The Nima Sensor is a powerful tool those of us with celiac disease or who must follow strict gluten-free diets can use to eat out more safely. I can use the Nima Sensor to test a small pea-sized portion of my food before I eat it and then know, with a greater level of certainty, if my food is truly gluten-free.
Last week, I ate at Pizza Doodle in Centennial, Colorado. I rarely eat pizza outside of the home (except for those restaurants with certified gluten-free pizzas). Pizza Doodle, however, is known in the Denver gluten-free community as being “celiac safe” because it has a separate oven and prep area for the gluten-free pizzas. Several people have told me about it – so I figured it was time to check it out myself.
I ordered the gluten-free pizza and let my server (who was also the owner) know that I was going to test it with my Nima Sensor.
Unfortunately, the Nima Sensor came back with the message, “Gluten Found.”
The owner was very apologetic and seemed to sincerely want to understand what went wrong as he has a child who cannot eat gluten either. I wanted to help the owner figure it out, so I offered to test the crust, cheese and sauce separately in my Nima Sensor. He was appreciative. I found that the crust (which he got from Deby’s Gluten-Free here in Denver) was totally gluten-free. He told me he takes the crust straight from the bag (it’s par-baked) to the pan with little handling. Most of us blame the crust first – but in this case, the crust was fine. I tested a fresh batch of cheese he just shredded and a fresh batch of sauce he made night prior – both came back positive for gluten.
It could be that the cheese and sauce were cross contaminated in some way, or that they contained gluten under the 20 ppm legal limit as set forth by the FDA. The Nima Sensor will report gluten found, however, whether it’s within the legal limit I do not know. (Nima, if you’re reading this, I would like Nima to tell me how many parts per million of gluten it found – thank you.) Either way, I was in this strange place where I found out that the “celiac safe” pizza I had heard a lot about was not actually gluten-free after all. Bummer.
This whole ordeal, along with my fiasco at Snooze the other day, got me thinking about how the Nima Sensor is reshaping the way we eat out and the restaurant industry – all for the betterment of those of us with celiac disease or other food allergies and sensitivities.
Nima Makes Eating Out Transparent for Gluten-Free Patrons
Gluten-free patrons, for a long time, had to just trust the entire process. This means we had to trust that what we communicated to the server would be communicated to the chef. We had to trust that the chef understood what contained gluten and what was safe for us to eat. We had to trust the chef changed his gloves and used a clean surface area to prepare our food. We had to trust that the right dish was served to us and that nothing got mixed up along the way. Eating out, for all intents and purposes, made me anxious, nervous and downright scared. But I still did it. It’s a way for me to feel normal, socialize with my friends and family, and be a part of life’s celebrations.
Now, with the Nima Sensor in my back pocket, the game has changed. I’m able to catch any errors or mishaps in this process. Restaurants can no longer be careless in how they treat food allergies and, in my case, autoimmune gluten-free dieters. Transparency is finally here.
Restaurants Held to New Level of Accountability
Restaurants often tout gluten-free menus and dishes, which is fantastic for us gluten-free eaters because we love when restaurants want our business. Unfortunately, many of these restaurants want to only serve those following a trendy gluten-free diet and do not take proper precautions to create safe dishes for those of us who need it most. Most people I know who are gluten-free are gluten-free for health reasons, by the way. I don’t really know anyone following a gluten-free diet because it’s trendy. That said, I know some people fake food allergies, ordering gluten-free food then reaching for the bread basket. I have a friend who ordered gluten-free bread to go with her gluten-full soup! I get it.
However, if a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, it better be gluten-free and safe for those of us who need it most.
Unfortunately that is not the case. Many restaurants don’t want celiacs soliciting their businesses. Here’s what Snooze told me in a statement after my Facebook Live test of the Snooze pancakes came back with “gluten found.” It made me feel like unwanted.
“We sincerely apologize that this was not handled properly and have checked our batter to ensure that it is correct going forward. If a guest has celiac disease we do not generally advise that they dine at Snooze.” (Statement from Snooze)
Now mind you, I don’t want to discourage restaurants from offering gluten-free foods, but if they do, I want them to do it safely. They can either stick to things they know they can safely make gluten-free or do things like gluten-free pancakes right – with a separate prep, cooking and serving area.
Nima changes the game in a sense that more restaurants are going to be outed for doing it wrong. Restaurants can no longer create a sort-of gluten-free menu just to get gluten-free people in the door, charge them more, and then not really give them a safe meal. Nima will expose the truth.
I know, I know. Restaurants are busy and they do not have dedicated gluten-free kitchens. Many gluten-free people I know don’t have a dedicated gluten-free kitchen even in their own homes. I get it. I believe restaurants will need to take a hard look at their GF menus and decide what they can and can’t do safely in the constraints of a busy, shared kitchen. Restaurants that figure it out and do things like gluten-free pizza and pancakes safely are the ones that are going to survive this cut-throat restaurant industry.
