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Planning Your Gluten-Free Hospital Visit

Posted Mar 28 2013 11:58pm

      Let’s face it: eating out gluten-free can be tough. Fortunately many restaurants are showing their support for the celiac community by offering gluten-free options. But this still leaves facilities such as hospitals in need of improvement when it comes to catering to our needs. That’s right, it may seem ironic, but it’s fairly well-known among celiacs that hospitals aren’t the best when it comes to providing safe gluten-free options for its celiac patients. Thankfully, with some planning and communication, there are some things you can do to ensure that your next hospital stay will be gluten-free.

     Written and verbal communication with the appropriate parties is key. Obtain a written note from a doctor which calls for the gluten-free diet, clearly labeling your condition as a “gluten allergy,” for the staff’s understanding, and wear an allergy alert wristband. If possible, have boldfaced labels printed to be placed on your chart and near your bed reminding others of you condition. Arrange to meet ahead of time with the head dietician, head nurse of the ward you’ll be staying in, and the representatives of the various departments that will be involved in your visit, such as surgery or pharmacy.

     Get permission to bring as many gluten-free items as possible, such as snacks, condiments, and medicines, clearly labeled with your full name and the number of the room you’ll be staying in. You may be able to have the dietary department order special gluten-free foods and mixes ahead of time to prepare during your stay, or you may be able to provide your own. Remember that just because food is labeled gluten-free or hospital staff say it is, it’s important to verify with kitchen staff who are qualified to know for sure.

     According to Celiac.com, “People following a gluten-free diet due to celiac-disease or other conditions, who are facing a hospital stay, might want to check with their hospital dietitian and staff to make sure that the 'gluten-free' meal they receive is, in fact, gluten-free.” Quintin Wight, spokesman for the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, said he has been hearing about hospital kitchen mistakes “on and off for many years,” Celiac.com reports.

     Fortunately, some companies, seeing the need for helping the celiac community, have stepped up to the plate with helpful products to use on occasions such as hospital stays. For instance, you may be able to bring your own gluten-free home test kit, such as the GlutenTox Home or EZ Gluten® Test Kit, to test your food yourself or for the hospital staff to test on your behalf.  Other companies have developed food kits to help hospital staff make kitchens safe and gluten-free food truly gluten-free. For instance, Celinal Foods, Inc. sells a Gluten Free Be Ready Kit, which includes single-serve foods and mixes, tray cards, menus, and instructional materials for kitchen staff. My Own Meals, Inc. sells gluten-free Glatt Kosher ready-to-heat meals, which can be purchased by hospitals as gluten-free options for patients.

    With the help of your local celiac support group, you can meet with the head dieticians of hospitals in the area and give a presentation on how to provide healthy, well-balanced gluten-free meal options and avoid cross-contamination. Although following these guidelines will help you stay gluten-free on your next hospital trip, I encourage the celiac community at large to get the word out to their local hospitals about the gluten-free diet so that we can cause lasting, widespread change.

Miranda Jade Turbin

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