I am one who likes to support local businesses and would love to eat out more in Winona, but our choices are limited and I would like to raise awareness to those in Winona who may not yet be familiar with the phrase: gluten-free.

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity were recently introduced into my vocabulary after a diagnosis of celiac sprue. Celiac is an autoimmune disease, and those suffering from celiac or a gluten-intolerance need to adhere to a strict no-gluten diet for the rest of their lives. Gluten is in wheat, rye and barley grains, which are commonly found in everyday food choices. When gluten is ingested, the immune system responds by releasing antibodies damaging the intestinal villi, which causes many harmful side effects.

Both ingredient awareness and understanding cross-contamination are important when considering gluten-free menu options.

There are limited restaurant choices in Winona for eating gluten-free, and I always ask the below questions to ensure what I am eating is safe.

-- Do you offer a gluten-free menu?

-- If you offer certain gluten-free menu items, what are the risks of cross contamination with other food items that do contain gluten?

-- If a grill item is ordered (hamburger, plain chicken, shrimp, steak), is the grill cleaned prior to cooking? Are gluten items grilled alongside gluten-free items?

-- How is the kitchen staff notified the order is gluten-free?

-- Is there dedicated space in the kitchen for gluten-free preparation?

-- Are staff educated on gluten-free ordering and menu items? For example, reassuring the customer the menu was prepared gluten-free when the food is delivered? Knowing if salad dressings are gluten-free and to not include croutons or “pick off” the croutons once a salad is prepared, leaving behind poisonous crumbs?

Raising awareness to celiac disease and gluten intolerance is the first step to understand what eating “gluten-free” is and to recognizing the severity of adhering to a gluten-free lifestyle is essential to our diets.

I hope Winona restaurants continue to find ways to offer gluten-free menu options and to those who do offer gluten-free choices, I personally thank you.

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