When I became a mom to a child with celiac disease four years ago, I had so much to learn. I mean, like, SO MUCH. I had no idea that gluten was more than breads and pasta. I had no idea that I would basically need to learn a new language to read ingredient labels. And, I definitely had no idea that it was so easy to accidentally cross-contaminate otherwise safe gluten-free foods.
Let me say that again for the people in the back: Just because a food is gluten-free doesn’t mean it is safe for people with Celiac disease.
Over time, I have read and researched and learned enough to get me to the point where I am today – feeling confident that I have the knowledge and tools to keep my daughter safe from cross-contaminants. I have become familiar with the tricky ways that gluten can sneak back into your “safe” foods. Many of these things were surprising to me when I learned them, so I wanted to let you in on the secrets, too. Keep in mind, I am not a doctor. I am just a mom navigating the gluten-free world alongside you.
Here are some not-so-obvious things that I have learned that you need to do to avoid gluten cross-contamination:
1. Watch your chips
Everyone likes a good dip, and many dips can be made gluten-free. This is great for everyone at the party, GF or not. However, if there will be gluten-containing chips or crackers offered, they must NOT be dunked directly into the dip bowl for the same reasons utensils cannot be double-dipped into condiments. Instead, guests should use a clean serving spoon and put some of the dip onto their plate. Cross-contamination crisis averted.
2. Don’t double dip
Utensils, that is. This is especially important when making sandwiches. Many condiments are usually gluten-free (always double check your labels to be sure!), including butter, mayonnaise, and mustard. However, if you were to spread mayonnaise onto traditional bread and then put the same knife back into the mayonnaise jar, the mayo is no longer gluten-free. Tricky, right? One false swipe and the condiment will no longer be safe. Always use a new utensil after it comes in contact with gluten to avoid this mistake. Or better yet, use squeeze bottles.
3. Always use separate serving dishes
Often at family get-togethers and parties, both traditional and gluten-free snacks will be served. This is fine. However, it is important to keep these items separate at all times. For example, do not place gluten-free crackers on the same platter where they could come in direct contact with their traditional, gluten-containing counterparts.
4. Get a new toaster
This was one of the first things that the gastroenterologist told us to do after we received my daughter’s Celiac diagnosis. Toasters collect the ghosts of gluten past, no matter how hard you try to clean them. It is imperative to get a new one to dedicate to your gluten-free toasting needs.
5. Designated fryers are gold
French fries by themselves are generally gluten-free, as long as there are no questionable toppings or seasonings on them. They are potatoes, after all. HOWEVER, this does not mean that it is safe for a person with Celiac disease to go to a fast food drive-thru and order themselves a large fry. If the potatoes are fried in a shared fryer with other breaded and gluten-containing items, they will no longer be safe! Always, always, always confirm that a fryer is designated just for gluten-free French fried potatoes, and nothing else.
6. Keep clean
This goes for your hands and cooking/eating surfaces. If your home is not completely gluten-free, you must make sure to wash hands after handling gluten foods and clean all cooking equipment and surfaces very well after food prep. Also, be sure to always thoroughly wipe down tables and counters to ensure no gluten crumbs are left behind accidentally.
7. Be cautious when eating out
Going out to eat after a Celiac diagnosis can be difficult due to cross-contamination concerns. If you are going to a restaurant, make sure the staff is educated on Celiac disease and cross-contamination. It is a good idea to call ahead if attending a new restaurant to see what steps they take to prevent it. At the restaurant, talk to your server to confirm they understand the need for glove changes, separate cooking surfaces, and, of course, designated fryers (see #5 above).
8. You can’t just “throw away the bun”
Unlike people who are just looking to reduce their carb intake, people with Celiac disease cannot just throw away the bun on their burger. Once a gluten hamburger bun touches the burger, that burger has been cross-contaminated. Always make sure that your hotdog or hamburger has not come in contact with traditional buns before eating.
So, now that your mind is completely blown, take a deep breath. Yes, gluten lurks everywhere. Yes, it sounds like a lot. But, yes, you can do this. The more we know, the better we do. Keep up the good work!