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Need Advice: Cafateria Style Meals For 3 Days

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I have to go away for 3 nights to a training facility next week for work. All meals are served cafeteria style for over 1,500 people daily and some gluten-free options (mostly veggies) are spread throughout the cafeteria (which I think leads to a huge chance of cross contamination). I've reached out ahead of time to see if I can get meals prepared separately or at least in a clean environment and put aside for me to not risk the CC, but am not sure how to handle the response I received back from the training facility. The catering manager assured me that "we can handle low-gluten diets. We have a handful of them here every day - it has increased in 'popularity' quite a bit over the years". She then goes on to explain that the staff is available to answer specific questions that I may have about the food when I eat in the cafeteria.

I think the facility is being great and super accommodating, but I don't seem to think that they "get it" or at least all aspects of it. Low-gluten just isn't good enough. I don't trust that there will not be cross contamination while the food is being prepared. I don't think they will know all of the places gluten can hide aside from bread.

How would you handle a situation like this? I am going to set up a meeting with the head chef when I arrive at the facility, but how do you educate someone quickly and completely on all aspects of this issue? I'm afraid if I'm not confident that my meals will be prepared correctly, I'll eat nothing but fruit for 4 days (which I can do if necessary).

Thanks for any advice you have.

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I would have to say that I would not be confident in that answer either. Low gluten is not the same as gluten free.

I would come prepared with food to supplement whatever you can find that is safe in the cafateria. If you have time for another round of emailing, I would ask what kind of packaged food do they have that might be safe for you (just so you wouldn't have to bring as much). Would they have hardboiled eggs? yogurt? individual cheese sticks? chips? Would you have access to a microwave so that you could easily heat up a (safe) can of soup or chili?

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I agree with Janet. Bring some safe food like pb & nuts. Ask about a fridge or microwave.

If you are driving, it's easier to bring food.. If not, is there a grocery near by? You could get some packaged cold cuts or cheese?

Figure this out before you get there. If they insist that they will help you when you get there, tell them that doesn't work. Gluten lite will make you sick. You don't want to end up sick from thier food or hungry because you can't eat it.

I'm sure your employer is paying a lot for this education. They wouldn't want to waste the money with you being sick from the food.

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Find out where the nearest hospital is, print out the location. When you meet with the chef, also have the manager there. Casually talk about how you can't have even the slightest scrap of gluten. Hand them the location of the hospital. Ask about which ambulance service they'll be using if you get sick from some careless person at the food serving place. Then talk about how much easier it will be if they just.... then describe exactly how you want your food prepared.

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I agree that low-gluten statement is terrifying!

I have been packing some of the Amy's Organic - gluten-free frozen meals, when I doubt for a work situation or traveling food situation. They are easy to pack and know thats its a health amount of food for lunch or dinner.

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Find out where the nearest hospital is, print out the location. When you meet with the chef, also have the manager there. Casually talk about how you can't have even the slightest scrap of gluten. Hand them the location of the hospital. Ask about which ambulance service they'll be using if you get sick from some careless person at the food serving place. Then talk about how much easier it will be if they just.... then describe exactly how you want your food prepared.

I think this is a good way to get the seriousness across. Just be prepared to supply all your own food. This may scare them & they will say they cannot possibly guarantee safe food for you in a cafeteria style setting.

You can threaten with ADA and that stuff but that could take years & serious money to go thru the court system.....

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I have to go away for 3 nights to a training facility next week for work. All meals are served cafeteria style for over 1,500 people daily and some gluten-free options (mostly veggies) are spread throughout the cafeteria (which I think leads to a huge chance of cross contamination). I've reached out ahead of time to see if I can get meals prepared separately or at least in a clean environment and put aside for me to not risk the CC, but am not sure how to handle the response I received back from the training facility. The catering manager assured me that "we can handle low-gluten diets. We have a handful of them here every day - it has increased in 'popularity' quite a bit over the years". She then goes on to explain that the staff is available to answer specific questions that I may have about the food when I eat in the cafeteria.

I think the facility is being great and super accommodating, but I don't seem to think that they "get it" or at least all aspects of it. Low-gluten just isn't good enough. I don't trust that there will not be cross contamination while the food is being prepared. I don't think they will know all of the places gluten can hide aside from bread.

How would you handle a situation like this? I am going to set up a meeting with the head chef when I arrive at the facility, but how do you educate someone quickly and completely on all aspects of this issue? I'm afraid if I'm not confident that my meals will be prepared correctly, I'll eat nothing but fruit for 4 days (which I can do if necessary).

Thanks for any advice you have.

Having worked in a cafeteria my advice would be not to eat anything there. Except maybe bottled drinks and bags of chips, things that you could read the ingredients.

There is too much risk of Cc. Even packages of eggs/veg etc are prepared and packaged on site. Ours were prepared by the grill cook.

