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acousticmom

Accomodating Celiacs At Potlucks

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I'm not sure where to post this, but I could use some advice from anyone who's helped organize buffets, etc. for public dining and have also managed to accomodate celiacs.

Here's the situation: We now have 3 celiacs plus 1 gluten-intolerant person at our church. Given the increase in diagnoses lately (yay for the awareness efforts!!), I'm sure there will be more in the future.

When my son and I were the only ones, we usually skipped potlucks. But now that there are more of us, I'd like to offer the others a way to go and enjoy both the company and some gluten-free food.

The celiacs need to be confident that the gluten-free offerings are prepared and served in completely safe ways. It's also important that other people don't feel offended (i.e. avoiding hand-slapping when a normal person reaches gluteny hands toward gluten-free food).

We've considered a separate, staffed, well-labeled table that's separate from the rest of the potluck, but that's not ideal--the people qualified to supervise it would prefer to socialize, and it's too hard to educate a couple hundred adults and kids so they won't unknowingly cross-contaminate. Plus, the message of "you [normal folks] can't eat this food" is awkward at best.

Maybe a separate table in a separate room that only celiacs (and potentially others with food allergies, too) know about.

Has anyone tackled this successfully?

Carol

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My husband's aunt died last September. Hundreds of people came to the funeral, including the very large family and many friends. Afterwards there was a buffet lunch.

Her daughter-in-law organized it. Because my daughter and her five kids and I are gluten intolerant, plus one cousin with celiac disease, who appears to be severely allergic to wheat in addition to celiac disease, and one other person with celiac disease I didn't know came, she had a table with gluten-free foods on the other side of the room from where the other food was.

Before everybody was invited to get their food, she announced that there was a table with gluten-free food across the room from the other food, to make sure everybody who needed to eat gluten-free would be able to eat safely.

I don't know of anybody who got glutened, we were all fine.

So, I don't think anybody would be offended if there was a table with gluten-free food well away from the other foods, and it would be announced that gluten-free food was available on that table, to keep people with gluten intolerances safe.

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When I prepare food for potlucks (as I do most every month) I make things that require ladles or tongs such as soup in a large metal pot with a long handled ladle--and salad in a large bowl which also has long tongs. I avoid making or eating things that are finger food. Generally I only eat what I make unless it clearly has no gluten and has not been pawed over. I set out the silverware in mugs so each is distinct. We have bottled water in small separate bottles. I have never gotten glutened even from the leftovers. Everyone loves what I bring; usually I am the only person there that knows she has celiac. I often talk about it; I am not bashful about making people more aware but do so with good humor. I am very sensitive to CC so I think I would know if I got CC'd or not.

Bea

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I too have been wondering the same thing, having just attended a potluck last week and ate a few bites of fresh fruit. There were salads as well, but not sure about the dressings, some had croutons, etc. Best not to take a chance.

I am not aware of others in our group who are gluten-free (although I do know one CF), so it feels less "cater to me because I'm special" if I just eat ahead of time and not worry about it.

I do bring my own gluten-free muffins to work, and everyone eats them and is aware that I can't eat what they bring.

That's a good thought about the table away from the other tables to prevent CC, but until there are others who are aware, that will not work for me. At least I know it's do-able! (Some day!)

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My sister is a celiac too, and both of her son's wedding receptions included gluten free foods. They were integrated in with the other foods, they just were naturally gluten free foods. Such as mashed potatoes, vegetables, chicken, sweet and sour meatballs (which she made gluten free, no one can tell), you just have to be creative sometimes. Ask first too. Don't ever be afraid to ask. As for potlucks, the dish you bring will be gluten free, and if you are afraid it will be contaminated before you get there, then fix a side dish for yourself before you go, keep it aside and it will be waiting for you anyways, you don't have to worry that way!

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I personally would not put the gluten-free food on a separate table, but that's just me. I think we spend enough time separated from the food of others. A potluck is supposed to be all inclusive.

