and bring you individual sachets of salt, oil and vinegar so you don’t touch the bottles that may be contaminated.
  • Others, such as Entrepans Viena, the person who will prepare your gluten-free sandwich, wash up and change their apron to go to a remote area of the kitchen to prepare the sandwich on a separate plate.
  • And other restaurants simply put a sign (sticker, different coloured tablecloth, poster…) on the table so that all the waiters know that there is a coeliac there. I take it for granted that they take the necessary precautions in the kitchen.

Please, if you share your opinion, do it in a constructive way and with respect. I don’t want this article to be an argument point. I have tried to be as objective as possible by explaining the different cases and exposing the questions that have come up while writing another article to continue sharing our gluten-free trips around the world.



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P.S.: Please keep in mind that in this blog I share my trips, anecdotes and experiences about gluten free travel around the world. It is possible that, in any of my trips, I go to some restaurant not trained by the associations where the risk of being contaminated with gluten exists. I kindly ask you to also take into account that the list of references can change. Please, always double check before eating in the restaurants we recommend. Thank you very much!


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