“When Gluten-Free Isn’t Really Gluten-Free!” - Jennifer Frank

July 21, 2011 at 4:53am

As many of you may know, California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) recently introduced a gluten-free (GF) crust on their menu. I have two daughters with celiac disease and went in to find out how the pizza was prepared before bringing my daughters with me. The staff informed me that, while they use a foil-lined sheet pan and a separate cutter, they use the SAME sauces (including ladles), cheese, veggies and all other toppings that they use for their wheat pizzas. When I told them that by doing that they are cross contaminating the pizza, they pointed to their disclaimer about incidental cross contamination. I explained that what they were doing was more than incidental cross contamination, it was inevitable. I explained that in order to prevent cross contamination they would need to use separate ingredients for their GF pizzas because they are touching the wheat crust and then reaching back into the same container of toppings hundreds (if not more) times a day. Those foods are, therefore, contaminated with wheat. I then suggested that they offer just one GF pizza, but make it safe by using separate sauce, ladles, cheese, and other toppings. They said to call “corporate” so I did.


I called Brian Sullivan, who never returned my calls. I called customer service and they said they would look into it and call me back. When I didn't hear back, I called again. They said they couldn't help me. So I tweeted what had happened. Immediately after the tweet, the PR person for CPK called me back and said the Director of Culinary Development would call me on Monday. He called. His name is Paul Pszybylski and after a long conversation, he said he understood what I wanted and that it seemed reasonable and he would talk to his superiors. He called back 2 hours later to say they would not change their practices. During the course of our conversations, he also told me that he guessed that CPK's gluten free pizza is not meant for people with celiac disease, but for people who just choose not to eat gluten!!!! That is just crazy and a total slap in the face to those individuals who have celiac disease. When it was clear CPK was not going change their practices, I asked Paul who made the final decision. He said it went all the way up to the CEO.


This is disturbing for me on so many levels and I think the celiac disease community needs to be aware of what is going on at CPK. More disturbing is the realization that cross contamination may be occurring at other restaurants that are unwilling to make a commitment to understand best practices for preparing truly GF foods.