Nothing can sabotage a gluten-free meal safe for someone with celiac disease more than the dreaded deep fryer. In fact, I call the deep fryer the celiac’s nemesis. In it, gluten is lurking, ready to sabotage your gluten-free meals via gluten cross contamination.
Don’t let a restaurant’s pretty gluten-free menu fool you with its sesame chicken, egg rolls, chicken fingers or french fried potatoes. These items are notorious for being cooked in the same deep fryer as items loaded with gluten. Cross contamination is rampant in the deep fryer. Eater beware.
The problem is that most restaurants don’t understand that just because you use a gluten-free batter on your chicken fingers, it doesn’t mean the chicken fingers are gluten-free if you cook them in a shared deep fryer. French fries, for example, are naturally gluten-free. However, when cooked in that bubbly oil shared with gluten-battered products, well, Houston, we have a cross contamination problem.
The best way to know for sure about whether your deep-fried food is safe to eat is by engaging your server – or the manager – in a conversation. Ask if the deep fryer used to prepare your meal is a dedicated gluten-free fryer or one that is shared with gluten-containing products. Be savvy and watch for cues from your server that give away that your food might be glistening with gluten cross contamination. If your server says the fryer is dedicated gluten-free, he or she will understand your question and have no hesitations about telling you it’s safe for someone with celiac disease. If she doesn’t know, you can almost guarantee yourself it’s not safe and that gluten cross contamination is present.
You need to know for sure if the fryer is shared because you can get REALLY sick eating food cooked in a shared deep fryer!
What to Look For:
When decoding a gluten-free menu, look for these common items that are typically deep-fried. Even if they are marked “gluten-free”, a unknowing person might think they’re gluten-free because the product itself is gluten-free, but the person doesn’t realize that cross contamination is rampant in the shared deep fryer.
These are the most common deep-fried foods you must be suspicious of gluten cross contamination when eating out:
- French fries
- Fried chicken
- Fried appetizers
- Corn or tortilla chips
- Corn dogs
- Onion rings
- Breaded Chinese food dishes (sesame chicken, sweet and sour chicken)
- Chicken fingers
- Chicken wings
- Egg rolls
- Fish sticks
This list is by no means exhaustive – it includes only the most common deep-fried items I’ve come across on everyday restaurant menus.
Have you been bitten by deep fryer cross contamination? Please share your story below to help others – especially those with celiac disease – understand the risks of eating foods cooked in a deep fryer shared with gluten-containing ingredients.