“On a daily basis I basically live in fear when I need to eat because I am almost always sick when I eat at restaurants. I often go without eating because it is so scary for me and sadly that is sometimes the safest option.”
This kind of reaction and fear stems from a single crumb. 1% of the American population suffer from Celiac Disease like Allison Woldt, a student at California State University, San Bernardino who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when she was 20 years old after many trips to the hospital.
Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disease. When gluten is consumed, the body attacks itself damaging the villi of the small intestine, interfering with absorption of nutrients from food.
Many suffers of celiac develop a more severe reaction to it after switching to a gluten-free diet. This is where the issue of “cross contamination” comes in. No, a sufferer does not have to eat a slice of bread to cause a reaction, but a single crumb that has fallen into their supposedly gluten-free food can trigger weeks of pain and suffering.
“Even the slightest contamination affects me for over 2 weeks and it's exhausting always trying to recover,” Woldt said. “It is a severe reaction with migraines, horrible joint pain, extreme fatigue/exhaustion and my intestines swell up to a very noticeable degree. [A reaction] causes havoc on my immune system for up to 6 weeks.”
Since celiac is an “invisible disease,” many sufferers have difficulty getting friends, family and restaurants to take them seriously. Unlike a peanut, shellfish, or other allergies that also deal with cross contamination, those with celiac do not break out in hives or suffer anaphylactic shock. The pain is internal and many feel isolated by their condition.
As a college student, many conversations with my friends revolve around food. Each meal is a risk. Although my university has gluten-free options they do not cook in a gluten-senstive kitchen. Whenever I bring up concerns about my diet or reactions I am left without answers or help. I have missed class because the same knife was used to spread mustard on my gluten-free bread that was used on regular bread.
I have not been invited out because my friends wanted Italian and did not want to make me feel bad. Waiters have laughed when I ask if they have gluten-free items and my body has suffered through their carelessness. I worry about affording gluten-free food when I move out of my parents house because a loaf of bread costs you $2.32 and me $5.32.
Members of my Facebook Celiac support group I partake in shared their concerns.
For me the implications of getting [cross contaminated] while dining out at restaurants has kept me from dining out for over a year (I only had two restaurants that I trusted for three years prior to this). This has had huge implications on my social life, I hardly go out or have any friends that are dedicated enough to always coming over for dinner.
I can't even kiss my boyfriend if he's had beer or eaten gluten containing food.
You never know if the person handling food in the grocery store has flour on their hands… Cross contamination is so impossible and stressful.
If cooking for an allergic person seems overwhelming, don't get offended if they refuse your food or bring their own. It's not about being polite, not a matter of trust, but a medical life and death issue, so let them eat their safe food. It's just a food, let it go. When visiting a home of allergic child, don't bring treats and wash your hands.
Cross contamination should not have to limit someone’s life, hopes, dreams, or aspirations. Everyone can take steps to improve the safety and lives of allergy sufferers around them.