If all the gluten-free food is placed on the table together, with a clear but subtle demarcation line (maybe a potted plant or a different tablecloth) the gluten-free people will know what foods are safe for them. Clue them into the scheme ahead of time, and they are the only ones that need to know about it. Then let the gluten-free people go through the line first (again, in a subtle way, just make sure they are at the table first). Then they can load up their plates and move on to enjoy the socializing. Going back for seconds is probably a bad idea, but if they get all their stuff on the first pass, there shouldn't be any CC worries.

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Our entire family eats gluten-free and attends a Lutheran church. (Lutheran = potlucks at least once a month. :P )

I don't have any particular ideas to add, but here are my experiences:

One woman at our church always brings the most amazing baked beans to potlucks. Because we are friends, I was able to ask her about the ingredients and the preparation process and have felt comfortable eating her dish. It is in a large container with a long spoon so I don't fear CC.

We always bring something main-dish-y that we really love to eat to share with the others. That way we are sure to get a main dish, we are sure to like it, and we're sure it's safe.

We always bring a little this-and-that from home to fill out our plates just in case no one brings fresh fruit or other safe foods. You can never tell what you are going to get at a potluck, so it's nice to have a fallback plan. The first couple potlucks after diagnosis we got some strange looks from the other members for bringing single-portion extras, but after we explained the rigidity of our diet, no one ever was bothered by it.

Lastly there is a "faction" (haha) at our church that is subversively plotting to require allergen/irritant labels on potluck foods. We're only kidding of course, but this person has celiac, that man is on a salt-restricted diet, this little girl hasn't outgrown her egg allergy yet, and that person has a nut allergy, etc. We've gotten a few good conversations started and people are beginning to realize that when a person on a restricted diet asks you detailed questions about your recipe and cooking methods, they aren't being rude, they're being safe.

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When we have office potlucks I always make a gluten free dish. I used to bring just fruit salad and then I would bring brownies but the last few I have made gluten free chicken scampi or gluten free pasta bake. The chicken scampi was a huge hit, I had none to take home. It was great. There is usually a fruit/veggie tray or cheese tray. I usually can not have desserts or main dishes but I fill up on the other stuff.

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Guest digmom1014

Please advise the rest of us about the chicken scampi dish, it sound delish! I assume it is the same as shrimp scampi. What do you do for breading?

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I am lucky to live in a town with a small congregation in our church. The ladies usually in charge of pot lucks always want me and my family to attend, so they try really hard to make sure we have safe foods. The lady who usually brings the BBQ brisket (that is absolutley wonderful!) makes sure all her seasonings are safe. I bring a side or two and a dessert. The hardest time I have a watching my 2 kids who don't understand why they can't eat other food yet!

At a smaller get-together, one friend even made me a cup of her cheesecake stuff w/ whip cream before she spread the rest on her crust! It was so yummy!!!!

At our last big potluck, I placed my special cake on a seperate table in the dessert room. Someone came in later and placed a big chocolate cake behind it. I made sure to get my families cake first, so it was fine. But then I stupidly took our cake home and ate the rest over the next few days. After my last piece, a noticed a crumb of the gluten cake on my cake platter, and figured out why I had been so sick! So a designated seperate table will be made next time!

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You folks are awesome. Great ideas!

Using long-handled serving utensils and different decorations around the gluten-free foods would help make the same-table-scenario work, as long as you don't mind sacrificing seconds and leftovers. (At our house, I mark all buffet leftovers with an "X" for possible cc, and the gluten-eaters eat them, so nothing goes to waste). I'm not sure how we'd label ingredients for additional food allergies, though I could see a need for that also in the future. Maybe we could have a "point person" that people can talk to, who knows what the dietary needs are and can be available for ingredient questions.

I have to say, we are blessed to have non-celiac friends at church (great cooks as well) who've quickly learned the ins and outs of gluten-free food prep and are honest enough to tell us if they're not sure if something is safe. Their hospitality inspires me!

Keep the potluck ideas coming. I'm also curious about budget-conscious gluten-free recipes to feed a crowd (not only for potlucks, but also for hungry teenagers and friends at home). Maybe those have already been posted elsewhere.

