Nima testing: “Gluten-free” Steak

It’s late September, but you’d think it was summer judging by the 90-degree days we’ve been having. So I had dinner in the Third Ward section of Milwaukee, a bustling, revitalized previously industrial area, in the street-front patio at an Italian restaurant called Onesto. I ordered an Aged Filet steak labeled “GF” for gluten-free on the menu and tested it with the Nima gluten-testing device. The steak was served on a bed of thinly-shaved zucchini and thin sauce of “cremini compound butter” and what looked like shaved Parmesan cheese.

Here was the result:

This is typically the result obtained when cross-contamination is to blame, i.e., use of a utensil, pan/surface, or food that has been mingled with gluten-containing food. Nima says that the range of gluten detected is between 20 parts per million (ppm) and 15,000 ppm when the “low gluten” result comes up. Because there was no obvious grain-based ingredient present, such as breadcrumbs, I chanced it and ate the steak. I experienced no adverse effects.

This experience nonetheless highlights that restaurants are labeling foods “gluten-free” but likely not actually setting aside segregated sections of their kitchen to generate foods that are actually gluten-free. While this is not a problem for most people, it can be a very serious issue for people with celiac disease or other forms of severe grain/gluten sensitivity such as cerebellar ataxia, autoimmune conditions, or those who experience emotional/mental effects. I point this out not to point my finger at a specific restaurant but to drive home the point that many restaurants are labeling dishes gluten-free based on not having added a gluten-containing ingredient, but do not actually have a section of the kitchen in which utensils, work surfaces, foods, and airflow are uncontaminated–a major undertaking, no doubt, but necessary, along with educated waitstaff, in order to serve foods that are indeed free of gluten residues.

If you are among those who do indeed react to the small quantities of cross-contamination, as does my son’s friend with celiac disease, Nima testing can be a lifesaver. Or, at the very least, you can ask the waitstaff what they mean by labeling foods “gluten-free.”

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Dr. William Davis

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