oh whole foods. i have a real love-hate with these stores, but at the end of the day i really do love them. whole foods generally has the whole gamut of gluten free grocery products, so it's a good option for a one-stop shop. i find it more expensive than some of our other local stores, and that's been the same story for any location i've visited, from vancouver to texas. so that's settled, pricey but good. now onto the prepared food, because that's what i really go there for!
i've got this great weekly routine - i head into the city (you know you live in the country when you get excited to drive into the city because they have more than one radio station ;), head to st. paul's hospital for an appointment with one of my specialists (auto-immune diseases = much time spent with doctors), and then to whole foods for my reward! as sure as i can be that my coffee will have gone through me by the time i get to st. paul's, i can be just as sure that i'll be hungry and ready for some great food after my appointment! but here's the thing... it's actually one of the trickiest places to eat.
first of all, if you ask anyone who works there if their prepared food (the deli, salad bar, etc) is gluten free, they will give you the same answer - there aren't any guarantees because of where they make all the food, it's all done in the same place and they can't guarantee that there isn't cross contamination. i've asked question after question, at store after store, and i've come to this conclusion: i believe them that they take every precaution to ensure that each different batch of food is made separately, beginning with a clean area, utensils, etc. in other words, i believe them that they do everything they can to make sure that there is no cross contamination happening in their kitchens. to each their own, but i've talked with enough managers there that i feel good about their practices.
next step - where the food you want is located. there are two parts to this - the deli where the employees dish it up for you from the serving platters behind glass. you know the area i'm talking about? where they always have fillets of salmon, chicken salad, crab cakes, different salads, seasonal dishes, etc. so if you're after something in there, and you've read all the ingredients and are happy with them, your next step is to look around and see what is adjacent to the dish you're after. if there is something containing gluten on one side, i always ask that they scoop my food from the other side so there's no chance that any of the gluten-containing food could have come in contact with my food. big red flag if there is gluten in front of your dish because there's a high likelihood that at least a crumb has dropped from it onto your food as they have served up that dish in front. make sense? i'd choose a different item if this is the case, it's not worth the risk.
if you're eating from the salad bar, or the hot food bar, you need to be heads up as well. i would love love love, and have requested many times, for whole foods to conveniently place all of the gluten-containing dishes beside eachother. instead, they seem to alternate them with dishes that don't contain gluten, causing a ton of risk for contamination. here's my rule of thumb - if there is a g dish next to a gf dish, that gf dish is off limits. there's a large chance that something has fallen from one container to the next, but an even greater chance that someone has used the same spoon to scoop from both dishes. big. bad. news. so if you're happy with the ingredients, and it's not neighboring anything containing gluten, you're almost good to go...
last but not least, how is it served? from the salad/hot food bar, grab your own spoon. they're usually located beyond the checkout stands, so just grab one on your way in. once people get scooping their food, thinking about eating it, etc, they may not be noticing whether or not they let the spoon touch anything else in their bowl. it probably happens a lot. and then that spoon goes back into the serving dish and contaminates the rest of the food in there. so grab your own spoon, as you just never know where those serving spoons have been!
in the deli, put on your sweetest smile and request that they use a really clean spoon to scoop out your food because you have a really serious allergy, and you have to be careful of contamination. done and done.
now my friends, go and enjoy some fresh, whole food and know that you've taken the steps to ensure your small intestine's safety!