California Pizza Kitchen: Cross-Contamination Concerns?

We love getting comments. And we got a LOT of comments on our post about California Pizza Kitchen’s new gluten-free menu the other week. Not all of them were positive, so we wanted to acknowledge the dispute.

In reading the comments on our site – and in digging around the blogosphere for more stories – it’s quite clear that there’s been a mixed reaction to CPK’s menu. While some people have gone and had positive experiences, others have reported cross-contamination. And still others have chosen not to eat the pizza after speaking with their local branch about food safety measures.

The crux of the matter seems to be that the toppings and the prep area are shared between gluten-full and gluten-free ingredients, leading to a potentially risky environment for anyone with celiac disease. As alluded to fairly clearly in the disclaimer, the same utensils are likely used for different crusts. Plus, there is the possibility that a local supplier will use a non-gf alternative without informing the kitchen. There may also be a certain amount of flour in the air.

So, while the measures in place have been sufficient in many cases to keep diners happy and safe, it’s entirely understandable that a number of people don’t feel comfortable enough to eat at California Pizza Kitchen.

At the end of the day, we’re big believers in the, “when in doubt, leave it out” school of gluten-free thought – and also in the belief that when it comes time for you to make a decision about your diet, more information is always better than less.

Accordingly, please keep the comments coming: have you personally been to a California Pizza Kitchen? Do you have celiac disease, or do you keep a gluten-free diet for other health reasons? Have you spoken to a chef there, and if so were you made to feel comfortable about the gluten-free menu? If so, how was your meal? If not, why?

39 thoughts on “California Pizza Kitchen: Cross-Contamination Concerns?”

  1. I ate a gluten free pizza at CPK on Sunday and I have to say I was completely dissapointed. For being a place known for making pizza they did not do a very good job creating their gluten free pizza crust. I felt as if I was eating cardboard. I’ll stick with the other local options for gluten free pizza.

  2. I’ll agree with Matthew, the crust is a bit of a let down.. There is nothing that makes me want to go back. I have been to 2 different CPK’s with friends, and felt the 2nd one had much better training for their staff to understand what the Gluten Free was about. Haven’t had any issues with cross contamination, actually I giggled when I found tin foil under my pizza on the plate, also I had to cut the pizza myself when they brought it to me. But unless my options are slim, I’m not going out of my way to dine there.

  3. I have celiac disease and I have tried the CPK pizza. It was a bit of a disappointment in the taste department. Zpizza has a really good gf pizza crust, which I love and highly recommend.

  4. I really liked the gf thin crust, and the fact that so many varieties were available–I can’t tolerate nightshades, so the tomato-free options were welcome (I had pesto chicken w/o sundried tomatoes). Have tried it once and felt ok the next day, but a bit concerned about the cross-contamination issue.

  5. Concerned about the cross-contamination issue but my daughter did not have a reaction to her most recent visit there…..

    There are a number of places that are introducing GF pizza in the country; Brixx, Mellow Mushroom, etc but have not seen a similar concern as I have seen from CPK…makes me wonder if they are all not “up to standards”…….

    I would like to see a statement from CPK corporate addressing these issues; has anyone seen one?

  6. I would have to agree with Jody on this one – CPK’s disclaimer brings up something that is probably true of any pizza place with both gluten-free and regular crusts. That being said, I don’t see that as a reason not to try or not to keep going especially since my family hasn’t had an issue with it.

    My mom (extremely sensitive) and I are both gluten intolerant and did not have any issues at all. We spoke with the manager at the Edina, MN location and he seemed to understand and was very helpful and even came back for our feedback after our meal.

  7. A friend and I ate at CPK in King of Prussia, PA. She called ahead of time to ask about their procedures since we’d heard mixed messages. She was satisfied with their attempts at avoiding cross-contimination, so we went. We both thought the pizza was yummy and didn’t have any problems afterwards. I would go back.

  8. At our location, the staff was not knowledgable about gf and the chef put our gf pizza into the oven where wheat pizzas had just been. I spoke with the manager, who did not seem educated about cross contamination, but I must say, he was so patronizing to me that I couldn’t really tell what the problem was. I have not checked back to see if anything has changed and I would love to see California Pizza Kitchen issue a statement about these issues. Are they local and a result of poor employee education? Or simply a lack of adequate planning by corporate to solve as many cross contamination issues as possible?

  9. Got two pizzas this past Saturday – LOVED them – LOVED the crispy crust. Only alternative in my area so I will stick with them. Best Gluten-Free pizza ever is at Picazzos in Arizona!! Hope CPK adds their GF pizzas to the freezers in our local stores soon!

