Is Mission BBQ safe for celiacs?

For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, dining out can be a challenge. With gluten hiding in everything from sauces to seasonings, it’s difficult to find truly gluten-free restaurant options. Mission BBQ markets itself as a patriotic, all-American barbecue joint, but is it safe for gluten-free diners? This article will examine what precautions Mission BBQ takes for gluten-free customers and whether celiacs can safely eat there.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system attacks the small intestine, damaging the villi which are tiny finger-like projections that absorb nutrients. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, and malnutrition. The only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. Even small amounts of cross-contamination can cause issues.

Around 1% of people worldwide have celiac disease, but many are undiagnosed. In addition, about 6% of people are gluten sensitive, experiencing digestive issues and other symptoms when they eat gluten, without having full-blown celiac disease. With gluten-free dieting rising in popularity, more restaurants are paying attention to accommodating gluten-free diners.

What Does Mission BBQ Claim?

On its website, Mission BBQ states that they offer gluten-free buns and sandwiches upon request for guests with gluten sensitivities. They assure customers that normal protocol is followed to avoid cross-contamination when preparing gluten-free items.

Mission BBQ also lists some menu items that are naturally gluten-free, such as their smoked meats without sauce, sweet potato fries, mac and cheese, corn bread, green beans, coleslaw, and applesauce. However, they advise guests to confirm with a manager that all prep surfaces and kitchen tools were cleaned before cooking these items.

Risk of Cross-Contamination at Mission BBQ

While Mission BBQ makes an effort to accommodate gluten-free diners, there are some concerns about potential cross-contamination in their kitchens. As a barbecue restaurant, they prepare large amounts of buns, breaded items, and sauces that contain gluten. Even if gluten-free buns are used for a sandwich, uncontrolled airborne gluten could contaminate the meal during preparation.

Items listed as naturally gluten-free, like baked beans, mac and cheese or corn bread, may still come into contact with gluten during cooking or serving. Deep-fried foods also pose a high risk, as items containing gluten share the same fryer oil.

Well-meaning kitchen staff may not fully understand how to prevent cross-contamination when preparing a gluten-free order. Unless there are designated gluten-free prep areas and protocols in place, the risk of cross-contamination at a barbecue restaurant like Mission BBQ is quite high.

What Do Customers Say?

Reviews are mixed when it comes to Mission BBQ accommodating gluten-free diners. Here are some examples of customer experiences:

  • Positive: “I appreciate that Mission BBQ offers gluten-free buns with any sandwich upon request. I’ve eaten here multiple times without any issues.”
  • Positive: “The manager walked me through everything on the menu that could be made gluten-free and seemed very knowledgeable.”
  • Negative: “I ordered gluten-free but had a reaction later that evening. I suspect cross-contamination.”
  • Negative: “My gluten-free sandwich came on a regular bun. When I asked about it, they said they were out of gluten-free buns.”
  • Negative: “The staff seemed unsure about their gluten-free prep protocols when I asked questions.”

It seems like experiences vary widely depending on location. Some Mission BBQ franchises may cater better to gluten-free guests than others. But overall, there seems to be a risk of gluten exposure based on customer reviews.

What Do Expert Groups Recommend?

Two leading celiac advocacy groups, Beyond Celiac and the Celiac Disease Foundation, do not recommend eating at Mission BBQ if you need to strictly avoid gluten exposure.

Beyond Celiac notes that many people report getting sick from eating gluten-free meals at Mission BBQ. They advise celiacs that dining there is “high-risk” and they recommend avoiding it.

The Celiac Disease Foundation comes to the same conclusion in their review of the restaurant. While Mission BBQ markets some gluten-free options, they warn there is significant risk of cross-contamination. They suggest celiacs avoid eating there until Mission BBQ implements more rigorous gluten-free protocols.

What Precautions Does Mission BBQ Take?

According to what staff have reported, Mission BBQ takes the following precautions around gluten-free dining:

  • Gluten-free buns are kept in separate packaging before use
  • Gluten-free orders are prepared on a sanitized surface using fresh gloves
  • Gluten-free side items are portioned from newly opened packaged containers
  • Staff change gloves after handling regular buns before gluten-free prep
  • There is some attempt to keep gluten-free dishes from contamination during cooking, plating and serving

However, Mission BBQ does not have designated gluten-free prep areas in their kitchens. Employees use the same fryers, surfaces, tools and kitchen areas for all orders. The same holds true at self-serve drink stations.

