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Gluten-Free Pizza in Regular Restaurants

Flour in the Air Poses A Problem for Some

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Created June 16, 2014

Pizza-Restaurant-Kathrin-Ziegler.jpg

Should you eat gluten-free pizza in a regular pizza restaurant?

Getty Images/Kathrin Ziegler

Question: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is it safe to eat gluten-free pizza prepared in a regular pizza restaurant?

Answer: Maybe, but maybe not.

Here's the issue: Regular gluten-y pizza-making can produce some serious airborne gluten. Restaurants that make pizza on-site generally use wheat flour to make and then work the dough, and that flour tends to get into the air ... and then onto everything else in the room.

A friend of mine who once worked in a pizza restaurant reported that the entire kitchen was coated in a thin layer of wheat flour by night's end. Those making the pizzas would use that flour liberally to coat the wooden kneading boards and the balls of dough they used to create the crusts, and then toss the dough in the air repeatedly (these were hand-tossed pizzas, of course).

Is This A Problem Everywhere?

Some pizza restaurants seeking to attract gluten-free customers are actively taking steps to address this problem.

For example, California Pizza Kitchen, which is working with the Gluten Intolerance Group on its gluten-free pizza project, has switched to rice flour in the hope of alleviating some of this rather significant gluten cross-contamination risk. It remains to be seen how well it works (I haven't yet heard from anyone who's tried one of CPK's new gluten-free pizzas), but my guess is, many of us will be able to eat these pizzas safely.

Meanwhile, Domino's, which launched a gluten-free crust last year but didn't take many additional steps to avoid cross-contamination, has had mixed reviews on the glutening front -- some people say they can eat the pizzas with no problems, while others report getting sick (see the comments below the article here for the details).

Other pizza restaurants with gluten-free options -- both local outlets and national chains -- appear to be hit-or-miss, with your experience very much dependent on the level of caring and skill exhibited by the individual restaurant staff.

So Should You Order That Gluten-Free Pizza?

Do I recommend eating gluten-free pizza at a restaurant that also makes regular pizza?

Frankly, I think it's a huge risk if the chefs are tossing the dough right there (unless, like California Pizza Kitchen, the staff is using gluten-free flour specifically to mitigate the risk).

If, on the other hand, the restaurant's crusts come prepared and just need to be topped and baked in the kitchen, then you may be fine, assuming the kitchen staff knows how to handle gluten-free food safely, and especially if you're not particularly sensitive to trace gluten. You should ask that your gluten-free crust be placed on foil and on the top rack of the oven (that's to make certain no gluten-y crumbs fall on it from pizzas being baked above it).

Chuck E. Cheese takes precautions even a step further by cooking its gluten-free pizzas sealed in a bag, and then delivering them wrapped to the table. I've spoken to management at other restaurants who are doing the same.

Obviously, these precautions are going to be enough for some people but not enough for others. You'll need to determine for yourself how much of a risk is too much ... just know the risk going in.

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