Point of View

Penalties lacking when it comes to gluten-free food that isn't

May 19, 2014 

Celiac disease is not a fad, but with the gluten-free craze, people who have serious allergies are often not taken seriously and are classified with other fad-dieters.

Gluten-free choices are becoming more plentiful nowadays. Grocery stores are starting to allocate entire sections to the category, and restaurants even have separate gluten-free menus. It makes sense because there is a high demand for it, and there is usually a hefty mark-up for these specialty products, which means more profit for the business. Win-win.

Well, it’s not the utopia it might seem to be for someone suffering from celiac disease – at least when it comes to eating out.

I have a son and wife who are allergic to gluten. They do not choose to eat this way. It is a necessity. My wife is so allergic, in fact, that it can take two weeks for her to fully recover from even the most mild cross-contamination. I mean, we are talking about a morsel.

It makes traveling and eating out a challenge, and we choose to dine at places that take allergies seriously. We can never be certain, though, and we often blindly rely on the staff to take the proper precautions in preparing our food.

We have been to places where the servers have been well-informed and the experience great, and we have had some really bad experiences in which a server plops a bread basket on the table after we have told him of our allergy.

We recently dined at a local restaurant (a very nice chain). My son asked for plain noodles. What a simple order, right? You take gluten-free noodles and place them in a bowl. He wanted cheese on top. Done. After he had eaten half of his meal – my wife ate some as well – we discovered regular noodles mixed in with the others. Because of this carelessness, my family suffered.

On another occasion, we visited a very nice Italian restaurant in Cary. We asked for the gluten-free dessert off the “gluten-free menu” and had consumed about half of it before we noticed a huge chunk of biscotti in the dish. My wife was sick for a week from this incident. Some people are so sensitive to gluten that their bodies undergo an intense autoimmune response that can be very painful.

I understand if a restaurant doesn’t have a gluten-free menu. We can choose to take the risk. However, who is holding these restaurants accountable? Is it the health department? What responsibility does a restaurant have to its customers if they are allergic to anything from artichokes to zucchini? Do they get a free pass if your food is contaminated? Who pays for the negligence of the restaurant staff? The customer. And that is not right.

We are not a family of fad-dieters. Celiac disease is a serious allergy, and it must be taken that way.

Bryson Johnson, who runs a martial arts program, lives in Cary.

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