For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating out at restaurants can be challenging. With cross-contamination being a major concern, it’s important to find restaurants that take steps to prevent gluten from contacting food during preparation and service. One fast-food restaurant that markets itself as an option for those avoiding gluten is Pita Pit. But is Pita Pit truly safe for celiacs and others who need to follow a strict gluten-free diet? Here’s an in-depth look at what precautions Pita Pit takes when it comes to gluten and what celiacs need to know before eating there.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system attacks and damages the villi in the small intestine. Villi are small, finger-like projections that line the small intestine and absorb nutrients from food. When villi are damaged from gluten exposure, nutrients cannot be properly absorbed.
There are no medications or treatments that can cure celiac disease. The only treatment is to follow a strict gluten-free diet, avoiding any foods or ingredients that contain gluten. This includes avoiding cross-contamination, which is when gluten-free foods come into contact with foods containing gluten during preparation or service. Even small amounts of cross-contamination can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage in those with celiac disease.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Symptoms of celiac disease may include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Weight loss
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin rash
Symptoms typically develop after consuming gluten and improve when following a gluten-free diet. However, some people may not have noticeable digestive symptoms and may experience issues like anemia, osteoporosis, infertility or neurological problems instead.
Does Pita Pit Offer Gluten-Free Options?
Yes, Pita Pit does market itself as offering gluten-free menu options. On their website and in-store menus, Pita Pit indicates certain pitas, sauces, cheeses and vegetables that are gluten-free. For example, corn or rice-based pitas are labeled as gluten-free, along with hummus, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes and other fresh vegetable toppings.
Pita Pit also states that guests should inform their server of any food allergy or sensitivity when ordering. Servers can check ingredients and alert the kitchen staff to take precautions against cross-contamination when preparing gluten-free orders.
Pita Pit offers brown rice, white rice and multigrain corn pitas that are gluten-free. These pitas are prepared separately from regular wheat pitas to avoid cross-contamination. However, it’s important to verify with the server that the location has gluten-free pitas in stock before ordering.
Gluten-Free Sauces and Toppings
In terms of sauces and toppings, Pita Pit indicates that the following are gluten-free:
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Hot sauce
- Honey mustard
- Yellow mustard
- Banana peppers
- Black olives
- Green olives
- Salt and pepper
The restaurant also offers gluten-free cheese options, including feta, cheddar and mozzarella. When ordering, guests should confirm that these items are kept separate from those containing gluten.
What Precautions Does Pita Pit Take Against Gluten Contamination?
On their allergen information page, Pita Pit states they take the following steps to avoid cross-contamination of gluten-free orders:
- Use separate cutting boards, knives, tongs, scoops and utensils for gluten-free items
- Change gloves before preparing gluten-free orders
- Keep gluten-free ingredients in separate storage containers
- Use designated gluten-free preparation areas
- Thoroughly wash hands and change gloves after handling wheat-based pitas
However, the degree of precautions taken may vary between different Pita Pit locations. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should inquire about the specific safety processes at their local restaurant.
Are Prep Surfaces and Equipment Sanitized?
In addition to separate utensils and prep areas, true gluten-free safety requires thorough cleaning of any shared surfaces and equipment. For example, the same toasters may be used to warm both regular wheat pitas and gluten-free pitas. Even if the gluten-free pita is prepared first, traces of gluten can remain in the toaster and get transferred to the gluten-free order.
Employees should be diligently sanitizing prep areas, cutting boards, grills, toasters and any shared equipment in between preparing gluten-containing and gluten-free menu items. It’s smart to ask staff members at Pita Pit about their protocols and frequency of sanitizing when the same surfaces or equipment are used for multiple orders.
Is There Still Risk of Airborne Gluten?
Even with cautious practices, there may still be some degree of airborne gluten particles circulating in the kitchen from wheat-based pitas being prepared nearby. This may be a concern for those who are highly sensitive.
Pita Pit states that guests should notify staff if they have an airborne allergy so additional precautions can be taken. However, those at risk for anaphylaxis from airborne contact should use their best judgement on whether Pita Pit is the right dining choice given the potential for trace gluten exposure.
