Going gluten-free at ice cream and frozen yogurt shops

Ice cream and frozen yogurt are the perfect indulgences for these long, late summer days, and gluten-free options abound. However, as with many foods, you need to be aware of the difference between purchasing either product in the supermarket and ordering at an ice cream or frozen yogurt shop.

The supermarket offers the chance to read the ingredients label and take your frozen treat home, where you can put it in your own bowl, use your own spoon and douse it in your own toppings. On the other hand, choosing from the range of flavors at the ice cream or frozen yogurt shop requires you to ask numerous questions and be wary of the potential for cross-contamination that exists in everything from scoopers to toppings.

When it comes to frozen yogurt, “people with celiac disease can never assume a flavor is gluten free,” explains Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N., culinary nutritionist and gluten-free lifestyle expert. “Frozen yogurt may seem like a gluten-free food because it’s not grain-based, but gluten-containing ingredients are used for many different reasons in the food industry.”

Frozen YogurtAmy Jones, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., empha­sizes the importance of checking frozen yogurt ingredients. “The plain vanilla flavor may be safe, but it’s still wise to check the ingredient list,” she says. “Watch for words that indicate wheat—typically easy to find—and barley. Barley can be trickier to find on the ingredient list, so watch for words like malt, malt flavoring or malt extract.” If the store does not have information on its ingredients, Jones suggests choosing a different place.
Begun recommends asking if the machine has been sterilized between flavors
as the machine dispensing today’s vanilla could have held yesterday’s cookie dough.


As with frozen yogurt, it’s important to check an ice cream’s ingredients and manufacturing process to make sure it’s gluten free. Also remember that opting for hard-packed ice cream over soft serve or frozen yogurt introduces the potential for cross-contamintion because of the requisite scoop, which could be going straight from one flavor to the next.

“If the store carries gluten-containing flavors like cookies and cream or cookie dough, there is the risk that the gluten-free flavors have already been cross contaminated well before you got there,” Jones notes. The store may have used the scooper that was just in the cookie dough for the vanilla. So even if you are able to ascertain a particular flavor’s gluten-free status, Begun points out, “you will need to ask diligent questions to ensure no cross contact has occurred.”

Verify that a new, properly cleaned scoop is used when serving the gluten-free selections. “If the ice cream server can’t ensure no cross contact has occurred for the full use of the gluten-free flavor bin, ask if they are willing to open a new bin and use a sterilized scooper,” Begun says.


When it comes to toppings, Begun points out it may be difficult for ice cream or frozen yogurt shops to confirm whether the sprinkles and other goodies are gluten free if they purchase these items from other manufacturers. And even if the toppings are gluten free, cross-contamination is a big issue due to their proximity to one another. ”I’d be very concerned that toppings can get so easily mixed together—so easy to drop cookie pieces into a container of sprinkles,” notes Jones. “I’d probably advise avoiding the toppings, unless, again, they can provide [them] out of a fresh container with a clean spoon.” But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for naked ice cream or frozen yogurt—Jones recommends simply bringing your own toppings.

While a trip to the ice cream or frozen yogurt shop requires a bit of groundwork, individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should not feel like they have to avoid it. ”Going out for ice cream is a summer tradition for many people, and just because you have celiac disease, it doesn’t mean you have to stay home,” Jones says. ”Ask questions, determine if you are comfortable with the answers—and enjoy!”



—Susan Cohen

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