California Pizza Kitchen Concerns - Celiac Disease
Jul 22 2011

California Pizza Kitchen Concerns

Just this month California Pizza Kitchen debuted their new menu which lists 29 varieties of gluten-free pizza.  I am not going to lie, we have had the pizza three times already.  It is fantastic!  However, over the past couple of days, a lot of concern has been raised about certain kitchen procedures that may lead to cross contamination.

While I did speak with the manager on my first visit about how the gluten-free pizza was prepared, it became evident that I may need to dig a little deeper to find out what was really going on in the kitchen.  I went back tonight with that in mind and I did get some answers, though they were not the ones I was hoping for.

I had seen many Tweets and Facebook posts regarding CPK recently about the gluten-free pizzas being made with the same utensils that are used to prepare the wheat-based pizzas.  This apparently isn’t just a fluke, but a company-wide procedure.  I also read that the gluten-free menu is not recommended for people with Celiac Disease, but for those just simply trying to avoid gluten.  What is that supposed to mean?  Does that mean if I am following the gluten-free diet because it is the newest “fad diet” that CPK pizza is okay, but if I have a serious gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, it isn’t?

As soon as we were seated at our table, I asked to speak to the manager.  I wanted to try to get to the bottom of this.  Brian came over, introduced himself and asked how he could help.  I explained my concerns and asked how the pizzas were prepared in the kitchen.  He went over the procedure that included the employees changing gloves, foil on the pan, separate spatulas & pizza cutters.  Okay, so far, so good.  Now, the sauce & toppings.  I asked about the common ladles and toppings.  He assured me the toppings were gluten-free, but then I pointed out that if an employee who was making a wheat-based pizza were to stick their hands in the toppings, they have just contaminated that container with gluten.  I went on to point the same thing out about the sauces.  If you scoop the sauce onto a wheat-based pizza and spread it around with the ladle and then use the same ladle for the gluten-free pizza, the gluten-free pizza is now contaminated.  He looked a little surprised at first and then agreed that this was certainly an issue.  He seemed very concerned and told me he would speak to his RD (not sure who this is, maybe regional director) about the problem.  He asked for my contact information so that he could follow up with me and let me know what he finds out.

While I realize that cross contamination is possible in any restaurant that isn’t 100% gluten-free, it is still a huge disappointment.  Jon and I have been fortunate not to get sick any of the times that we have eaten the pizza at CPK.  Does that mean that I feel comfortable enough to continue to eat the pizza?  I am not sure at this point.  I am anxiously awaiting more information from the corporate offices (I emailed them earlier today) and Brian.

What are your thoughts?  Have you tried the new gluten-free pizza at CPK?  Did you get sick?

Article Written by:

Kyle Eslick is the founder of Gluten Free Media, as well as the creator of the popular Celiac Support Groups page. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+!


  1. I haven’t tried their pizza yet, and I’d be very skeptical at this point. Unless I have a totally free week where I can afford to lay around the house in my brain fog and terrible sleep patterns, I can’t imagine risking the cross contamination. Sure wish I could, I’d love to see what all those varieties of pizza are all about!

    • I know, right? Especially when Marcella’s is just as good, as is Zpizza. I think CPK is making a huge mistake by ignoring this issue – they will not only lose business from gluten-free eaters and their friends and families, but possibly from others due to the word of mouth.


  2. Diane says:

    Poo!!! I watched them prepare everything. But, I did not have sauce, just ham and pineapple. Didn’t see where those came from. Bummer!!

  3. Tiffany Janes says:

    Kim – I tried the pizza in Dunwoody here and the crust was not very good at all. I think it might have been the first gf pizza they’d made and the crust was not even edible on the edges even though it wasn’t burnt. I’ll do a complete review later, but I did think it was gluten-free and I wasn’t doubled over in pain from cc issues. However, when I called the corporate office for details on their cross contamination procedures, no one ever called me back. I take that as a bad sign. No one on the 800# could tell me anything except they use rice flour for the crust. This might be a case of a company jumping on the gf bandwagon and I’ll only go back for the fab Cobb salad they have. It’s much better than the pizza, in my opinion.

    • Sorry to hear that the crust wasn’t good at your location. 🙁 Though, that would make it easier to avoid! LOL! I do like their salads, so if we happen to go there, I may stick with that. We have another local place across the street that has amazing GF pizza, so I would probably choose them if I had a choice.

  4. kj says:

    This frustrates me. While I am not lucky enough to live by a CPK, I have had problems at other restaurants that serve what they call “gluten free” options. One place offered gluten free breaded chicken strips…. they used gf flour, but it turned out that they fried them in the same oil as non-gf food items. Most places are staffed with high school/college aged kids who really could care less. I find it extremely frustrating to eat out anymore, so I tend to stay home. 🙁

  5. Jill G says:

    Sorry to say having spoke up the line to Califrnia Pizza Kitchen Corporate and explainingto the Director of Culinary Development as of this past Monday CPK has Bo intention of changing their procedures around GF pizza. We had explained how simple the solution is even if they just guarantee cheese. They said no they are not changing their practices and that this decision went all the way up to the CEO – hence my friend and I darted tweeting!