Remember, food allergies and sensitivities are not going away. Fast Casual Magazine says gluten-free diners will likely double in the next three years! Restaurants, take heed. More and more of your customers will be asking for safe gluten-free and allergen-free options.
Allergy and Gluten-Free Training No Longer Optional
Restaurants will have to take a hard look at their kitchens. Can they create a safe prep area to accommodate the growing number of food allergies? It’s possible. Restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and Pizza Hut have trained their staff and created separate prep areas so they could become “certified gluten-free” restaurants.
If a restaurant cannot safely make gluten-free pancakes in their kitchens, could they have food prepped in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen brought in daily and then stored in a warming oven? It’s super easy to bring in gluten-free baked goods too – they just need to be wrapped and not displayed with the gluten treats. Panera is one company that is trying to capitalize on the gluten-free trend, but they are certainly not taking it seriously. The restaurant labels its cookies as “gluten conscious” but they are baked right alongside the gluten-full cookies and on display in the baked goods case exposed to all sorts of gluten bits and cross contamination. This is an example of a company capitalizing on the gluten-free trend without truly helping the people who need to eat gluten-free. As the Gluten Dude says in a post to Panera, “I’m just not that desperate for your bread.”
What we’re seeing is that restaurants are trying to get around the FDA rules of “gluten-free” labeling. When you slap on a “gluten conscious” label like Panera does, or “gluten-free friendly” like Snooze does, you are using marketing trickery to get around legal drama. My hope is the FDA will crack down on these practices and these restaurants will either have to do gluten-free right or not at all (and risk going out of business for good).
Raw Ingredients Need to be Tested Too
I believe restaurants should invest in a Nima Sensor of their own. They can test batches of their sauces, cheeses, baked goods, etc. to ensure they’re gluten-free. They can even test raw ingredients, like spices, to ensure they’re gluten-free too. It’s a small expense for a little peace of mind. If they find something isn’t right, they can go back to the supplier and get something else.
I had to send my pizza back at Pizza Doodle and my pancake went back at Snooze. This cost the restaurants quite a bit of money and a whole lot of aggravation. Plus, they had an unhappy customer who told all their gluten-free friends what happened. (In the case of Snooze, 3,400+ people saw me test the pancake live on Facebook.) This mishap could have been easily prevented if Snooze had tested the food before giving it to me.
If You Think I Sound Like a Crazy Person…
If you think I sound like a crazy person, then I think you have some growing to do.
I know people will tell me I sound ridiculous, that my diet is a huge inconvenience for busy restaurants, and that I should just eat at home. I know there are haters out there. I’ve read about indecent humans still open a bag of peanuts on an airplane despite being asked not to – a four year old girl went into anaphylaxis shock because of one passengers cavalier attitude! Another adult passenger looked at someone with a food allergy with disgust because she couldn’t eat nuts during her flight – just another example of how indecent we’ve become. Unfortunately, some people just don’t get it. They are not personally affected by food allergies and they cannot fathom the thought of going without peanuts for two hours. I’m certain those same haters will be all over this article, too.
But the truth is, my celiac disease is a disability. I have to eat gluten-free. I can’t get around it.
Sure, I eat at home a lot. But what about when I’m traveling? What about when I need to eat gluten-free on a cruise ship where I cannot find food elsewhere and I’ve paid the same money as the next person to enjoy a fun vacation? What about when I’m forced to purchase a meal plan on a college campus, but then the dining staff won’t provide me a safe meal? What about when I pay $50 to attend a luncheon but I can’t eat the meal and yet I’m still forced to pay like everyone else?
Fortunately, the American Disability Act (ADA) has my back
These laws are getting pushed in new directions with the growing number of people with food allergies and with the rise of celiac disease. Celiac disease, for all intents and purposes, is a disability and should be fully and fairly be accommodated by restaurants. We are seeing the ADA at hard work these days. A student at Lesley University in Boston won a lawsuit against the college because it required students with celiac disease to purchase a meal plan like all other freshmen, yet the staff failed to create a safe meal for these students. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department found that Lesley University had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because students with celiac disease and other food allergies could not “fully and equally enjoy” the dining services.
I don’t really care if you want to bully me to be honest. I’m on the right side of the law and, more importantly, on the right side of human decency.
For me, having the Nima Sensor in my pocket has empowered me like nothing before. I can eat more safely and hold restaurants accountable to step up their games. It’s a game-changer for us both, no doubt.
Nima has awakened the gluten-free community to a new level of safe eating not previously available. I hope restaurants are paying close attention to the Nima Sensor and to people like me who are using it because gluten-free is not going away. Either restaurants are with us or against us. Game on!
Nima Sensor Coupon Code
Want to buy a Nima Sensor of your own? You can buy a Nima Sensor Starter Kit at NimaSensor.com. Please use my partner coupon code, GOODFORYOU for $15 off your purchase. When you use my coupon, I get a little something from Nima too – a win-win!