Celiac disease (CD) is a digestive autoimmune disease that can occur in genetically susceptible people. Those with the condition are intolerant to gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and their hybrids, like triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Those with celiac can also be affected by other grains — such as oats, for example — that may have been contaminated by gluten-containing grains. These sources of gluten are found in countless packaged foods, beverages, and even medicines.
When people with celiac consume gluten, the body attacks itself and the small intestine that absorbs nutrients from food is damaged. The only current medical treatment recommendation for celiac is a gluten-free diet. When left untreated, the condition can cause serious health problems. That is why understanding how to prevent cross contamination of gluten is essential for people with celiac.
Keep cooking surfaces clean
Wash your cooking surfaces, cooking equipment, and utensils thoroughly with soap and water before preparing gluten-free food. Dedicate an area of your kitchen counter as the “gluten-free zone.” Then let it be known!
Use the right cookware
Avoid using cookware and utensils made of scratched or porous materials that can hold onto gluten, such as silicone or plastic spatulas, and wooden cutting boards, spoons, and bowls. If you choose to use such items, keep them as your exclusive gluten-free set. A dedicated gluten-free cutting board is essential.
Cross-contamination is caused when the food you want to eat has come into contact with another food containing gluten. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, “Anywhere you see crumbs is a potential place for cross-contamination.” For example, countertops, cutting boards, microwaves, toaster ovens, and containers with spreads can be major culprits. What can you do? Get your own toaster and cutting boards. Boil, bake, fry, and cook your meals in their own dedicated and separate pots and pans.
Seal your meal
Having your food (especially protein sources) cooked on or wrapped in foil will also help prevent cross-contamination. This can be accomplished in a toaster, oven, or on the barbeque, for example. You can also use a separate, gluten-free toaster in your home. If you share a microwave, disinfect it regularly and make sure you heat your food on a clean plate.
Fry food safely
Do not fry gluten-free food in the same oil used for frying non-gluten-free food. The same applies to boiled pasta and other boiled/fried foods — use separate pots and pans for gluten-free and non-gluten-free food.
Keep the bread out of the spread
When it comes to spreads such as butter, cream cheese, jam, nut butter, etc., breadcrumbs often get left behind. Label gluten-free spreads to keep them as such. To avoid an accidental mix up, keep your gluten-free spreads on a separate shelf, away from others.
Avoid buying in bulk
Another important tip is to avoid purchasing gluten-free flours in bulk. Gluten-free foods and flours sold at bulk markets can become cross-contaminated from the scoops getting mixed around in different bins, so buying gluten-free food in this way is not recommended. Also, beware of certain flours that are naturally gluten-free, such as buckwheat flour and quinoa flour, as studies have found them to be at risk of cross-contamination during manufacturing processes. Select packaged flours that are actually labeled “gluten free” by the product manufacturer.
Don’t be shy
Also, don’t forget to ask, ask, and ask again if the food you are about to consume is safe — I always verify with wait staff and the chef at restaurants, whether dining in or taking out. These tips apply to cooking at home, dining out at restaurants, and in the homes of loved ones.
Try new recipes
There are so many delicious and nutritious celiac-friendly cookbooks and recipes available online, thanks to gluten-free food bloggers, chefs, and cookbook authors who take the time to share their creations. Try new recipes that look appealing, and have fun with the experimentation! Start by visiting Gluten-Free Living’s recipe section.