When a restaurant labels a dish “gluten-free,” can you count on that being true?
Sometimes you can. If they have a segregated area of the kitchen with separate cooking utensils, separate preparation and cooking surfaces, as well as ingredients that are gluten-free, then you can have pretty good confidence that the dish you order is safe. But if there is no such segregation you can never be entirely certain even if the food is not breaded, does not contain breadcrumbs, or is not served on wheat or rye bread. For some people, this can be a real problem.
So I brought my Nima device along with me to a local pub/restaurant to test a dish that I suspected might contain gluten via cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination, of course, is the contamination of food because of utensil, cooking vessel, cooking surface, or even air flow contacted gluten-containing foods (and, of course, other grain components beyond gluten, such as wheat germ agglutinin, have their own set of effects, though not revealed with gluten testing). If the griddle, for example, that was used to make conventional pancakes was used to fry your eggs or burger, your food could be contaminated.
In this case, I ordered chicken wings that were listed as “GF,” or gluten-free. (It’s tough to tell in the photo, but they were not breaded.) Because they were deep-fried (and thereby not the healthiest due to the high-temperatures of deep-frying, but that’s another issue), I wanted to know whether the chicken wings were fried in oil/vessel that had been used to fry breaded chicken or other foods and thereby cross-contaminated.
Sure enough, the wings tested “low gluten,” meaning more than 20 parts per million (ppm) were detected. (The device reads “High gluten” if 100 ppm were detected.)
Because I am not exceptionally gluten intolerant, I ate 5 wings without any reaction. But there are plenty of people who would not get away with this and suffer effects such as joint pain lasting several days, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort for days to weeks, or reactivation of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
While I got away with it, it was reassuring to know that the Nima device called it, helpful to those who really don’t have this kind of leeway.