4 Steps to Prevent Gluten Cross Contamination in the Kitchen: Basic Gluten-Free Tips for a Safe Kitchen
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Studies have shown that individuals with Celiac disease may have increased anxiety after diagnosis (this is highly correlative to disease management, read more about it here). For individuals with gluten-free dietary restrictions, the kitchen transforms from being a place of gathering and fellowship to a place of great anxiety. How can you ensure a safe kitchen for your gluten-free family member or guest to avoid gluten cross contamination? Let’s start with the basics.
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1. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT GLUTEN CROSS CONTAMINATION AND WHY IS IT A BIG DEAL
You can’t protect your loved ones with a kitchen safe from gluten cross contamination if you don’t understand what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Individuals diagnosed with Celiac Disease and other gluten-intolerances can become very ill from ingesting gluten. For Celiacs, even a crumb of glutenous food can cause damage to the small intestine. It is currently estimated that 1% of the United States population has Celiac, so chances are, you may be faced with cooking for an individual with Celiac in your home! So, keep reading. 🙂
2. CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN!
In most cases, a thorough cleaning will clear away gluten. yay! However, there are some cases in which this isn’t the case. (Continue to point 3 for more information on these exceptions.) Now, when I say “thorough cleaning” I mean cleaning EVERYTHING. All counters, utensils, pots, plans, dishes, the sink, the table. Everything.
Really? Clean EVERYTHING IN MY KITCHEN?
If you’re only having someone over for one meal, you obviously don’t have to take everything out of your cabinets and clean everything in your kitchen. But at the minimum, you must be sure you wash everything that will be a part of food preparation & service. This includes all counter tops, tables, the sink, or anything else that may be touched during preparation. And now that the sponge or rag you used for cleaning probably contains gluten, it’s even a good idea to throw it in the wash after. While it may not be as good for the environment, I often just use paper towels or these gluten-free cleaning wipes!
If you have someone permanently sharing the kitchen who is gluten-free, it’s probably a good idea to have a “gluten station.” This means restricting all gluten-containing foods to one area to avoid any wide-spread gluten cross contamination from the beginning.
In our family, our kids eat regular bread and tortillas, as well as cereal and some snacks. All gluten-filled bread is stored inside a metal bread box (we have this one from Amazon, isn’t it so cute? I love it!). Gluten-filled cereal is only served in kids’ plastic bowls with kid’s plastic spoons; and any special ‘kid snacks’ containing gluten are stored in a special “snack basket” in the pantry. Most of the time, these snacks are only packed in their lunches for school or trips. If you’re a toddler parent, you know that toddlers + snacks = crumb disasters. If the kids eat gluten at home, they are restricted to the kitchen table which allows for easy(ish) clean up to reduce gluten cross contamination!
3. BUY DUPLICATES
Remember how I mentioned that some things probably can’t just be cleaned? There are several items in which you just need to buy duplicates, use one solely for gluten-free use, and label it clearly. This applies to kitchen gadgets and food. Here’s a list of common items to have duplicates of (or to avoid using when hosting a gluten-free guest):
- Toaster. (Can you say crumbs galore?? Either buy a second toaster and label “gluten-free,” or switch to a toaster oven like we did. With a toaster oven, you can buy a mini cookie sheet to use for gluten-free toasting.)
- Wooden Utensils. (Wood is porous and gluten proteins can easily hide in the cracks)
- Cutting Boards. (Whether it is wooden or not, after frequent use there are often cuts or cracks in the surface of the board which can trap gluten. Color coded sets like this make it easy to keep all gluten on one board!)
- Colanders. (It’s easy for gluten to be trapped in the little drain holes)
- Baking stoneware and cast iron. (Just like wood, these materials are porous. In addition, to truly care for stoneware and cast iron, you should not “wash thoroughly.”)
- Knives. (Knives are pretty simple to clean, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched someone cut gluten-filled bread with a knife and slide it right back into the block without washing it first. This contaminates the block. One tip could be to store knives on a magnetic strip. We have this one.)
- Cooking & Serving Utensils. (While these are easily cleaned—unless they are fraying, then replace!—it’s extremely important to always use separate utensils when preparing both gluten containing and gluten-free food. For example, if you are making two pots of pasta, one regular and one gluten-free, be sure you do not stir them with the same spoon! This will contaminate the whole pot of gluten-free pasta.)
Although they aren’t technically “in the kitchen,” grills are another place where contamination is super common due to grilling hamburger buns, brushing gluten-containing BBQ sauce on ribs, and more. The grill is an appliance that’s difficult to clean thoroughly (gluten proteins can hide in various bumps and cracks) and they’re too expensive for the typical family to have a separate one labeled gluten-free. Although our family’s personal grill is always gluten-free, we’ve invested in a set of these grill mats. These are super easy to bring with you to cook outs and it greatly lessens the risk of gluten cross contamination! If you’re extra worried, bring your own set of grill spatula and tongs too!
When utensils are dipped in a condiment jar, spread on bread, and dipped back into the jar, the condiments are now contaminated with crumbs. To ensure a safe kitchen, buy condiments in squeeze bottles. Otherwise, you will need to buy 2 and label the gluten-free one very clearly! Some of the common foods that we have duplicates (or a squeeze bottle when applicable) of are:
- Butter. (In our home, butter is only used on gluten-free bread. When we go to someone else’s home, butter is cut off a fresh stick and put directly on Tyler’s plate.)
- Peanut (and other nut) butters.
- Jelly or Jam. (We usually buy these in squeeze bottles.)
- Mayonnaise and other condiments. (Again, we usually get squeeze bottles if intending to use for both gluten and gluten-free cooking.)
4. STORE AND SERVE GLUTEN-FREE ITEMS SEPARATELY
Once you have a safe kitchen for prepping and cooking, it’s necessary to keep ingredients, prepared food, and leftovers safe from contamination as well. Always store gluten-free food separate from gluten-containing food (like the bread box mentioned previously). One easy tip is to keep gluten-free food on higher shelves, and gluten containing food on lower shelves. This way gluten crumbs can’t drop into the gluten-free food.
When serving food (either family or buffet style), serve the gluten-free food first. This helps ensure that gluten crumbs don’t drop into gluten-free food.
Also, please let the gluten-free individual go through first. This helps ensure that there’s no accidental gluten cross contamination through the switching of spoons in dishes, or even the serving spoons touching gluten. Think of a taco bar with regular and gluten free tortillas. Once someone touches the spoon used to serve meat, sour cream, etc. to their flour tortilla and sticks it back in, they’ve now contaminated the food. Cue sad tears for the contamination of your carefully prepared food.
When storing leftovers, be sure tightly wrap gluten-free foods and keep on an upper shelf.
Do you have other tips on how to keep a safe kitchen for individuals with gluten intolerance? Share them in the comments below!