What’s On Your Restaurant Table?

It’s the day before the endoscopic exam and I’m nervous. Did I cram enough to pass–or fail–depending on your perspective?  I sure crammed some gluten into me and boy was it painful!

I ate a gluten free cookie from a non-gluten free bakery. I had candy from the same bag into which my nephew plunged his grubby, cookie crumby hands. I let my furniece Abbey lick me after she ate her Cheerios. In short, I allowed myself to get glutened numerous times in the last month with the goal of causing just enough damage to my small intestine that it will get me “randomized,” that is, randomly placed into one of four groups: placebo or one of three different dosages of the medication being tested for efficacy and safety.

I visited a local coffee shop five times to get a soy latte with a shot of sugar free hazelnut because I knew they wouldn’t wash their hands after grabbing a bakery treat from the front case for some gluten-loving customer and before grabbing my cup for making my latte. I knew it would sicken me, and it did.

I think it might sicken you, too, to realize how many times people in food service handle foods and food or beverage serveware without washing their hands or changing/using gloves. It’s also disconcerting to look down at your table and see how much of the previous occupants’ food and drink remain on the surface or in the cracks. I don’t think they ever clean the tables during the day at places like Starbucks and Einstein’s and Ye Nearby Coffee Emporium.

Then we have the restaurants and coffee shops that “clean” the tables with that one rag that sits in a bucket of murky water with a hint of soap suds studding the surface. The same single rag gets wrung out by a clean up person or server who likely didn’t wash his or her hands after finishing whatever they were doing before wiping down the table. After a weak or firm wringing, said cloth gets sploshed across the tabletop a few times. Where do you think the crumbs and spills it just “cleaned” from (or smeared across) the tabletop go? Right into that bucket of wash water! That means the next time the rag gets used to clean a table, it brings those crumbs and spills with it and they get smeared across and commingled with the crumbs and smears on the next table. This could be problematic if you put your fork and knife on the table while waiting for the server to bring your food. Now all that stuff on the table can transfer to your fork and you’re not just eating what’s on your plate, you’re eating what was on other people’s plates, too. Ugh. Gag me with a spoon.

That’s why I always ask for extra napkins and I put my utensils on one of the napkins instead of the table. I also often carry with me sanitizing wipes so I can clean the table myself. If I don’t have wipes, I sometimes put an unfolded napkin on the table to serve as a place mat. What I really want to do is bring my own disposable place mat so I have a clean surface from which to dine. Sure, people would look at me like I’m Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, but I’d rather have strangers stare at me and judge me than be in bed sick for three days. I haven’t taken any of those precautions in the last month because I wanted to get contaminated and the frequency of contamination tells me those tables are not clean and I really need to take those precautions once I’m back on strict GF vigilance.

It also points out why this investigational drug is so important. Even on a strict gluten free diet it can be challenging to stay gluten free in a dirty gluteny world. Having the medication would keep us from getting so sick and so damaged when we inevitably get cross-contaminated. I would love to have that safety, that protection. The effects of getting even tiny amounts of gluten into my body are very painful for days, and it increases my risk of cancer, malnutrition, and other complications.

So, next time you sit down at the table of a coffee shop or casual eatery, look and see: what’s on your table?