Staff knowledge about celiac disease and preventing cross-contamination also seems inconsistent. Protocols likely vary widely across different franchise locations.

Should You Eat at Mission BBQ If You Have Celiac Disease?

Unfortunately, the consensus among celiac experts seems to be that eating at Mission BBQ carries significant risk. While some locations may cater better to gluten-free guests than others, issues with cross-contamination persist. There are a few factors to keep in mind if you decide to dine at Mission BBQ with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity:

  • There is no way to guarantee your meal will be 100% gluten-free
  • Manager and staff knowledge of gluten-free prep varies
  • The busy kitchen environment with shared tools/surfaces increases cross-contamination risks
  • Symptoms may not appear immediately but can cause intestinal damage
  • You may react to even small amounts of gluten cross-contamination

Those who follow a gluten-free diet by choice may be able to tolerate minimal cross-contamination. But for those like celiacs with medical necessity, Mission BBQ is not considered a safe option. You’d be taking a gamble eating gluten-free meals there.

Some Safer Menu Options

If you decide to eat at Mission BBQ despite the risks, there may be some “safer” options to minimize gluten exposure:

  • Pulled pork, chicken or beef brisket without BBQ sauce
  • Sandwich served in lettuce wrap instead of bun
  • Salads without croutons or high-risk dressings
  • Baked potatoes or sweet potato fries
  • Fresh fruit or applesauce sides

But there are no sure bets. Even these menu items could get cross-contaminated. You’d need to check with the restaurant each time about their prep procedures.

Other Barbecue and Family Dining Options

For celiacs and others with gluten sensitivities, it’s wise to look for barbecue restaurants that specifically cater to gluten-free diners. Here are some better options:

  • Famous Dave’s BBQ – designated gluten-free menu and prep area
  • Sonny’s BBQ – gluten-free menu, buns and celiac training program
  • Dickey’s Barbecue Pit – gluten-free menu and sandwich buns

Outback Steakhouse, Red Robin, and Red Lobster chains also cater well to gluten-free diners. For family-friendly dining, Chick-fil-A, Five Guys Burgers, and Chipotle are safer gluten-free picks with dedicated prep areas. Checking’s restaurant guide can help identify good options.

Being a Smart Gluten-Free Diner

Those adhering to a gluten-free diet, whether for celiac disease or by choice, need to be vigilant when eating out. Here are some tips for safe gluten-free dining:

  • Research restaurants’ gluten-free protocols before you go
  • Ask about dedicated prep areas, pots/pans, fryers etc.
  • Request fresh gloves, tools, and clean surfaces when ordering
  • Ask lots of questions about sauces, sides, dressings, prep
  • Start with naturally gluten-free dishes first when trying a new place
  • Know that “gluten-friendly” is not the same as gluten-free
  • Be aware even small amounts of gluten can cause reactions
  • Realize busy kitchens increase cross-contamination risks
  • Listen to your body’s signals if symptoms occur after a meal

Dining out gluten-free means being informed, asking questions, starting slowly, and listening to your own health reactions. While Mission BBQ makes some accommodations for gluten-free guests, their kitchen practices may not be adequate if you are highly sensitive.

The Verdict on Eating Gluten-Free at Mission BBQ

In summary, reputable celiac resources do not consider Mission BBQ a reliable gluten-free dining choice due to the likelihood of cross-contamination. The restaurant chain tries to cater to gluten-free guests, but their kitchen setup lacks separate prep areas and thorough protocols.

Dining there presents a substantial risk for those with celiac disease or who are highly gluten sensitive. Getting sick from traces of gluten is a distinct possibility. Those wanting to err on the safe side should eat elsewhere until Mission BBQ implements more rigorous training and gluten-free practices.

With better staff education on preventing cross-contamination during prep and service, Mission BBQ has potential to become more celiac-friendly. But for now, extreme caution is warranted if trying to eat gluten-free at Mission BBQ, and it’s wisest to avoid it altogether if you have celiac disease or are highly gluten intolerant.

The Takeaway

For people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, dining at Mission BBQ involves significant risk of cross-contamination from gluten. While they market gluten-free options, Mission BBQ lacks thorough protocols and training to prevent issues. Those who strictly need to avoid gluten should not eat at Mission BBQ until they improve kitchen safety processes and staff knowledge. With extra diligence, limited menu choices may be somewhat “safer,” but there are no guarantees. Following a gluten-free diet requires due awareness and caution when eating out anywhere.

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