  10. I had GF pizza at the CPK in Louisville last weekend – it was so good I went back the next night!

    In my mind, part of being gluten free or Celiac is reading the fine print. You kind of have to expect a chain restaurant that also serves gluten products to have a legal disclaimer for possible contamination. It would actually be pretty risky for them not to.

    I also agree with the article – if you are that concerned, just don’t go! Easy as that!

  11. I have eaten the GF pizza at CPK twice now and have had no problems. I am a pretty sensitive Celiac so I usually notice if I get it! I definitely agree that more information in better, but I also feel that we need to accept we can’t have it both ways – either restaurants will do their best to have gluten free food options or they will be so scared that there’s no viable way to prepare gluten free food in a gluten containing restaurant that we will have no options to eat out. I think its best for people with Celiac to be aware that there is ALWAYS a risk of cross-contamination and as such shouldn’t be eating meals out all of the time, but you also can’t live your life in a bubble. Just my two cents!

  12. I haven’t tried CPK pizza, but I love the GF pizza at Uno’s. It is especially good if you ask the kitchen to cook it well-done, which makes the crust crispy. I haven’t had any problems and have eaten GF pizza at my local Uno’s many times.

  13. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in March. I ate at CPK and had the GF pizza last Sunday and although I thought it tasted good, I was very sick by the end of the day which leads me to believe that I experienced a great deal of cross-contamination.
    I will avoid CPK’s “GF” pizza until I know that they are taking all measures to ensure that no cross contamination occurs.
    For the BEST GF pizza, try Buddy’s. They are a local chain in the Detroit area. Absolutely the most delicious pizza I have tasted and they go to great lengths to ensure that it remains GF. Hopefully they will begin selling their foods online so that I can continue to enjoy delicious pizza, even in CA.

  14. I visited the CPK in Fresno, Ca after hearing they now offer a GF pizza crust (haven’t had a take-out pizza in years) and was pleasantly surprised. The chef came over and talked to me, and explained the procedures that he and his staff go through to ensure the pizza is “clean”. He explained that different utensils are used for all aspects of the pizza prep and cutting, and that as soon as it is used, it is immediately washed and put back into a specific area away from other utensils. They prepare and bake the pizza on foil to help with cross contamination from other crusts as well. While still hesitant because I have heard it all before and been “glutened” I had absolutely no issues with the pizza I got there. I was happy that the chef wen out of his way to come talk to me, rather than my having to ask for him.

  15. I had a GF pizza at CPK a couple of weeks ago in the Seattle area and loved it! I thought it was the best of the four restaurants I had tried (Garlic Jim’s, Jet City Pizza, and Boston’s GF crust–which were all okay to fairly good, but CPK was my favorite.) I don’t know if I have Celiac Disease or not (wasn’t specifically tested for it), but I do have an extremely sensitive gluten allergy (blood test was for gluten reaction only). If I consume *anything* with even slight traces of wheat, I will start choking and gagging within 5-10 minutes after eating it, and often it will last for a half hour, to the point where I am sick to my stomach. I can tell immediately if traces are in my food from cross-contamination–I did not have an adverse reaction to the one I ate. I had it at the Northgate Mall CPK.

  16. I just have to say that everyone’s comments (both in this one and in the last post on CPK) are really helpful. What it appears to come down to is that there is WIDE variance between procedure between each CPK store, and I’ll make sure to check on what the procedure is when/if I eat at CPK.

    I have celiac disease, and my husband has alopecia areata (which has been shown to have improvement on a g.f. diet), so when I told him that CPK now has g.f. crust, he said, “GREAT! Now we, too, can spend $15 on a tiny pizza that wouldn’t fill a mouse!” 😀

    I *am* very interested in the above comment about Mellow Mushroom having g.f. crust. There is one much closer to my house than CPK. Off to Google that!

  17. When I first found out about their new GF menu I did what I always do..I walked into the restaurant and asked waiters and waitress staff if they knew what GF meant and how safe their environment was …when they look blankly at me and have no idea what I am talking about at the Boca Raton restaurant in florida…I turn around and walk out!! No one knew anything….I wouldn’t even consider eating there….yet!!!

  18. I tried the gluten free pizza at the CPK here in salt lake city. The options were great and our server actually knew a lot about celiac disease and did her best to make me feel comfortable. HOWEVER! later that night I became very very sick and ended up being hospitalized. It was suck a dissapoitment and I will not be dining there again. For people who are less sensitive cpk might be an option but for me it won’t be.