Things like ground beef sometimes have grain added at manufacture. It's called fortified meat or something like that. Like at Taco Bell. It's cheaper than reg. beef.

I prepared the salad bar but also did the early morning baking in the same area.

I was a clean freak and fanatic about cross cont. but it still happens in that kind of environment.

You would be better off taking your own food and asking about access to a microwave.

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I agree with Janet. Bring some safe food like pb & nuts. Ask about a fridge or microwave.

If you are driving, it's easier to bring food.. If not, is there a grocery near by? You could get some packaged cold cuts or cheese?

Check with the hotel about a getting a fridge in your room. The hotel will also be able to tell you about local markets, ask the hotel if they provide a courtesy van to take you. If you are flying pack a soft sided cooler in your luggage with ice packs (you will have to check the luggage not carry on). You could take your own bread, crackers, canned soup, tuna (flip tops), frozen meals, etc.

Good luck and please don't take the cafeterias word about low gluten. With a little planning you'll be safe and enjoy the conference.

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Wait, you've only been gluten-free for a week? I'm going to go against the flow here. If I were you, I wouldn't sweat it. You're not likely to have a serious reaction to a little CC and you can "start the timer" on your REAL gluten-free diet when you return. I don't think small amounts of CC for three days will make a big difference at this stage of the game.

People don't usually start having unexpectedly strong reactions to small amounts of gluten CC until they've been on the diet for quite a bit longer than a week or two. What can happen is that once your body is free of gluten and your immune system starts working correctly, you can discover that your silent celiac is not so silent any more. You may get moderate to strong symptoms because your immune system starts responding normally to something it considers dangerous. At that point, going to a conference and eating slightly CC food can have you in orbit around the toilet or curled up with cramps and you have to go to the great lengths we're describing to get "clean" food.

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Thanks everyone for your tips! I'm definitely going to bring some food with me - unfortunately its a flight away so don't think I'll do the frozen but maybe pb, nuts and some other goodies! I'm also going to talk to the staff and see what they have in package form that I can research before I go.

Skylark - I travel often and go to trainings like this multiple times a year...Yes, maybe this instance I will be ok, but I'm trying to figure out how to eat gluten-free for life and the adjustments I need to make to make that possible. How do I handle these situations when they come up so often, is it ok to eat traces of gluten a few times a year? Am I too worried?

Thanks for your help!

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First of all I would use the word "allergy" when you talk to them. No "celiac" and no "intolerance" -- full-blown "allergy." People understand that more.

But that said, I would still bring my food with me. If you're only going for three days you could fill your checked bag with lots of goodies, and put some clothes in your carry-on.

I would bring things like:

-- individual packets of tuna

-- cheese sticks (they will keep just fine if you keep them in the ice bucket with plenty of ice)

-- dried fruit

-- nuts

-- bars -- Glutino nutrigrain-like bars are my favorite but there are plenty of others

-- peanut butter

-- jelly

-- bread (take it out of it's original bag and repackage it into sandwich-sized plastic storage containers so that it doesn't get squished)

I would also bring along a small hot pot thing that boils water, for those noodle soups.

If you can have access to a microwave (if there isn't one in your room you might stress that "allergy" part and they might give you access to one in the kitchen) then you can bring all sorts of things:

-- beans

-- Hormel beef stew

-- canned soup

-- etc. -- anything you can find in a can/box in the store.

I work in a hospital -- a hospital! which in my opinion ought to be aware of these things -- and the only thing I'm confident of eating in the cafeteria are the hard-boiled eggs. :ph34r:

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Skylark - I travel often and go to trainings like this multiple times a year...Yes, maybe this instance I will be ok, but I'm trying to figure out how to eat gluten-free for life and the adjustments I need to make to make that possible. How do I handle these situations when they come up so often, is it ok to eat traces of gluten a few times a year? Am I too worried?

Everybody is different. There was an Italian study that is cited a lot, where people were given placebo, 10mg of gluten, or 50mg of gluten for three months. The placebo group did best, and the 50mg group had worsened biopsies. The 10mg group was in-between with 6 of the 13 people showing no biopsy change at the end of the study. This means it's possible some celiacs can tolerate a little gluten. This is also a 90-day study and you are only looking at 3 day periods.

There are also studies of European people eating bread made from codex wheat starch that is only guaranteed to be under 200 ppm gluten. Some of the people eating that bread were perfectly fine by symptoms, blood, and biopsy; others told the researcher that they couldn't tolerate anything but naturally gluten-free foods and never touched the stuff.

As I mentioned, the issue for many of us isn't necessarily a reaction so strong that there is villous atrophy. It's that a trace of gluten will have us cramped up and absolutely miserable, sometimes with lingering symptoms for days. You will learn your personal level of sensitivity and if your celiac stays silent then you may be lucky enough to be able to tolerate a little gluten CC a few times a year. You might talk to your doctor about the possibility of getting a repeat biopsy with a lifestyle that includes exposure to traces of gluten with travel and conferences.

