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September 28, 2016
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"We Take Allergies Seriously"

After work Saturday my first time back in the building in almost a week my sister, The Other Half, and I went to the local Cheeburger Cheeburger to encourage their post-Sandy business (and have a tasty dinner with more calories than an average person should eat in an average week). It's a rare pleasure, and gave us the chance to venture a little beyond where we've been since Monday's BadWolf stormpocalypse (except for The Other Half's getting to and from work).


In addition to the now-common "Internet is down Cash Only" signs, there was a letter sized piece of paper in black block letters that said



Given that gluten-free is, for many, the latest version of low-carb, low-fat, low-cal, grapefruit, Atkins, Stillman, Pritikin, paleo, raw, macrobiotic, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, or other trendy diet, I was curious to find out whether the store was serious about serving patrons with wheat allergies or celiac disease, or whether it had just jumped on the latest trend-diet bandwagon.


After dining, I inquired of our waitress, stating that while (obviously from my order) I did not require a gluten-free menu, I am active in a community which includes people living with celiac disease, and I wanted to find out the degree to which they went to avoid cross-contamination and serve meals appropriate for that portion of our group.


Please note that the following information pertains to the Green Brook, New Jersey location only.


Our waitress knew that the rolls arrived frozen and were heated upon request; also, that the salads could be served without croutons. She referred us to her manager for more details. The manager was polite and explained the whole procedure. He has, himself, asthma as well as a contact allergy to fish (though not shellfish), so he has a personal, as well as a professional, stake in the matter.


When a patron comes in and indicates he or she has an allergy or other food-triggered autoimmune reaction, the waiter immediately calls the manager before the order is even entered into the system. The manager then talks with the patron to find out how severe the reaction is, and to determine whether or not he can safely accommodate that person's restrictions. In some cases (such as anaphylactic airborne peanut allergies), the restaurant cannot guarantee a patron's safety, and the manager says so. Milder peanut allergies can often be accommodated, along with what I might venture to call "garden variety" celiac disease (as opposed to, say, my friend C.'s version which includes a contact allergy to corn and corn products).


The kitchen staff changes gloves before removing a gluten-free roll from its freezer and baking it in a purpose-specific warmer and cutting it with a gluten-free-only knife. A section of the grill is reserved for allergen-free cooking and is cleaned completely before any special-order allergen-free burger or chicken breast is cooked. A dome is placed over the meat to avoid accidental cross-contamination from other meat that might be cooking on the grill at the same time. "We take allergies seriously," our restaurant's manager stated.


Each individual allergy-free or medical-condition food is cooked on a freshly-cleaned section of the reserved part of the grill and domed off; this is not a gluten-free-specific procedure.


While fried foods may not be an option for those who need to eat gluten-free (the fryer is used for batter-dipped onion rings and french fries as well as fried chicken), all of Cheeburger Cheeburger's salad dressings are gluten-free, as are the ice creams (Edy's chocolate and vanilla) used for their shakes. Turkey burgers and chicken breasts are also options for the diner living with celiac. The veggie burgers are made with brown rice rather than the usual wheat, but the manager says that brown rice contains proteins to which a person with celiac may be sensitive.


With all this, I mentioned that some folk might be concerned about their gluten-free meals being served on, and with, the same flatware used for gluten-full meals, visually explaining the 20 parts-per-million standard that is used for gluten-free (about a third of a quick shake from a salt-shaker mixed in a 25-pound bag of flour). "That's why we have plastic," the manager answered.


Having met all the objections I could think of, I asked whether this policy was a national, chain-wide menu and policy.


Unfortunately, not... yet?...


The Green Brook location is running a gluten-free pilot project. If it works well, it will be expanded to the other locations in the franchise, and from there, nation-wide.


I told the manager that when it does expand beyond the store, to please let the celiac and other gluten-free communities know.

While I may not need a gluten-free menu, I'm happy to see a place that's making an effort to accommodate those who do.

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