A Celiac Walks Into a Chipotle…


When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease I was happy that I apparently had at least some options at Chipotle Mexican Grill.  After all, the only gluten containing food item on the menu are the flour tortillas.  Bowls and corn hard shell tacos are both viable gluten free options.  Yay, tasty food!

As I learned about Celiac disease, food preparation and my own symptoms I started re-thinking how I order at Chipotle.

The most well trained Chipotle employees will immediately wash their hands and change their gloves when you identify yourself as a Celiac Disease sufferer.  If they are well trained they will also follow you down the line to complete your order.  That minimizes cross contamination risks and means not every single person needs to wash hands and change gloves.

The question that I asked myself is… what good does it do if they wash their hands and change their gloves?  The only thing that really helps with is when they touch the bowl when they first pick it up or move it.  They’re still using the spoons and the same tubs of ingredients.

The next thing that I’ve heard is… ask them to change spoons.  Okay, another step forward.  There could be something stuck to the spoon that gets on the person’s hand or drops into your food.  We’re still left with possible prior cross contamination of food that’s on the line.

I’ve sat and watched the line and how they handle spoons and what not.  Spoons touch the flour tortillas and go back into the ingredients.  They also choke up on the spoons when they’re holding them so their hands are close to the serving end.  The bins are deep enough that the area they just touched goes deep into the bin.

The cheese and lettuce are served by hand.  The same hands handle flour tortillas.  It doesn’t matter if the person making your bowl just washed their hands and changed their gloves, the people who just handled lettuce and cheese for previous orders did not.

Let’s face it… even though there’s only a single gluten containing ingredient… gluten is getting into everything on the serving line.

I’m not saying this is a general food safety or sanitation issue.  It is not.  It’s a gluten cross contamination issue.

Can you still eat at Chipotle?  The answer for me, a Celiac [About Me], is yes.  Here’s how…

  1. I identify myself as someone with Celiac Disease at the beginning of the ordering line.  I do that purposefully, even though they may not know what that means (they may be more familiar with gluten allergy or gluten intolerance).  I wait for their reaction.  Using the word disease let’s them know this is a serious situation and it gives them a chance to absorb that even if they don’t understand what it is.  If need be I follow up with an explanation.
  2. The most well trained employees will immediately wash their hands and change their gloves.  If they do not do this, kindly ask them to, or… you may want to ask to talk with a manager at this point.  They may alert other workers to the fact that a gluten allergy is being prepared.  I know allergy isn’t technically correct, but practically speaking that doesn’t really matter.
  3. I inform the person making my bowl that I am extremely sensitive to gluten and I would like my bowl made from previously unused tubs of ingredients using clean utensils.  The best of the best will do this without being asked, but don’t assume that will happen.  Fresh bins of salsas, beans and other toppings are refrigerated under the line or kept warm in the back.  The only thing they may not have are fresh tubs of meat selections.  They do have reserved and covered tubs on the hot table, but it’s possible that they could be running behind and not have an fresh tub available.  You could either step out of line and wait for fresh meat to be ready or go vegetarian for the day.

In my opinion washing hands and changing gloves aren’t enough to make a safe meal.  Changing spoons is also mostly frivolous.  There is too much gluten flying around and cross contaminating food.

I’ve found Chipotle staff to be generally helpful, respectful and caring.  I do eat there even though I am very sensitive but ask them to wash their hands, change gloves and only serve me fresh ingredients from previously unused containers, using clean utensils.  They have always been willing to do this for me.

If you have an issue with explaining your situation or you feel uncomfortable about the way your food is being prepared, I’d suggest that you ask a manager to prepare your meal.

Going during slower times can help.  If you feel uncomfortable explaining all of this on the spot or want to make sure they know you’re coming just give the restaurant a call beforehand.

Also use Find Me Gluten Free to give a fair review of Chipotle and other restaurants so the rest of the gluten free community can learn from your experience.

As always be kind, thankful and reward good service by tipping and by sharing praises.

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