February 08, 2013

Gluten Cross-Contamination Issues in Your Home

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Gluten Cross-Contamination Issues In Your Home
My daughter has been feeling awful lately, as if she's been glutened. I knew she hadn't eaten any gluten this week, so it was baffling. At her age-- 13-- she's good about reading labels and knowing what she can and can't eat. But she's also good at recognizing a gluten response, and she's absolutely positive that's what she's feeling.

So, we've been searching the pantry and the fridge, rereading the labels of everything she eats, trying to figure out if some tricky manufacturer had changed the ingredients of an old favorite. Nothing. I finally decided she must have an unknown food allergy and set out trying to figure it out. And then I watched my kids making peanut butter sandwiches. My youngest was making hers, slowly and methodically dipping her knife into the peanut butter, dragging it roughly across her bread-- her whole wheat bread-- and then sticking it back in the peanut butter. The very same peanut butter my gluten free daughter uses. Yikes! How did I miss that?

 Avoiding Cross-Contamination

Life is much easier when the whole family is gluten free. We're flirting with the idea of taking everyone off gluten (I believe we're all showing symptoms of sensitivity, but my husband isn't sold on the idea). Even if we don't all go gf, there are things we can do to protect my gluten free daughter. We just have to be aware of cross-contamination issues in our home.

Shared Foods

Certain food items are generally used by everyone in the house, gluten free or not. This includes peanut butter, butter, jam, mustard, mayo, and other condiments. Anything that will be used on both gf and regular bread is a potential danger. To avoid cross-contamination, there are a couple options:

1. Buy two sets of each item. Mark one gf. Obviously, this one should only be used for gf bread, muffins, pasta, etc.

2. Do not allow double dipping. That means that a knife, fork, or spoon that has touched regular bread, muffins, etc can't be placed back in the container. You could also scoop out the peanut butter or jam into a bowl or plate and then spread it on the bread.

3. When possible, buy the squeezable version of the food. This works for jam, jelly, mustard, ketchup, and similar items.

Appliances and Tools

Toasters are a big contamination problem. Even if you try to be vigilant, it's next to impossible to guarantee that a crumb of wheat bread won't contaminate your gluten free bread. If you're going to be toasting both gluten free bread and regular bread, it's safest to have a dedicated, gluten free toaster and then one for gluten. Your bread machine and food processor could also pose a problem, so be very careful with these items if you can't have dedicated machines for gluten free cooking.

Cooking Tools

Not everyone believes it's necessary to have separate sets of cooking tools. I think it's important for anything that could be scratched and harboring traces of gluten. For example, cutting boards are, by definition, cut up and scratched up. It would be so easy for little bits and pieces of gluten to be hiding in the cracks and crevices. In our house, we have a separate cutting board for gluten free baked goods, meat, and veggies. It might not be necessary, but it gives us peace of mind. By the same token, I believe in having separate:
  • Cookware, especially if it's nonstick
  • Colanders, because it's so difficult to completely remove all traces of gluten from those holes
  • Utensils, especially if they are made of wood or other porous materials
  • Plastic bowls and plates
  • Plastic storage containers

Be Vigilant About Gluten

Apparently, given the peanut butter incident, I need to take a closer look at my family's kitchen safety. What steps have you taken to avoid cross-contamination? Is your house completely gluten free?

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