  19. I felt the crust was only ok. I have Celiac and prior to diagnosis loved going to CPK. The fact that you can get the unique pizzas was still nice, but their crust could use some work. For my pizza It came out with some of the tin foil still on the bottom so I knew they took care in making sure it wasn’t on a contaminated surface. I haven’t had any issues with their pizza making me sick, so I’m willing to leave it in my group of restuarants when dining with a group, because it give us another option.

  20. I have celiac and tried CPK a couple weeks ago. The GF crust was just ok (pretty boring, even for GF) and I definitely had issues the following day. After reading the other news out there, I’m sure it was a result of cross contamination. As excited as I was to have CPK again, I won’t be going back until they figure some things out. :(

    If you have access to Fresh Brothers, their pizza is WAY better and they are great about keep all GF items separate.

  21. I won’t try it unless CPK is able to do more about the potential for cross-contamination. I realize it’s hard for restaurants, especially a pizza place, to do gluten-free properly, but if you’re going to do it, you should really DO IT.

  22. I ate their for a bridal reception luncheon and was sick the whole 4 days I was in Denver, CO. I came home and continued to be sick so I didn’t have any good results at any of the restaurants in Denver.

  23. I would not consider CPK unless they had separate work areas. Flour in the air would be too much contamination for me. I saw the article about Subway and will try to check that out. But so much depends on staff education and being careful. I see the servers at Subway cleaning the crumbs off the boards by pushing them into the salad etc areas. Too bad I used to love the salads at Subway.

    I will eat salad at Dominos because it is in a separate area.

    great comment on $15 pizza that would fill a mouse!!! Thanks Triumph Dining you have great information!

  24. I was at California Pizza Kitchen last week and I had a great experience. I had a great gluten free tortilla appetizer with guacamole and a BBQ Chicken pizza with Apple Smoked Bacon. It was really good. I think the crispy-ness of the crust depends on what you get on the pizza. Because I have had the garlic chicken pizza from there and the crust was nowhere near as good.

    The staff at my location was very knowledgeable and took great care of me and came back numerous times to ask me what I thought about my meal. I would definitely suggest it. It’s a great experience as long as the staff is knowledgeable and friendly.

  25. the crust was bad-:( – and i had an allergic reaction, not bad but , def not going back there, bj’s gluten free pizza’s resturant is better and i have been to two different locations without problems.

  26. I haven’t tried CPK but probably won’t because my daughter is so allergic that it isn’t worth the risk. We went out after my granddaughter’s graduation to an “On The Border” restaurant with another family & because they didn’t have a “clean” area for preparing the GF food, we had to watch everyone else enjoy their food. My question is “why do they bother to advertise gluten free food when it is probably contaminated”? I applaud those restaurants who go out of their way to assure you that their gluten free choices are gluten free & not contaminated.

  27. The thing is there are pizza places that get it- Mama’s and Calabria’s in Jersey to name a few and Italy is supposed to be a leader on this so I think we are past the point where CPK can have a shoddy launch of a GF menu. Why can’t they have dedicated pans and cutters? My daughter is celiac, no way I am taking her to a place that can’t be bothered with the details.

  28. Good rule – when in doubt, leave it out. When speaking with Paul Pszybylski, the director of culinary development at CPK, he specifically acknowledged there was clear cross contamination, but up to the level of the CEO, no change in policy was going to be made. His comment was that the GF pizza at CPK is not for people with Celiac disease, but for those that wanted to “avoid gluten” (whatever that means).

    Until CPK changes their policy to make ALL of their restaurants safe for those with Celiac disease, I would not even feed their pizza to my dog (who remains GF).

  29. Before trying my 1st pizza @ CPK I met with the manager and had some concerns. I made a few suggestions that he said he would implement at the next meeting. Remind your wait person to ask the kitchen staff to wash their hands and use clean utensils, cutting boards etc, when handling your order. I also request that my pizza be served separately from the rest of the order, so that they don’t stack it on their arm adjacent to other pizzas. So far so good x3 pizzas

  30. I haven’t had the new CPK GF pizza’s yet.
    I have tried only a few pizza places that have GF choices, and I haven’t found a good pizza crust out there that makes me want to go back for seconds.

    Does anyone know of a pizza place in So Calif. that has a good fresh rising crust, “good” tasting pizza?

    It seems most pizza restaurants have a flat, flavorless, hard, pre-frozen crust as their only option. I would rather go without then eat a piece of cardboard pizza.