My own tolerance for CC isn't too bad right now, though I have gone through periods where I was quite sensitive. If food is served buffet-style I would ask for a plate prepared in the kitchen. I will get sick if I eat food from a buffet where there are breadcrumbs everywhere or someone used the pasta spoon in something that would otherwise have been reasonably gluten-free. If it's a real cafeteria where servers are using separate utensils and making plates as I moved through the line, I would not get sick as long as the food was prepared with reasonable care. (Clean knives, pots, and food preparation surfaces, etc.)

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You can google the name of the town you are going to, with "gluten free health food store" or "gluten free grocery," and get the names of possible venues. Then get a rental car and go shopping when you get there. You can also try shipping a box of (non perishable) gluten free food there in advance, or put it in checked luggage. If you are staying at a hotel you should call the concierge now and ask for advice on this, also. You should be able to have access to a mini fridge and microwave on grounds of it being medically necessary.

The only problem with this eating the cafeteria food is that you are going to set a precedent with your co workers and boss thinking that you can eat regular cafeteria food, and that it won't bother you, whether or not it does. So in the future they will think that providing this sort of meal plan is just okay-dokey for celiacs. They may think they are being accommodating when they are not, and getting charged for and paying for your "gluten lite" :unsure: food, when they are not. You do not want to be seen as being the type of person who is difficult or making a fuss, obviously....nobody does. But you don't want to get sick, either.

Skylark is correct, now, you may be able to eat cc'd food without too much of a problem, later, weeks, months, or years from now, you may recoil from just the thought of it. The worst thing is reacting to a common gluten free ingredient, that is the biggest PIA because people will try to feed it to you anyway :rolleyes: .

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I agree w/ bringing your own food. A place that routinely serves 1500 a day cafeteria style isn't interested in making concessions for special needs. And anyplace that claims to serve "low gluten" foods sounds like a place to avoid entirely!

Just pack your gluten free foods in a box and check it in with your baggage. Then leave the box behind when you return. Yes, you have to pay for the checked bag on the outbound flight, but is worth it to not have to worry about whether you are going to pass out from starvation, or have to run to the bathroom very 20 minutes during training.

Your meals may be boring and simple, but its only 3 days out of your life.

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Personally, my first step would be to email or call the person you contacted back and explain that your diet is not a "low gluten diet" but a completely gluten free diet and that it is a medical need. And see what the response is but still plan on providing most of your own food.

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Re the "low gluten" - It sounds like they may they may be thinking of the low-carb type diets, since their popularity was mentioned. I'd make it clear that you are gluten free for medical reasons, as opposed to following a low-carb regimen like the paleo diet or Atkins or something similar to those.

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We always bring our own food. Since you are flying in, I would find out about grocery stores in the area. You might find it valuable to arrive a day early (or early on the first day if it starts in the evening) so that you can do some shopping and prep cooking. Pack the essentials to do some minimal cooking while you are there.

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I travel 1-3 times a month on business and always bring food with me to supplement what I can safely eat or to feed me if nothing is available. Costco sell a great soft sided cooler ( called Coolmate) that has flown all over the world with me. It can be checked as luggage (if you have liquids in it) I use frozen water bottles for cooling and then have to drink or taken as carry on ( use frozen bags of peas for cooling).

The hotel or training center must provide you with a refrig (ADA). Request with your reservation and tell them it's for medical reasons. They can charge you but your employer would be obligated to reimburse you. I have only been charged twice in the last ten years.

If a mircrowave is not available you would be amazed what you can heat up in a coffee maker pot in your hotel room if you reslly want hot food - Hot choc to soup to chili, etc

Toaster bags (available on Amazon) are great for taking your gluten-free bread, muffin, waffle and toasting at a breakfast bar, I often bring my own toaster tho.

Some suggested items to take (list may vary depending on what you can eat All gluten-free of course

- almond or coconut milk

Cereal

Bread or English muffin, or waffles or muffins

Bars , granola

Tuna packets

Salad dressing

Premade panini sandwiches, quesadillas

Treat ( cookies, brownie) so you have something while everyone is enjoying dessert

Juice (in water bottles)

Cheese, crackers

Nuts, nut butter,

Zip lock of veggies and dip

Or Whatever your favorite foods are

Also suggest taking a paring knife (checked luggage) , plastic services utensils, zip lock baggies and a couple of paper plates

You can do this! Once you get in the routine of packing your gluten-free "suitcase" with your favorite easy foods it becomes simple.

Ps. Don't forget to pack a lunch bag for the airplane even if a short flight and you don't think you will need. Planes get delayed, cancelled and stuck on runways. Some airports are better than others in having gluten-free options. The only thing they are going to hand out on an airplane is pretzels.

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Thanks you so much everyone! All of your ideas arevery helpful and I definitely will be bringing food along with me and making a lot of phone calls/plans next week to prepare. Ill let you all know how it was when i return (1/21).

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