Consuming a food you’re sensitive to by accident is the worst. Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes a restaurant and sometimes a family or friend, and sometimes you just plain don’t really know what happened. Either way it sucks, big time – especially if you have Celiac Disease or NCGS because cross contamination is a real thing.
Traveling can be the easiest time for this to happen because you’re out of your normal routine, likely in a kitchen you’ve never been in before, with people you aren’t normally with daily, and going to restaurants you’ve never been before. So let’s chat strategy!
1. Communication – call your host ahead of time and explain your situation. Instead of leaving them to do the work – outline foods you can have so everyone can be prepared. Also if you have the ability to bring or purchase food arrival to save them the trouble – tell them that. To help with the communication you can remind yourself of the common sources of contamination and ingredient names, and perhaps your host may be curious to read through as well here
2. Have a buddy – it’s always great if you have a buddy that knows all the cross contamination, ingredient names, and foods you can have so there are a second set of eyes and someone to help communicate with you. Even better if they can eat the allergen so if you’re stuck wondering if it contains gluten, they can eat your food 🙂
3. Be prepared – find restaurants (if necessary) ahead of time and call them to be sure they understand what gluten free means (it’s more than just no bread on the plate). If you’re going to a country with a different language make sure you learn the one sentence that will help you survive “I am allergic to (insert allergen)” even better if you can remember “which is found in…etc etc”
4. Bring snacks and/or breakfasts – this limits the exposure to unfamiliar foods, but more importantly, fills the gaps when by chance you can’t have a meal or don’t trust it’s free of your allergen. Just because you have an allergy doesn’t mean you need to starve! Always have food on you at all times. Non-fridge items like nuts, seeds, trailmixes and real-ingredients gluten free bars are the best for this.
5. Supervise – I like to be in the kitchen when people prepare foods. I’m not staring them down, but I’m aware and conscious of utensil movement and cross contamination. It’s not as annoying as it sounds, I promise! The most nonchalant way of doing this is talk to the food preparer about his/her life and offer to help chop some things. That way if you see that stirring spoon go from the glutinous pasta to the gluten free pasta you can quickly intervene and says “oops sorry that can’t go in there. Don’t worry, just glad I was here” and remain upbeat about it. It’s a good learning moment for all. No need to get angry or cause a scene, just use quick reflexes and breathe a sigh of relief that all is still good.
Never assume hosts will know about your allergy or go out of their way to learn. Some may do this and it will be a pleasant surprise but you must take full responsibility and be prepared because if something goes wrong, it only affects you.
Happy Tummy Safe Travels!