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How to eat at a cookout if you're trying to be gluten-free

It'll just take a little planning and maybe a chat with the host beforehand

If you're one of the millions of people who tro to follow a gluten-free diet, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some good old fashioned cookout food this summer.

Whether you're gluten-free because you have celiac disease or you just choose to stay away from gluten, you have to be mindful of cross-contamination, says Kay Sharrett of the Celiac Disease Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

And if you or your child plans to attend a cookout, you should speak to the host beforehand to give him some gluten-free tips.

"When going to a cookout, parents with a child who is gluten-free because of celiac disease or a wheat allergy need to make sure that cross-contamination has been avoided and that they read labels carefully," said Sharrett. "Especially if gathering with a group who may not understand the particulars of a gluten-free diet."

In addition, Sharrett says it's a good idea to bring your own gluten-free dishes when you're going to a cookout and you might want to bring your own bread too. 

If you arrive at a cookout and there isn't any gluten-free bread available, you can always use a piece of lettuce for a bun instead, says Sharrett.

Moreover, she says a common way that cross-contamination occurs is when regular food is being cooked over gluten-free food, so cooking things in tinfoil is always your safest bet.

Heat doesn't help

And don't think that heat gets rid of gluten, say the folks at CeliacCentral.org. That simply isn't the case.

"It's a common misconception that gluten can be killed if it is cooked at high temperatures. This is not true," Celiac Central says on its website. "Gluten is a particle, not a bacteria, so it cannot be destroyed with heat. The only way to remove gluten is by thoroughly cleaning the surface."

And if you're going to a cookout, you may want to consider buying a travel grill. This way, you'll never have to worry about a person's grill being cleaned properly.

Plus, travel grills are small enough to carry, so bringing one shouldn't be a big hassle for you at all.

Experts say some of the most common places where cross-contamination happens are on things like eating utensils, plates, bowls, containers, aprons, basters, meat brushes and scissors, cutting boards and people's hands.

Additionally, Sharrett says you really need to look out for condiments as well.

"Closely watch the condiments," she says. "Read the labels, and if squeeze bottles aren't being used, try to be first in line to avoid contamination from knives that have touched bread containing gluten."

Tiny amounts

Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says even the smallest amount of gluten can cause damage if you have celiac disease.

"For people with celiac disease, even just a microscopic amount of gluten can cause a reaction and damage to the intestines, such as a single bread crumb on a plate or speck of wheat flour on manufacturing equipment," she notes.

Plus, Begun says when attending a party or cookout; ask the host if you can serve yourself first. This will lower the risk of you becoming a victim of cross-contamination.

"It may seem like bad manners," she says. "But it has the exact opposite effect. Serving yourself first allows you to participate in the meal rather than feeling awkward for having an empty plate because the dishes aren't safe to eat."

Lastly, Sharrett says to follow these simple rules whenever you're dining at someone's house for a cookout or for any other occasion:

  • Ask the host if the meat being served was seasoned with soup mixes that contain wheat.
  • Ask the host if he or she used sauces or marinades that contain wheat and be mindful of items like veggie burgers and "mock meats," since they often have wheat too.
  • Be sure your meats and veggies are wrapped in foil, even if the host has designated a separate part of the grill for you. And ask the host if he can use a separate spatula to handle your food. Or simply choose to bring one yourself.

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