What Do Celiac Disease Experts Say About Eating at Pita Pit?
Gluten-free watchdog organizations have slightly varying perspectives when it comes to the safety of Pita Pit for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Gluten Free Watchdog
Gluten Free Watchdog founder Tricia Thompson gives Pita Pit an “excellent” rating for training of food service staff on gluten-free protocols. However, she does cite some risk of gluten cross-contact at locations that do not follow procedures properly.
Thompson advises confirming that Pita Pit locations keep gluten-free and wheat-based ingredients completely separate from delivery to serving. She also reiterates the need to verify sanitization procedures of shared equipment between different orders.
The celiac disease resource Celiac.com advises those with celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis to avoid Pita Pit. They note that Pita Pit caters largely to a college-age crowd, who may be more interested in speed of service than gluten-free safety protocols.
However, Celiac.com states that Pita Pit may be a suitable option for those with gluten sensitivity who do not get sick from cross-contact. They recommend that anyone with celiac asking questions and evaluating the protocols at their local Pita Pit.
VeryWellFit takes a mixed perspective on Pita Pit, saying it “can be safe” with modifications but may not be ideal for those with celiac disease. They note some concerns around prep surfaces and toasters not being fully sanitized between gluten and gluten-free orders.
The site states that those with celiac can inquire about safety procedures and consider requesting gluten-free orders be prepared first thing in the morning before any wheat orders. But ultimately, they do not offer a strong endorsement of Pita Pit for those with high gluten sensitivity.
Key Considerations for Celiacs Eating at Pita Pit
When deciding whether Pita Pit is a safe option, there are a few key factors those with celiac disease should consider:
Those who get severely ill from small amounts of cross-contact are likely better off avoiding Pita Pit, given the risk of trace gluten exposure. People with relatively mild symptoms or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may have an easier time tolerating potential contact.
Kids or Adults
Younger children with developing bodies and more vulnerable immune systems may be at greater risk from cross-contamination versus tolerant adults.
Location & Staff
Safety can vary significantly between different Pita Pit restaurants based on staff training and diligence following precautions. It’s important to visit locations in person, ask questions and evaluate comfort level.
Type of Order
Complex orders with multiple ingredients and customization may be more prone to mistakes. Simple pita sandwiches likely pose less risk of cross-contamination.
At the end of the day, each person with celiac disease needs to make their own judgement call on Pita Pit’s safety for their individual health needs and sensitivity.
Other Fast Food Options for Celiacs
If deciding to skip Pita Pit, there are some other fast food chains that may offer safer options for celiacs:
Chipotle Mexican Grill offers gluten-free tortillas and rice bowls with lower risk of cross-contamination due to individually portioned ingredients. However, flour tortillas are prepared in close proximity.
Five Guys burgers and fries has bun-less burger options. Fries are cooked separately in peanut oil but the open kitchen still poses some minimal risk.
Jersey Mike’s subs offers gluten-free bread and wraps. Good about changing gloves and using clean surfaces to prepare gluten-free orders.
Qdoba Mexican Eats provides corn tortillas, tacos, burritos and bowls as gluten-free choices. Emphasis on individually portioned ingredients to prevent cross-contact.
The Bottom Line
Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity do have some options when it comes to eating at Pita Pit. However, due to shared prep areas, risk of cross-contamination may be higher compared to other quick restaurants.
Each celiac needs to weigh their personal sensitivity and health factors, along with specifics of their local Pita Pit location and staff, in deciding if it’s a gluten-free environment they are comfortable with. Having open conversations with staff and asking the right questions is key. And when in doubt, there are alternatives to enjoy fast food safely.
|Restaurant||Gluten-Free Options||Risk Level for Celiacs|
|Pita Pit||Corn and rice pitas, hummus, guacamole, veggies||Medium risk due to shared surfaces|
|Chipotle||Corn tortillas, rice bowls||Lower risk, individually portioned|
|Five Guys||Bunless burgers, fries||Lower risk, separate fryers|