    • Jill,

      It really is a shame that they seem to have gone to the trouble of developing a really good crust to only turn business away by refusing to make a relatively simple change in procedure. Would that guaranteed GF? I don’t think so unless there is no gluten in the place, but it would make it safer than what they are doing now.


  6. Anne Steib says:

    In that situation, I would personally stay away from that pizza. Yikes!! There is a pizza place here that serves great GF pizza, called Blue Moon (review to come shortly), and they state on their menu that the ingredients they use for the GF pizzas are in separate containers than for the ones they use for the regular pizzas, they use separate utensils, etc.. This makes me feel so much more comfortable.

    I also agree, from what I remember, i preferred the salads over the pizza anyway!

  7. Jeannie says:

    I’ve had the CPK pizza twice, the first time I sat at the bar and over saw the chef’s as they prepared–they seemed to be very careful in keeping my pizza separate. That visit the crust was amazing. However, the second time I was there, the crust was inedible. When I complained to the server she suggested that they could “remake the pizza on the regular crust” I was horrified. The manager did remove the pizzas from our check, but never made a visit to the table. I’m not sure I’ll go back a third time.

  8. Judy says:

    Would love to have them consider our prebaked GLUTEN FREE PIZZA SHELLS from Conte’s Pasta. They come packaged with or without a disposable pan and pizza cutter. We also have a sealed BAKE IN BAG PIZZA with no possibility of contamination. Comes sealed in the bag, goes directly into the oven then to the table. Any help would be appreciated.

  9. mpv61 says:

    I wouldn’t even consider eating at California Pizza Kitchen. They’re jumping on the bandwagon hoping to make a bunch of money from the gluten-free world but they don’t want to actually consider our needs and safety.

  10. miriam says:

    I have eaten the pizza there twice and have gotten sick both times. The first time I thought it was just the topping (bacon and tomato with mozzarella cheese so I decided to try again. Last night I ordered the original BBQ chicken pizza and got sick again. I do not have celiac disease, but do have a wheat intolerance/allergy and am newly dx since January. I will not eat the pizza again. I’m not sure if it was cross contaminatiion or just that the crust did not agree with me. When I asked the manager, all she knew was that the dough was made with rice flour. I emailed corporate, but have not heard back as yet.

  11. Sniggit says:

    I work at CPK and am extremely sensitive to gluten. I cannot eat a thing from the restaurant, the cross contamination is out of control and I am always sick the next day. It’s a great company to work for, but they don’t understand the reality behind gluten allergies. However, my husband has only a wheat allergy, not a gluten one, and he can eat there with no problem.

    Just like every place, it is trial and error to eat out.

  12. a.j. says:

    You are being a little over the top. I have a gluten allergy, and am in no way concerned about the slight chance that a utensil merely touches something with gluten it. Its not a like an anthrax spore or anything. I think by providing an option for gluten free – they are taking a step in the right direction. Should they just raised all their prices, and make everything take twice as long to back by washing everything between each and every food item that comes out of the kitchen? Get real. Stay home if you are that concerned.

    • A.J.,

      While I respect your input, everyone is different. Many with Celiac Disease either get very ill when CC occurs or choose not to take any chances when dining out. It is one thing to start to offer a GF menu, but another to market to those with Celiac Disease and not have fully researched the procedures necessary to offer a gluten-free pizza/meal.


      • Tiffany says:

        Kim is right. Many people get sick from the slightest cross contamination so to be safe, places have to at least try to have thoughtful cross contamination procedures in place. If they can’t do that, it’s fine – they just should not tout that their gluten-free menu is safe for people who can’t eat gluten for health reasons. If a company’s gluten-free menu was created to cater to the trendy gf-ers (who are already moving on the next fad diet anyway), we need to know that so we can avoid dining there.

  13. kacobro says:

    This was an excellent article, and CPK definitely needs to step up and put its money where its mouth is. One thing you said did concern me a little, however. I have a sensitivity to gluten but am not celiac. While I do eat GF, I am extremely fortunate in that I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination and other minute contact with gluten as much as many folks out there. I do NOT, however, eat GF because it is the latest “fad diet.” I think it’s important to understand that we all have different reactions to gluten and that it’s critical we support, not judge, one another.

  14. Kasatka Tilikum says:

    I am not gluten free, but I am considering trying it because I’ve been having digestive irregularities (namely cramping every morning and diarrhea in the mornings and sometimes at night) and I am curious if a gluten free diet would be beneficial to me. I work at a restaurant in the Disneyland resort, and can happily say that we take extra measures to ensure 0 chance of cross contamination in the kitchens when it comes to gluten free orders. Fries are cooked separate from onion rings and chicken nuggets, and are made fresh when a gluten free order is called back (because people putting meals together will touch burger buns then handle fries that have been under the heat lamp). Gluten free burgers are prepared fresh on a clean grill, separate from other burgers being made, if it is requested that no seasoning be added. Otherwise, all burger patties are gluten free. The buns are individually wrapped and are warmed up, and everything is handled after all involved have changed their gloves. We can’t even touch the trays the meals are sent out on, unless the gloves have been changed. Very very precautious. At the very least, gluten free guests visiting Disneyland can rest assured there will be no cross contamination, and there are many dining options at different establishments. Just ask what is available, and let them know it is an allergy.

    Just thought I’d throw in my 2 cents 🙂


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