Eating Gluten-Free: Tips for Avoiding the Danger of Cross-Contamination In Your Own Kitchen

“If the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet.” (Dr. Samuel Gee, 1839-1911, among the first doctors to notegluten-free sign the importance of diet in managing Celiac Disease)

“Consuming small amounts of gluten — more than 50 milligrams, or about 1/70th of that slice of bread — on a daily basis also can add up to increased symptoms and intestinal damage.” (Jane Anderson, “How Much Gluten Can Make Me Sick?,” January 28, 2013)

The folks over at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness have much to tell us about Celiac disease the month of May, which has been declared Celiac Awareness Month. People are increasingly aware of the disease, as well as the condition with similar symptoms known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). This greater awareness has resulted in a greater number of gluten-free food products on grocery store shelves, as well as a greater number of gluten-free menus at restaurants. Though more people are aware of the danger that gluten presents to people who suffer from Celiac or NCGS, a large number of gluten-intolerant people continue to suffer without knowing the root of their distressing and serious physical discomfort. Additionally, a large number of people remain ignorant of what gluten is, and what foods contain gluten. Some of these people work in restaurants; others are friends, family members, and co-workers. Without the proper education concerning gluten, the foods that contain it, and its serious effect on people who suffer some form of gluten-intolerance, these well-meaning but undereducated people will remain a threat to those of us who have Celiac or NCGS. We will continue to be endangered by cross-contamination, or outright contamination until even more people understand gluten and gluten-intolerance.

For the month of May, I will post something to help the people at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness spread knowledge about Celiac Disease, and the realities of what Celiacs face living as we’re forced to live gluten-free in a gluten-filled world. Some days I will post a few tips about living gluten-free in a house where others can eat gluten. Other days I will continue my mission to help others live a an active, gluten-free lifestyle by posting a few reviews of gluten-free food products and gluten-free restaurants, as well as post a few gluten-free recipes.

For today, I start the month with a few tips for avoiding cross-contamination for people who may be newly diagnosed with some form of gluten-intolerance, or for relatives of people newly diagnosed, or just for people who have been diagnosed for quite a while but still find that sharing a kitchen with someone who can eat gluten a bit daunting. Every person who suffers from Celiac Disease is familiar with that sudden panic that arrives with a kick in the stomach, and the simultaneous awareness that she has been glutenized. That first sudden stomach pain and spasm that occurs soon after she has accidentally ingested some small particle of gluten-containing food, and she knows that the damage is done, the symptoms cannot be reversed. First the pain, then the spasm, then the nausea that quickly follows, then the – well, you know the rest. No need to graphically describe something so horribly unpleasant, that brings a halt to the rest of one’s day, and often brings about a necessary change of plans for several days. Although people who suffer from Celiac ought not be obsessed with the fear of cross-contamination (we have to live our lives, after all), we do need to have a more keen awareness of the other food around us, as well as the way kitchen tools and eating utensils have been used, than people who have no problem with gluten. For this reason, everyone who lives in a household with someone who has Celiac Disease, even people for whom gluten is not a threat, must take precautions against cross-contamination when she prepares food in the kitchen.

My personal situation is probably easier to deal with than that of many other suffers of Celiac. Two of our three children have Celiac, which means that not only is my kitchen is practically (99%) gluten-free, but the kitchens in our children’s houses are also practically gluten-free zones. No matter which house I prepare food, I have little danger of cross-contamination. The only gluten in my kitchens in San Antonio and Austin is bread. Phillip eats gluten-free when he’s at home, and he’s fine with that. Occasionally I buy him some store bought cookies or a treat from the bakery at Whole Foods, but for the most part he’s gluten-free when he’s not at work. I do, however, make his sandwiches for lunch. He has no need to deal with the difficulties and complexities of gluten-free bread and sandwich making, since he can eat gluten. Therefore, I buy nice gluten-containing sandwich buns or bread on which to make the special sandwiches I like to send with him to work. Cross-contamination becomes a serious threat at this point, for I use, on my sandwiches, the same mayonnaise, mustard, and other condiments I use on his sandwiches. To avoid cross-contamination, I use a spoon to dish out the condiments, and make sure I have plenty enough on the spoon to spread on the bread so that I don’t have to wash the spoon off before dipping it back into whatever condiment I’m using. I keep no other food on the counter while I’m making Phillip’s sandwiches, and when I’ve finished making a sandwich for him, I’m obsessive about immediately cleaning well the area of the counter on which I made the sandwich. I put the utensils I use to make his sandwiches in the dishwasher or sink, to make sure I don’t accidentally use them when I prepare my own food.

To prevent the danger of cross-contamination when I fix lunch for our grandsons at our house, or at theirs, I give them gluten-free lunches even though they can eat gluten.
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Gluten-free bread slices make perfect toddler size sandwiches. I make B and H sandwiches such as grilled gouda cheese with apple (sliced very thinly), or sandwiches made with chѐvre and some flavor of Cascadian Farm fruit spread. Sometimes I make them lunch with just fruit, cheese, and meat, such as oven-roasted prosciutto-wrapped pear slices accompanied with slices of brie or camembert cheese. All of these lunches are gluten-free, and when one of the boys offers his Gigi a bite of his lunch (which happens quite often), I can safely accept his generosity.

We have a toaster dedicated to gluten-free bread only. Crumbs from gluten-containing bread left in the toaster will cross-contaminate  gluten free bread, if toasted in the same appliance used for the gluten-free bread.

I don’t  keep wheat flour in my kitchen. Since I love to cook and bake, I often cook for friends and relatives. I make everything gluten-free, even foods I prepare for others to eat in their own homes. People actually like my gluten-free cakes and other gluten-free desserts better than they like cakes and desserts made with wheat flour, for the cakes are more moist and more dense (but really I think difference they like, without realizing it,  is the difference between a cake baked from scratch and one baked from a commercially processed mix). Everyone knows that what comes out of my kitchen will be gluten-free, no matter for whom or for what occasion I bake or cook. By keeping my kitchen free of wheat or other gluten-containing cooking and baking ingredients, I avoid the danger of any cross-contamination that might come of my having used small kitchen appliances to bake something that is not gluten-free.

With a little planning and plenty of caution, Celiacs can safely feed non-Celiac friends and family members without danger of cross-contaminating their own meals.

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