Avoiding gluten cross contamination

The more household members, the greater the risk of gluten cross-contamination for celiac sufferers. 

If you live alone it’s easy.

It is more difficult for those of us that share our home. We obviously don’t want to inflict our dietary restrictions on everyone that lives with us.  It is important, however, to do as much as we sensibly can to avoid the consequences of accidentally ingesting gluten.  

Your situation will differ depending on the number and age of other family members. 

Currently there are two of us in our home. After being married to me for almost 40 years, my husband is aware of the risks to my health and is very careful.  When we had our two children at home it was more tricky.  We had to teach them from a young age that mummy couldn’t eat the same things that they could. This didn’t prevent mistakes from happening on occasions though. 

A piece of half-eaten bread might have been deposited on my plate instead of theirs, for instance. Or they would drop crumbs on my plate. Even preparing a sandwich or other foods for them was fraught with danger.

If it is your child that needs to be gluten free that brings it’s own difficulties of course. 

So what can you do to limit the risks?

Wiping kitchen surfaceMy husband wiping down the kitchen surface after making toast

Keep things clean

Even a trace of gluten on your work surface can cause symptoms or long term health issues if you are a celiac. It is therefore imperative to ensure you wipe them down regularly. After wiping, wash the cloth or sponge thoroughly.

If possible, assign one area of worktop for gluten free use only. But just in case, still wipe it down before preparing a gluten free meal. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Always use clean cutlery, taking another spoon from the drawer if you are at all uncertain what the one that is already out may have been used for. Yes, it may make more washing up but it is better than ending up with gluten cross-contamination. Talking of washing up, my own issues improved when we bought a dishwasher. 

Double up!

All those jars and containers in your refrigerator and kitchen cupboards can pose a risk, even if the ingredients are gluten free. All it takes is for someone to dip their knife back in the jam or margarine after spreading it on their bread for crumbs to contaminate the contents. To avoid this risk, we tend to duplicate these foods and mark one for gluten free use only. 

For ingredients that are generally poured out, you can get away with just one, making sure it is gluten free of course.

We even go as far as to have separate items of kitchen equipment, such as... 

  • Toasters
  • Colanders
  • Wooden spoons
  • Bread boards

Let me elaborate.

Toasters collect crumbs which can transfer onto gluten free bread. If you don't have room for two, another option is to use toaster bags. 

Cutting gluten free bread on the same board as wheat bread is a no-no! Have two and mark one in some way so you know it is the safe one to use. A spot of paint on the edge or even nail varnish can do the job adequately. 

If you cook non gluten free pasta for everyone else and strain it in a colander, gluten can collect around the holes and cause problems next time you use if for the gluten free variety.

If you have used a wooden spoon when making a curry you will have probably noticed that the colour of the wood changes, often turning yellow. Wood absorbs flavours along with gluten and it is sensible to keep one or two for gluten free meals only. 

Taking it further

Although not an item in every kitchen, a breadmaker can prove useful. As there are lots of nooks and crannies inside it is essential to avoid gluten cross-contamination by not using the same machine for normal and gluten free bread making. 

If you do any deep fat frying at home, be aware that cooking foods coated in wheat breadcrumbs, batter or flour would contaminate any gluten free foods cooked in the same fat. 

Storage to prevent gluten cross contamination

My gluten free flour shelves

Ideally no gluten-containing foods would be stored in the kitchen cupboards or fridge, but in most cases this is not practical. Therefore, care needs to be taken when storing such items. 

I have dedicated one cupboard in our kitchen for gluten free ingredients only. But if you don't have enough space to do this, I would suggest storing your gluten free flours in sealed containers, rather than the paper packages they are sold in. A label making machine is a sound investment for producing labels to stick on these containers, making it easy to see at a glance what you have in stock.

If you have to share a cupboard, I would advise storing the gluten free items at the top. This reduces the risk of contaminants spilling from up higher onto the safe foods. 

If it is your child who needs the special diet, however, you may like to store individually wrapped snacks lower down so they are easier to access. Foods that can cause harm can then be positioned out or reach, on the higher shelves, to avoid mistakes. 

My home contains two fridges, one in the kitchen and the other in the utility room. My husband's bread, crispbreads, jam and other ingredients that need to be kept cool (such as his beer) are in the second, while the naturally gluten free ingredients are placed in the larger fridge.  Again you may not wish to go this far to avoid gluten cross-contamination in your own gluten free home.

One last thing!

If you have pets in your home, be aware that their food is not necessarily gluten free. It might therefore be a good idea to assign the task of feeding them to a family member who does not need to follow the gluten free lifestyle. 

I hope the ideas and suggestions on this page help you to keep safe.

- - Gluten Cross Contamination


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