When is it OK to bring your own gluten-free food?

Wanted to get your opinion on an article out of The Oklahoman today.

The article in question, published online on Dec 1, tells the story of a woman who got kicked out of a Muskogee Pizza Hut for bringing her celiac son’s McDonald’s food into the facility. The pair were on a field trip in town along with another parent and three additional children.

When lunchtime rolled around, the group of 6 chose Pizza Hut. However, because the two-year old son has celiac disease, the mom brought out some fries and a plain hamburger patty from McDonald’s for him to eat (UPDATE: as of December 2011, McDonald’s website includes wheat on the list of ingredients in their French Fries and states the only ingredient in the hamburger patties is beef. The Pizza Hut’s manager asked them to leave because of the food from outside; Pizza Hut’s corporate office could not be reached for comment.

Celiac disease and other food intolerances / allergies are generally considered to fall under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects our rights to “major life activities” like eating. However, I can see where a restaurant wouldn’t want to see people eating the competition’s food in their own space — onlookers wouldn’t know what was going on and might think it’s OK to bring in outside food whenever they want.

You’d think the Pizza Hut would have been able to find a compromise — bringing out a clean plate for the food and asking the family to dispose of any branded packaging, for example. Instead, they lost out on 5 paying customers immediately, and who knows how many others as word of the story spreads.

What do you think would have been correct in this situation? Have you ever tried to bring food from one restaurant to another, and were you successful?

17 thoughts on “When is it OK to bring your own gluten-free food?”

  1. I think the manager should have been more sensitive, but what struck me about this article is the fact that McDonald’s fries are NOT gluten free – they contain flavoring made from wheat. I hope the mom learns this, after the publicity this story is getting.

  2. I think all restaurants should make exceptions for those with food intolerances who want to be able to join with their friends at non-GF friendly restaurants. Also, however… someone please tell this mom that McDonald’s french fries have wheat in them (see below)! Wendy’s is a much more GF fast food restaurant.

    Quote from http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/ingredientslist.pdf:
    French Fries:
    Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

  3. Oh yes, I have brought food into one restaurant from another restaurant. I’m quiet about it and no one has ever kicked me out because of it. I’m sure someone noticed, but again, no one said anything. It’s usually Wendy’s food that I’m bringing into the likes of McDonalds, Long John Silvers, KFC, Hardees, Burger King.

  4. It’s usual restaurant protocol not to bring food bought elsewhere into another establishment. Call ahead to ask if this is acceptable. Ask also if the restaurant can accommodate a gluten-free diet. I have asked ahead of time at several restaurants if I can bring in gluten-free bread. In many places they’ve offered to toast my bread if desired.

  5. As the parent of a 4 year old Celiac, unless a restaurant has a TRAINED staff that knows how to provide a safe meal for my daughter, I bring her own lunch box with a meal I have prepared at home. I have not once had any restaurant employee think anything of it, but this could be due to her age. If I am ever told this is not okay, that restaurant will lose my business permanently. My daughter and the rest of us should not be stuck at home because the world wasn’t designed for Celiacs. What on earth is a Celiac supposed to get at a Pizza Hut??? Ridiculous. If a Celiac brings their own meal and is dining with paying customers, the restaurant should just let it go.

  6. Regarding the french fries – even if they are gluten free please be careful. The oil they are fried in may have been used to fry other things and now be contaminated. The fries will definitely soak up the contaminates.

  7. I was so surprised to hear about the comment of the person at Pizza Hut. They lost out on a big sale! They are the loosers all the way around. I will mention this news to all my none GF friends. I am so surprised that this manager was so insensitive to this food intolerance.

  8. I have taken GF food from one restaurant into restaurants w/o GF options and have never had a problem. It has generally been while traveling w/family so they are paying customers and I always by my drink from the place in which I’m eating so that I am also a paying customer. I would never even consider eating in a place w/o purchasing something from them just as I would never just sit and read/study w/o purchasing something or use the establishments public restroom w/o purchasing something. It is a simple courtesy that I was taught by my parents.