    Thanks for your comments. I think I’ll wait to hear better reports about CPK’s GF pizza before I try it.

  31. So glad to see all the feed back on here!
    I have been strictly GF since I was diagnosed in 1990 – 6th person in the nation with Celiac Disease… GF food has come so far!!! We have to be vigilant due to soooo many are simply not educated on Celiac Disease! I have two older children(tween & teen) that were tested & diagnosed in 2005 with CD! It’s hard keeping track god myself much less two school age children! Just an FYI it’s not necessarily that the restaurant isn’t vigilant enough about cross contamination as many with CD will also find down the road after much frustration & less than tasty food that they are still not feeling great when they eat out other than at home…. Been there done that… Thought it was restuarant…. Come to find out I have an intolerance to acidic foods(tomatoes, citrus) Eggs!!! Almost died as an infant from dairy!!! It’s proven in research that most percentage of CD’ers have other food allergies or will at some point get them! Keep in mind that most docs dont tell you, watch for basic foods like meat, eggs, cheese…. That these are bi-products of animals that very well may eat grains!!! Unknown unless you monitor them 24/7 & possibly caged of grass feed, not always a guarantee!!!

  32. I’ve had the pizza twice, and both times it was extremely delicious. One of my favorite GF crusts–and I’ve had a lot! I love that it is thin. The toppings are superior to most other pizzas I’ve had in that they are fresh and top quality. I had no reaction at all. I would definitely eat there again.

  33. I’m one of the celiacs who get dermatitis herpetiformis, the miserable skin rash that can take months to resolve. I’m dealing with it right now after eating a chicken salad at a restaurant that I normally have no problems with. I was also sick after that salad. Not worth the chance – believe me. California PIzza Kitchen will not ever see me cross their doorstep.
    I worked at a resort once where I would see a waitress rush in to the kitchen and grab the salad out of the large bowl with her hand ( no tongs ) after throwing a couple of rolls on a plate. Unless all staff is well trained there is no way a restaurant can be gluten free. The only restaurant I’ve been to so far that I consider totally safe is PF Changs and it may not be pizza, but their staff is well trained and their GF lettuce wraps are yummy.

  34. When in doubt, we all know it’s best to avoid foods that might make us sick. I dine at CPK frequently and enjoy a wide range of salads and entrees that are gluten free. I have not had a problem with cross contamination from these foods. While I love pizza, it might just be best to make them at home. We can’t really expect a gluten-full kitchen to convert entirely to accommodate celiacs, now can we? For me it’s nice enough to know they put in the effort to offer gluten free pizza – a nice treat if you are not extremely sensitive in case there is contamination. Of course, I’m the one standing in front of the frozen section excited by the gluten free options yet not purchasing them. It is just nice to know they are available and we are not ruled out in the grocery store.

  35. My wife and I ate at CPK over a week ago in Streets of Southpoint, Durham, NC. While the crust was not terribly to my liking (a little too crunchy and cracker like) the toppings on the Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage pizza were delicious and it poses a possibility of a place to eat when I am traveling. I am a diagnosed celiac (over two years ago) and suffer when I travel in airports from a lack of known good places. So far, so good, no reactions to the CPK pizza, though I prefer Mellow Mushroom, Daniels and Z-Pizza’s crust.iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

  36. I tried the pizza and will not be back for that or any other “GF” dish they offer. The pizza I thought was good but didn’t feel well after eating it, but that wasn’t the main reason that will keep me from going back. When we ordered the New GF Menu Item- Bang Bang Shrimp, I double checked with our waiter to be sure it was safe to eat. He admitted to not really knowing anything about gluten free diets and went and asked the chef if the fryer was designated as gluten free. He confirmed that it is definitely not used separately and they fry all their items in the same fryer. I am gluten free and my husband is not but will often stick to the diet in support. The managers then came to the table, again not too knowledgeable about gluten free diets, they just pointed to the disclaimer on the back saying that there can be cross contamination. That doesn’t sound like a gluten free item to me… I was quite surprised at the incompetence from such a large food chain. Looks like they jumped the gun on the gluten free menu and won’t be winning back all their lost customers just yet. My husband then wrote an email to the company and they have yet to replay beyond a lame generic auto-message.

  37. I have taken my family to CPK and I opted not to eat the pizza as I have Celiac. My children are all intolerant and so we let them eat it. They did not have any trouble with it so for them it was OK. I will just eat their chopped salad – Gluten-free and delicious! My Favorite pizza is Garlic Jims. The taste is awesome and they use separate areas and utensils for their gluten free pizza. Haven t had a problem!

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