Saturday, April 14, 2012

Trying to Eat Gluten-Free at the National Air and Space Museum

Museums as Bad as Amusement Parks?

We had the pleasure of being tour guides for several days while family visited. We had lots of places to see.

One of those places was the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

I checked online and saw that the museum does not allow outside food to be brought in.

No food. No beverages, except bottled water.

I had plenty of time to plan ahead and see what my options were for safe food. The museum website informed me that they had food available from both McDonald's and Boston Market.

I've eaten safely before at Boston Market and I know that they publish their gluten-free items online.

I did my research online while still at home. I had a plan. And I was convinced that I would be able to eat safely and easily.

I thought I was ready.

When it was lunchtime, we headed to the food area. I double-checked the mobile website while standing in line.

That's where the trouble began.

I saw on the Boston Market website that they offered a gluten-free "Southwest Santa Fe Salad".

All I could find on the overhead menu was a "Southwest Salad".

See it, there in the middle of the picture? The top, green listing. And just to the left of it is a Boston Market logo over a sandwich.

I started to wonder. Is this "Southwest Salad" the same as the website's "Southwest Santa Fe Salad"? I couldn't tell for sure, but I was already suspicious.

The line moved forward. We moved with it. When we finally reached the cashier, we saw this.

The menu on the counter. The McD's menu. I didn't see any of the Boston Market logos, but I did see the "Southwest Salad" there. I thought I was seeing all of the options, but I wasn't.

I ordered the Southwest Salad, not knowing what other options would be any better.

As we moved on to pick up the food, I had a choice of Newman's Own Dressing. I read the label of the Southwest dressing. Gluten-free. Good so far.

I didn't notice the Golden Arches logo on the back until after I had opened it at the table.

Unfortunately, my Southwest salad came with a breaded piece of chicken smack right in the middle of my entire salad!

And then I noticed the big "M" on the lid of my salad. This was no Boston Market salad. This was a McD's salad.

Cross-contamination alert!

There was no way I was going to be able to eat that salad. That breaded chicken was all over it. And I am sensitive enough to know that wouldn't be safe for me.

I was upset. I was upset with myself for not slowing down to ask more questions. The lines were long at the registers and I was feeling pressured. I should have demanded the information I really needed.

This was my own epic failure. They can't give me something safe if they don't know what I need.

In the midst of my panic over the breaded chicken all over my salad, my daughter offered her salad to me. It too had had a piece of breaded chicken on it, but hers was placed only on one side of her salad. She pulled it off and handed it to me. 

So, we traded salads. What a sweetie! 

I quickly used my clean knife to lift off any contaminated salad and put that on my salad, which I handed to her.

This is the salad I actually ate, a Bacon Ranch Salad with Southwest dressing.

But I was still worried. I couldn't be sure if I had been able to separate out enough of the contaminated salad. 

I reassured myself that at least I knew where the closest bathrooms were. Luckily, I didn't think to worry over the long line at the ladies restroom! I was too worried about the food to think of anything else.

After we all finished eating, I went back to the counter and asked the nearest cashier some questions.

It turns out that the Boston Market menu is on the flip side of countertop menu. I didn't realize that. I would have never guessed that.

I could have ordered one of the Boston Market items without cornbread and it might have been safe for me.

All that fretting and worrying was my own fault. I should have stood my ground and asked for the information I needed to eat safely.

Still, the information provided in the museum was not clear. That alone should have been enough reason to slow down and ask questions. I just got flustered with the push of the line.

And it turned out that I was okay. This time. But it was not without worry.

Please, learn from my experience. Know what you have to do to get what you need. If just one person benefits from this information, then my troubles will have not been in vain.

I am concerned about what their zero-tolerance policy on outside food means for people with other allergies. How about those with a peanut allergy? It would be nice to see a Contact Us link on their website for special food needs. If this means they need a policy change, then so be it.

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