  9. Wendy’s might not include wheat in their fries but they use soy oil in them which many people are sensitive to. Just something to keep in mind.

    Also depending on the country you are in McDonald’s fries, hashbrowns, and breading on the fish patties can be Gluten Free. Just something to think about when traveling overseas. I know that is the case in Hong Kong and might pertain to all of Asia but check first obviously in case changes have been made.

  10. I just noticed Lesley’s comment on a restaurant offering to toast her GF bread. A toaster would mean cross contamination. Toasting it in an oven on a clean pan might work?? but I sure wouldn’t take the chance on the staff caring enough to be careful. I have been glutenized in a higher end chain that has a GF menu, a manager that comes to your table with the safety blah blah of their restaurant, explains the menu, keeps checking on you & the kitchen. It was the best GF fried haddock i have ever had! Evidently it tasted so good as it wasn’t GF ? Fried in the wrong fryer maybe? I sometimes just bring my yogurt and order a beverage.I tell the waitstaff I have food allergies, and so far no problems.

  11. I am 48 years old and have never had a problem. I’ve brought in full meals , GF soy sauce, GF bread, and also dairy free cheeses and never had a problem. Let the Manager know, not because you have to, but out of respect. They appreciate it and it also creates understanding. Knowledge goes along way for all of us.

  12. Being a celiac for almost 12 years, I’ve discovered that it really depends on the restaurant. Hopefully soon there will be laws to protect food allergen customers from restuarant policies that do not allow food to be brought in.

    Many restaurants, however, do allow food from home to be brought in as long as it does not need to be brought back into their kitchen.
    If you call ahead of time, some resturaunts will even allow you to bring in your own food for staff to prepare in their kitchen (from experience the food usually needs to be store packaged and unopened, seal not broken).

    One time, the 1 item on the menu (GF pizza) was sold out so they let me bring in food from another restaurant but told me they were making an exception because they were not able to accomodate.

    I have not experienced a restuarant yet that has turned me away because I brought in food from home, (even movie theaters) especially if the restuarant cannot accomodate. If I am ever asked to leave, they would have to physically remove me from their restuarant, because it needs to be fought that allergen sensitive customers have the RIGHT to safely eat in ANY restuarant or facility!

  13. I have attended celiac education at Children’s Hospital Boston which have addressed the controversy surrounding french fries at McDonalds and they have explained numerous times that the fries are, in fact, gluten free. They have given the explanation regarding the wheat in the flavoring. I forget the exact wording but it has to do with the process. When tested it was confirmed gluten free.

  14. Laura, can you point me to a reference that the Children’s Hospital uses to address the controversy? I wish to show my group this reference.

  15. OMG. You guys are acting like the kid is going to keel over in anaphylactic shock. When the worse that might happen from occasional exposure is a little diarrhea. Cross-contaminated cooking oil? How about the menace posed by a stray bread crumb on the buffet adulterating his salad?

    What’s much more toxic for your kids is your anxious need to control that’s crippling your kid for life.
    Get a grip.

  16. LOL. I get skin rash, headache, vomiting, and fatigue.. Some people have no symptoms; others have many.Intestinal damage is the main problem.And yes, a crumb can cause a reaction.
    I don’t think ANYONE owes us GF food choices, but it’s nice to eat out relatively safely once in a while, and not be excluded from social situations.
    It’s amusing to me, how hostile people can get regarding other people’s medical issues.

  17. I tried to have Denny’s use my bread for a sandwich. The manager told me according to state law here in California, that they would be subjected to a heavy fine if a food inspector came in and saw that they had made a sandwich from my gf bread. What they did for me was put all the makings of a sandwich on a plate and I was supposed to make a sandwich for myself, which I did.

    We have a chain called Coco’s here in San Diego and they can do gluten free pancakes. I have tried them and they are good and so far I have not gotten sick.

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