I recently took a road trip to Iowa. Well, when you’re out of town, you have to eat out a lot. For me, this is more difficult than the average person because I have Celiac Disease. I can’t eat anything with gluten in it. Not even a LITTLE BIT.
Well, I was inside a mall in Des Moines, and they had a Taco John’s. I figured this could be a safe option as tacos can come in corn tortillas instead of flour. To be safe though, I asked the cashier for their nutrition/allergen information. After digging through multiple drawers and cabinets, she finally produced a grease and food-stained 3-page document that did list fat content, caloric value, and more tidbits about every menu item. Unfortunately there was no mention anywhere of peanut, wheat, soy, dairy, or any kind of allergy.
So I whipped out my Droid X and found their website. On the web site’s nutrition information page, each item listing also contained allergen information. To my delight, I saw that their “Potato Olés®” did not contain wheat!
I ordered some and enjoyed them immensely: awesome, crispy potatoes – nice and steamy, with a side of ketchup and hot sauce. Then an hour later it happens. I get sick. I was confused because I thought the taters were safe. So I did some googling and found a forum for Celiacs that had a thread talking about Taco John’s potato tots. Yes, they are gluten free, however they fry everything in the same oil batch and share the same utensils with gluten-containing items. That’s definite room for cross-contamination.
I went back to their web site and paged through that same nutrition/allergen information, this time going slower. Then I saw it. At the bottom of the allergen list they mention, in fine print, that they make every effort to provide items for those with allergies, but they do not guarantee lack of cross-contamination. I admit that it’s partially my fault for not squinting my eyes and reading at a snail’s pace the first time around. But shouldn’t important allergen information like that be located at the TOP – maybe even in bold?
I sent an email at the www.tacojohns.com contact page asking for a refund of my purchase price, and suggested they move allergen warnings to the top of that web site page. I also suggested that allergen information be readily available in the restaurants.
I got a response in about 3 days from a Mr. Bob Karisny, VP of Product Development at Taco John’s (firstname.lastname@example.org). He mentioned that his daughter is gluten intolerant so he is sensitive to this issue. He said he will investigate ways to make things more clear on the nutritional/allergen pages of the web site and in the restaurants. Also, he offered a full refund of the $9.83 that we paid. In fact, about 3 weeks later we received a refund check for $10 (bonus! lol) from “Taco John’s Franchise Support Center”.