Carol

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Its interesting all the different experiences. I eat out in restaurants a few times a week (biz and for pleasure) and almost never have a problem.

However many times that I eat at a friends house I get gluttened and at every potluck except for 1 I've gotten glutened.

Our neighborhood has a big grassy open lawn and we have pot lucks (and clam bakes) there in the summer. I stopped even attending the potlucks because I'd get so sick. Last year I had a couple of neighbors tell me they understood gluten-free and so were making things I could eat so I'd attend. I got there early and got my green salad, fruit salad, plain grilled chicken and potato before the bulk of everyone arrived (about 40 people) and I'll tell you... people are just messy!

The spoons from the pasta salad went into the fruit salad! The lasagna spoon was used in the baked beans, the tongs for the meat was used on bread rolls. If I had not been first in the "grub" line there is no way I could have eaten there!

From where I sit I'd much prefer to have the gluten-free food at another table. I have no issues like some do about feeling good that the food I can eat is all inclusive i.e. near gluten food. I don't feel shunned or offended by a gluten-free table, I feel safe. I got glutened this past weekend at a friends house (OK I am done done done with dinner parties... her food was safe, she called me and we went over every ingredient but I"m guessing it was the pots, pans, wooden spoons, ugh) so right now I'm still so sick a separate table would look like a gift to me!

Maybe talk to the people that need to be gluten-free and see if they have any problems with a gluten-free table or if they have any ideas.

Have fun!

Susan

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I would never eat at a potluck even if I did know all the ingredients in things. I would be too concerned with CC. I did go to one potluck where a friend had made what I knew was safe food, and he let me take some for me before he put it out on the table for everyone. The only way I'd even consider eating potluck food is if gluten-free food was at a separate table. But I have to know someone very well to trust their food is truly gluten-free when they say it is. I'd be less nervous eating food prepared by an actual celiac, but what if a non-celiac decides to bring sliced fruit and thinks it's gluten-free but forgot that they'd just baked cookies in the kitchen? I've had many of my friends say "oh, you can eat this" until I remind them that they used something like soy sauce that they don't realize has wheat in it.

I still attend potlucks for the social aspects, but I bring my own food.

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The spoons from the pasta salad went into the fruit salad! The lasagna spoon was used in the baked beans, the tongs for the meat was used on bread rolls. If I had not been first in the "grub" line there is no way I could have eaten there!

I was going to include something like this in my response. Put the gluten free stuff away from gluten stuff to avoid these sorts of things (one end of table maybe). You could also use this as a subtle education process with a small sign near the gluten-free section reminding people that some people have food allergies and please avoid using a serving utensil from one dish in another.

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At my last pot luck I made sure I had many serving spoons (metal and bought at a dollar store) and a sign above the table explaining that their were people in the group who would be very sick if any of the serving utensils were moved from their designated dishes. I kept the gluten free on one end of the table and the gluten food on the other. I had no cross contamination issues at this party. In fact most people went out of their way to make their food gluten free, they thought of it as a fun challenge.

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We go to a potluck every other month. I take a dish I know I can eat and I ask if I may serve myself first so I can avoid CC by my serving spoon touching other peep's food as they're dishing my dish on to their partially filled plates. No problems! No seconds... but no problems!

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Hi,

I handled some of the preparations for our 45th high school reunion last Summer, and since I am intolerant of all grains, all milk and dairy, egg whites and yeast, I contacted only restaurants for catering that I knew would be mostly "safe." The Saturday night buffet was Greek Chicken with salad, rice, beans and rolls, and since I had eaten there I knew that everything except the bread was gluten-free. Sunday Lunch was Wrangler Barbecue, and since I had eaten there many times I knew that the beef, ham, cole slaw and beans were safe, though the rolls had to be avoided. I've found that most people with food allergies know what to avoid and what to go for, so that makes the buffet dilemma easier. That is a good idea though to label foods as "Gluten-Free," an idea that I have found to be most helpful at the health food store I frequent. My former daughter-in-law used to create little flags using straws and construction paper, and that would certainly make life easier for those who have already suffered so much because of their food intolerances. Welda

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