Gluten-Free Summer Fun Events
It is officially summer, and outdoor activities are calling our names! Summertime can mean not only fun in the sun but outdoor meals, as well. Being at any event where food is served by others who might not know about celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) can be risky if you are living gluten-free. At some events, gluten-free food choices may not be an option. Even when there are gluten-free options, there is no guarantee that proper precautions to avoid cross-contact are in place. We explore popular summer happenings and how to stay gluten-free when you’re enjoying them!
The Risk of Cross-Contact
There are several common risks of eating out – including meals served outdoors. If you don’t prepare the food yourself, you can’t be certain the ingredients are gluten-free or if the meal was prepared without cross-contact with gluten.
The risk of cross-contact in any gluten-free food preparation is real. When you’re enjoying an outdoor activity and food is served, there can be more opportunities for cross-contact to occur.
Outdoor food prep and cooking scenarios may be lax, with fewer safeguards in place to keep gluten-containing and gluten-free foods – and the containers and utensils that come into contact with them – separate. Even with the best intentions, cross-contact could put a damper on your day.
Learn more about cross-contact in Gluten In Your Food: Cross-Contact or Cross-Contamination.
What can you do to stay safe and still enjoy summer fun with food? Here are some common summertime activities and how you can minimize the risk of exposure to gluten.
Picnics can be a gluten “free-for-all,” often pot-luck style with plates full of breads, buns, crackers, and cookies. If someone else is preparing the picnic foods and they aren’t familiar with gluten-free food prep, there are likely to be cross-contact issues.
An easy solution to minimize risks is to pack a separate basket or cooler containing solely gluten-free items, either already prepared or with the ingredients for DIY sandwiches, wraps, and salads. If you’re mixing all foods together in one carrier, keep gluten-free, unpackaged foods in clean, airtight containers and prominently mark them to avoid any confusion. When you’re ready to prepare the meal or eat, open and handle gluten-containing foods away from gluten-free foods (and vice versa).
You may also want to furnish only gluten-free breads, buns, wraps, crackers, and cookies for a picnic. With the wide array of quality gluten-free alternatives available these days, most people won’t notice much of a difference in taste. Check out the GFCO searchable directory of GFCO-certified gluten-free products.
Outdoor farmers’ markets are definitely a sign of summer. If you’re gluten-free, you have some pretty safe choices when picking up fresh fruits and vegetables, all of which are naturally gluten-free. Whether it’s squash or tomatoes, apples or cherries, you’re bound to find delicious options.
When it comes to any produce, there could be the slight possibility of agricultural commingling. Any produce could be grown near fields of gluten-containing grains or handled with the same equipment that might carry or store wheat, barley or rye. While rare when talking about fruits and vegetables, agricultural commingling could be more likely to have occurred with farmer’s market items than with fruits and vegetables you get at the supermarket. Don’t stress! Just be aware, and wash your produce well as an extra precaution.
A popular mainstay at any farmers’ market is the baked goods stand. While some baked goods sellers may offer gluten-free options, there is no guarantee they have followed all of the steps needed to ensure a safely gluten-free product. A safer bet could be buying from an exclusively gluten-free baked goods stand, if your farmers’ market has one. Even in these cases, it’s important to ask about gluten-free status of ingredients that might be questionable, such as oats. If you’re going for any homemade baked goods, ask questions about the ingredients and kitchen protocols used.
Festivals and Fairs
The sun is out and days are warm. You’re ready to enjoy outdoor festivals where you can listen to music, explore art, and experience other forms of outdoor entertainment. Another sure sign of summer are county and state fairs. If you’re living gluten-free, what are the risks that you might get “glutened” at these events?
The risk of gluten exposure can be pretty high at festivals and fairs. Most concession stands serve up dishes that are full of gluten, from funnel cakes and corn dogs to soft pretzels, pizza, and burgers. Even if you have them “hold the bun,” it is pretty likely that gluten crumbs could mix in with your bun-free burger or dog.
Depending on how reactive you are to gluten, you might be able to find some less risky choices for eating at these types of events. One option is to seek out Mexican food stands and specify corn tortillas with safer dishes like rice and beans. Go for bare bones options like a baked potato from the stuffed potato stand with nothing but butter and sour cream or a seasoning-free corn on the cob on a stick, wrapped in tin foil and roasted plain. A fruit stand may be a safer bet as well, or one with fresh fruit salad, fruit smoothies with no added protein or flavor powders, or a fruit kabob. While rare, you may even be able to find a food truck that specializes in gluten-free, like Auntie M’s in Minnesota, a GFFS-validated Safe Spot. Even when the ingredients are gluten-free, it’s always important to ask about how cross-contact is being avoided.
If you’re going to a festival or fair, don’t forget to pack some gluten-free energy bars or other safe snacks if you need an option. No need to go hungry while you’re enjoying that concert or carnival rides!
Beach Days and Camping Nights
Heading out to the beach and packing lunch and snacks? Follow the same rules for a day of sun, water, and sand that you would for any picnic: separate carriers or air-tight containers or go fully gluten-free. If you’re thinking of buying food from a nearby food truck or concession stand, investigate Mexican cuisine or ones that serve exclusively gluten-free options.
If you’re going to camp out in the wilderness, bringing entirely gluten-free options is your safest bet. From gluten-free pancake mixes to gluten-free breads for sandwiches and buns for burgers and hot dogs, there are a lot of trusted brands out there with GFCO-certified gluten-free options. Don’t forget the marshmallows, chocolate bars, and gluten-free graham crackers for your s’mores! Read the ingredient labels on those marshmallows and chocolate bars just to be sure they are entirely gluten-free.
Having celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should not prevent you from taking advantage of all that summertime has to offer. When food is involved, stay alert, ask questions, and when in doubt, bring your own gluten-free foods and snacks to enjoy.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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