How to Stay Gluten-Free at Ice Cream Parlors

Take precautions to avoid cross-contamination

ice cream parlor
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There's no reason you can't enjoy ice cream in an ice cream parlor if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity—most shops should have something safe for you to order. In fact, many flavors of hard ice cream and the vast majority of soft-serve ice cream flavors already are gluten-free.

However, you will need to take some precautions against gluten cross-contamination, just as you should at any restaurant. In fact, ice cream served in shops is at high risk for cross-contamination.

Cross-Contamination in Ice Cream Shops

Most ice cream shops offer a variety of gluten-free flavors, including the basics (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) and possibly some more exotic varieties. So you should be safe as long as you avoid the cones and obvious gluten-containing flavors and toppings, right?

Not necessarily. Workers tend to use the same scoops to scoop the safe flavors and the gluten-y flavors. They might rinse the scoops off with water in between, but they might not, or they might not always do it very thoroughly.

In addition, the toppings frequently are grouped close together, with gluten-containing options like cookie crumbles right next to gluten-free products like M&Ms. It's a potential gluten cross-contamination nightmare.

Soft-serve ice cream is usually a safer bet than scooped ice cream, but you still need to watch out for a few potential problem areas.

How to Order Gluten-Free Ice Cream

So what can you do if you want scooped ice cream, but don't want to get glutened? Here's a checklist to follow to help you stay safe.

  • Verify the ingredients with your server. Many shops will let you examine the label on an ice-cream tub for gluten-containing ingredients. If the ice cream is truly homemade, be sure to double-check the ingredients with a manager or someone who's involved in actually making the ice cream—some recipes call for ingredients that contain gluten (usually flour as a thickener).
  • Ask for your ice cream to be scooped out of a fresh container. This should eliminate the risk of cross-contamination at the store. You might not get the flavor you want (most shops don't have spares of every flavor in the back freezer), but you'll stay safer.
  • Ask your server to change gloves and to use a completely clean scooper. This is much safer than a scooper that's been used multiple times and then rinsed off.
  • Consider soft serve ice cream. Choose a basic flavor such as chocolate or vanilla, since these are almost guaranteed to be gluten-free (check the ingredients first, of course), and will be free of cross-contamination, too.
  • Get a cup, not a cone. You could also bring your own gluten-free ice cream cone and ask the server to use it if their policy allows.
  • Avoid the toppings. Unless there are fresh containers of toppings available from the back, it's best to skip them. But if you plan ahead, you could bring your own gluten-free toppings to use.
  • Tip generously. This is obviously a lot more work for your server than a typical ice cream order.

If you follow these rules, the odds of you getting sick from ice cream at a shop decrease dramatically.

Gluten-Free Options at Ice Cream Shops

Some national ice cream chains have gluten-free options. Remember to always alert your server to your gluten allergy or intolerance when you order and follow the precautions mentioned above.

Baskin Robbins

Baskin Robbins provides ingredients and lists allergen information for wheat (but not gluten) on its website. The website also lists more than a dozen "gluten conscious" flavors.

Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops

Ben & Jerry's ingredients change frequently, but the store personnel should have updated allergen information for you to review, according to the company. Store workers have been trained to avoid allergen cross-contamination, but if you're particularly sensitive, don't be afraid to inquire with your server.

Carvel Ice Cream

Most Carvel flavors are gluten-free, but some are not, according to the company's gluten-free statement. Individual stores will have full ingredient lists. Since the ice cream is soft serve, it may be less subject to cross-contamination, particularly if you choose a flavor the store always carries and makes in the same machine, such as chocolate or vanilla.

The chocolate crunchies used in Carvel ice cream cakes are not gluten-free. However, Carvel locations can substitute a gluten-free product such as fudge if you want a gluten-free ice cream cake; in that case, you'll need to call ahead and ask what's possible.

Cold Stone Creamery

Cold Stone carries several gluten-containing ice creams, including Cake Batter, Cinnamon Bun, Cookie Dough, and Oatmeal Cookie Batter. In addition, the way that the various flavors are scooped and handled in the stores' freezer cases makes cross-contamination a real risk.

If you decide to try Cold Stone, ask the store personnel to use a clean mixing stone, fresh utensils, and fresh gloves. You also can avoid the mixing stone and ask your server to place your ice cream directly in a cup. In addition, beware of the toppings, since there's a large risk of cross-contamination there, as well.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen offers a list of suggested products on its website. Vanilla and chocolate soft serve ice creams, plus several different possible toppings, all make the gluten-free list.

Dairy Queen cautions that many of its Blizzard treats contain gluten and all are made in the same machine, so you may want to steer clear of Blizzards to avoid potential cross-contamination. And as with most fast-food restaurants, avoid anything that's fried, since Dairy Queen outlets use a fryer shared with gluten items.

Friendly's Ice Cream

Friendly's discloses information on wheat in its products (but not all gluten). Many ice cream flavors should be gluten-free, but you should check with the particular location for the most up-to-date information on ingredients.

Maggie Moo's

This chain offers mainly safe ice cream flavors but also sells several flavors that include wheat. The company acknowledges that it "does not have an allergen-free environment," so obviously the regular cross-contamination caveats apply here.

A Word from Verywell

It can help to visit an ice cream parlor during an off time, as service might be less rushed and more careful that way. You definitely do not want to feel rushed when you ask questions and choose the right flavor. By taking some precautions, you should be able to stop by many different shops and enjoy a scoop (or two, or three) of ice cream.

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