Delis, buffets, and salad bars are laden with mystery and risk if you’re not extremely careful, you must become a gluten sleuth if you’d like to eat from these. Usually, prepared foods in the deli case are made from a variety of both fresh and processed ingredients, and you have to be on guard for every processed ingredient used. At first glance, you will be able to immediately eliminate foods you know to visibly have gluten such as pasta salads, fried chicken, and many desserts. But other items such as soups, meatloaf, potato salad, and gravies need further inquiry because the gluten is not visible. These foods are gluten-guilty until proven gluten-free.
While some deli cases will have ingredient cards displayed for each dish, it’s more common that they don’t and you will have to ask the clerk to show you the recipe or package for something you are interested in. Having them recite the ingredients from memory can be helpful, but contains an element of risk if they forget to mention an ingredient which could have gluten. Plus, you won’t know how particular ingredients were manufactured and whether they are 100 percent safe. From an investigative perspective, delis can be high-maintenance for the gluten-sensitive, so it depends on your level of desire, time to investigate, and willingness to take risks.
Salad bars usually do not have ingredient cards. Avoid obvious gluten-culprits like croutons, and be leery of foods such as soups, salad dressings, sour cream, and puddings.
Tip: Keep in mind that delis, food bars, and salad bars are also fertile grounds for cross-contamination issues, like a customer or employee inadvertently placing the tongs used to pick up croutons into the lettuce bin. And don’t overlook the dangers of eating samples from alluring tasting tables and booths strategically placed at the end of aisles to tease your palate. Many times the product boxes or jars are not visible and you will not be able to read the ingredients. You can’t assume those fetching corn chips and salsa are both gluten-free!