101: Cross Contamination & the GF Diet

Cross Contamination and the GF Diet

Anytime gluten-free food comes in contact with gluten-filled foods, a helping of gluten comes your way. That’s called “cross-contamination” and it can happen in places that might surprise you.

First, how much can you have without getting sick? Studies show that most celiac patients can safely eat foods that contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.  If you could measure it, that’s about 1/8th teaspoon of gluten.  Not very much, is it?

Since we can’t see or smell gluten, we have to become gluten-free savvy in order to know how to avoid these hidden dietary pitfalls. These will become second nature as you get better acquainted with the gluten-free diet.

Of course, you know the obvious places where gluten hides – bread, pasta, pizza, cake and such. But, here are some you might not think of:

  • Crumbs of gluten from a shared toaster
  • Gluten left over in a pot of pasta water, if it’s shared; the colander is also a problem!*
  • Crumbs in the peanut butter or mayonnaise jar or on a stick of butter
  • Batter caked into crevices of beaters and baking pans
  • Gluten-y coating from fried chicken or clams in a shared fryer – guaranteed to cling onto gluten-free foods
  • Crumbs in shared bread baskets
  • Someone eating crackers over your gluten-free salad
  • Cooking surfaces, preparation countertops, cooling racks, and utensils where gluten and gluten free get cozy can wreak havoc on your tummy.

Any of these could deliver more than 1/8th teaspoon of gluten onto your otherwise safe food.

*More on Share Pasta Water

One of the worst culprits is the large pot of hot pasta water that sits on the back burner of many restaurant stoves. As the night goes on and more pasta is cooked in this pot, the water gets gummier and cloudier. It’s full of gluten that has leached from all that pasta. Then the cook cooks your “gluten- free” pasta or blanches vegetables in that water and puts them on your plate where he or she has carefully placed a gluten- free steak. Those seemingly safe and healthy veggies and your gluten-free pasta are now coated with enough gluten to ruin your night.   This can happen in home kitchens, too. If you only have one pot, prepare the gluten-free pasta first.  Drain it and set it aside before making the gluten-filled pasta. 

Real-life Issues of the Gluten-y Kind

Will you eat a cake that’s been made in a gluten-filled kitchen or a cookie from a gluten-filled bakery?

You never know when a random act of kindness may come your way. Lucky you, unless the person has made a lovely gluten-free dessert in your honor.  Who knows if the beaters were clean, the pan was lined with foil or parchment, or if the knife was used to cut gluten-filled brownies before it touched your brownies.

And that bakery, oh my! They make one kind of gluten free cookie.  The rest are all flour-based and the gf cookies sit right next to all the others.  Doubtful that cookie is really, really gluten free.

What about licking the frosting off a regular cupcake, eating the cheese off a pizza or take the roll off a hamburger and eating it?

The answer should always be “No.”

Bottom line: Getting gluten into your food through cross-contamination can easily make you as sick as eating a piece of bread. Become acquainted with the potential problem areas before gluten catches you by surprise.

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