When “Gluten Free” Does Not Mean “Free of Gluten”

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My husband and I recently traveled to Kauai, Hawaii for a conference. We ended up having a peaceful and wonderful time, but, as usual, I was nervous to eat due to concerns about being “glutened” while traveling. I was well prepared for the long flight with fruit, nuts, water, Larabars, and other snacks. Once we arrived at the resort, however, my anxiety set in, despite being assured by the concierge that all of the cafes, restaurants, etc. in the resort had “gluten free” options available.

The first morning of our trip I went down to grab breakfast on the terrace. I had placed an order for a large coffee and a fruit bowl, when I saw a sign stating that gluten free muffins were available. I inquired about where the gluten free muffins were, and the clerk pointed to the glass case with shelves of regular muffins, croissants, and pastries. The gluten free muffins were at the bottom of the case, in the perfect location to have an ongoing shower of crumbs as the higher up regular pastries, croissants, and muffins were removed for customers. I suggested that they move the gluten free muffins to the top row to prevent cross-contamination and I mentioned that someone with Celiac Disease could get very sick from eating one of the muffins.

The next morning I was pleased to see that the gluten free muffins had been moved to the top row, but upon closer inspection, saw that they were “kissing” the gluten containing muffins next to them (see poorly taken photo from my cell phone). Sigh….

I was reminded once again that, as Celiacs, we need to be very careful to confirm that our “gluten free” food is truly gluten free and free of cross-contamination. If a “gluten free” chicken breast is grilled on the same surface as wheat-containing buns, it is not gluten free. If “gluten free” french fries are made in the same fryer as onion rings and mozzarella sticks, they are not gluten free. If “gluten free” muffins are touching gluten-containing muffins, they are not gluten free. We must always watch our muffins and we need our families and loved ones to do the same.

Fortunately, I met a woman named Marie Cassel on the island, and thanks to her 100% gluten free bakery, Sweet Marie’s, in Lihue, I ate muffins to my heart’s delight. I truly regret not eating more of them while I had the opportunity! Now we will definitely have to return to Kauai….


12 thoughts on “When “Gluten Free” Does Not Mean “Free of Gluten”

  1. Maxyne

    Thanks for your article! I had this same problem while travelling in Southeast Asia. Most of the traditional food there is gluten-free, but since many “westernized” restaurants know their patrons want bread and wheat pasta, I was sick a lot!

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Maxyne,
      Your experience in SE Asia really shows how careful we need to be everywhere that we go. How were you able to communicate your dietary needs while traveling in Asia? Did you use GF cards or another resource?
      Thanks for reading!

  2. Anne Fitzgerald

    Thank U for the info on sweet Marie’s. We’ve been to Kauai twice. Last time we found a back roads health shop that carried GF products. My friend who was also there had discovered this place. I wish I could remember the name. I believe it was east of Lihue.

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Anne,
      I absolutely loved the island and hope to be able to go back and hike the trail on the Na Pali coast. You are lucky to have been there twice!
      We were able to stop at an organic/whole foods store called Living Foods in Poipu shortly after arriving and I was able to stock up on some GF essentials. it wasn’t cheap, but was worth it.
      For restaurants, I was able to eat at the following places without getting sick (I am very sensitive to cross contamination):
      Roy’s (Poipu)
      Verde (excellent little Mexican place in Lihue, they even carried Redbridge!)
      Tidepools (at Hyatt)
      The Beach House (I think it was in Koloa)
      And of course my favorite, Sweet Marie’s!

      Take care and Happy New Year! Jess

  3. Amanda

    Good post! This is the most frustrating part of celiac disease. People always think there are a lot of options, but unfortunately most of them aren’t actually gluten free.

    1. Jess Post author

      I agree with you Amanda. Since there are so many people eating gluten free now (and for so many different reasons), I find it difficult to get waiters and other food service people to understand how careful I need to be to avoid cross contamination and that I am not eating GF just for fun or as a “trend.” And although Celiac Disease is not an “allergy,” I sometimes find myself saying that I have an extremely severe gluten allergy, because I feel that it makes them understand it better.

  4. Dana

    I agree with Amanda, that is one of the most frustrating elements of celiac. When you start questioning people they sometimes look at you like you’re crazy or ungrateful.

    Good to know about the GF bakery! Now I just need to get to Hawaii :)

    1. Jess Post author

      I agree with you Dana and I have gotten the “crazy” look more times than I can count! And I have walked out of restaurants more times than I can count as well (after discussing needing to be gluten free and realizing that I would not be safe eating from the kitchen of the restaurant).
      I definitely recommend Hawaii…perhaps in the future one of the big Celiac Disease conferences will be there and we can all meet up!

        1. Jess Post author

          Melinda, I totally missed the 4 v. 5 letters thing too. But, yes, I know that I have seemed like a *itch in restaurants and catered events more times than I can count!

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