Sunday, January 19, 2014

Avoid Cross-Contamination in Your Gluten Free Kitchen

Morgue File
Wheat and gluten cross-contamination in the kitchen is a serious issue for those who have to completely avoid gluten. Small crumbs and tiny specks of flour aren’t dangerous to most people, but to those who need to avoid gluten, these tiny morsels can be dangerous. Most of us don’t think about gluten cross-contamination when we’re first confronted with the gluten free life. There are some simple things you can do to avoid gluten cross-contamination in your kitchen—most of these are behavioral modifications that might take a little bit of training and practice for everyone to remember. Some might view these measures as overreacting, but gluten is dangerous for those who need to avoid it.

Dangers of Wheat and Gluten Cross-Contamination
Gluten is dangerous for those who have gluten sensitivities, gluten intolerance, celiac disease or gluten/wheat allergies. Cross-contamination of foods can lead to major problems for those who need to avoid gluten. Just a few crumbs, or less, can make a gluten-free person very sick. If you live alone, it’s relatively easy to maintain a gluten-free kitchen. However, the potential for gluten cross-contamination is higher if you live in a home with others who can eat gluten. 

Gluten poses a problem when it comes into contact with food, counter tops, dishes, utensils, plates, pots and pans, baking dishes, cookies sheets, toasters, grills, etc. Just a bit of gluten residue is enough to make some gluten-free people seriously ill. It becomes imperative that everyone in the home adapts their behavior and cooking habits in order to keep the gluten-free family member healthy and symptom-free. 

Avoid Cross-Contamination:  Kitchen Appliances
Kitchen appliances such as toasters, crock pots and more can also play a part in gluten cross-contamination in your kitchen. Here are some ideas on how to keep your food safe and gluten-free.

It’s impossible to clean out all the crumbs from a toaster. Toasters are infamous for having many cracks, crevices and surfaces that attract and hold crumbs. Take a look at your own toaster and you’ll see what I mean. The best solution to avoid gluten cross-contamination of your toast is to use a separate toaster for the gluten-free person in your home. Only the gluten-free people in your home should use this toaster. 

Toaster Oven
A toaster oven may be another option for making toast, in addition to using it as an oven. Toaster ovens are easier to clean, than toasters, after each use. One way to help keep gluten crumbs to a minimum is to use a sheet of foil to cover your toaster oven’s rack(s). Clean up is fast and easy. Another option is to wash the oven racks when you’re finished using the oven, and then it’s ready to be used for gluten-free food. One more caution—if your toaster oven has a convection option, it’s best to leave this turned off, in order to avoid blowing gluten crumbs around the inside. 

Indoor and Outdoor Grills
Grills have become popular over the years as a healthy and fun way to cook. To avoid gluten cross-contamination with your indoor grill, it’s a good idea to cook the gluten-free food first, and then cook the rest of your food. After cooking gluten-containing foods, a good washing will help to remove any gluten residue from the grill. The same goes for an outdoor grill; it’s best to cook the gluten-free food first and then the rest of your food, followed by a good scrubbing and washing to remove gluten residue. Another option for outdoor grills is to cover racks with foil for gluten-free cooking. 

Kitchen Stove and Oven
Your kitchen oven and stove offer additional battle grounds for the gluten-free diet. Here again, clean up is the most important tool in the war against gluten residue. Cleaning up spots and spills as soon as they happen will keep foods from getting cooked onto stove and oven surfaces. It’s also necessary to use separate utensils (spoons, forks, knives, spatulas, etc.) if you’re cooking gluten-containing and gluten-free dishes at the same time. For instance, if you’re making regular mac & cheese at the same time you’re making gluten-free mac & cheese, be sure to keep the spoons and other utensils separated. Using the spoon from the regular mac & cheese will cause gluten cross-contamination in the gf mac & cheese. 

Crock Pots
Crock pots are wonderful kitchen appliances, but can be dangerous for the gluten-free person if used to also cook gluten-containing foods. Cleaning the crock pot thoroughly to remove all residue will make it safe for gluten-free cooking. Another option is to use a cooking bag in the pot in order to avoid leaving any gluten residue that could be harmful. 

Avoid Kitchen Cross-Contamination:  Cookie Sheets & More
Cookie sheets and other baking pans are notorious for harboring crumbs and residue from flour and other ingredients—making them dangerous for gluten-free baking. However, it may not be cost-effective to have two sets of baking pans and cookie sheets in your kitchen. One way my family solved the problem was to use parchment paper to line cookie sheets. When we are finished baking the gluten-free cookies, we just toss the parchment paper away. This leaves your pans nice and clean, ready for the next baking session. Another option would be to use foil or silicone baking mats in the bottom of your cookie sheets. If you choose to use silicone baking mats, make sure these are kept separate, and used only for gluten-free baking.

 Cake pans are another matter, and can be difficult to clean. We chose to have separate baking pans for gluten-free cake baking. However, cupcake pans can be used for both gluten and gluten-free baking if you use cupcake foil liners or cupcake papers. Washing in between gluten and gluten-free cupcake batches is important, even when using cupcake liners, in order to keep your cupcakes gluten-free. 

Colanders, cutting boards, pastry mats and rolling pins are hard to keep gluten-free, so it’s advisable to keep a separate set in order to avoid gluten cross-contamination. A good way to keep rolling pins and pastry mats gluten-free is to store them in Ziploc plastic bags in between uses.

Measuring cups and measuring spoons are also difficult to keep entirely gluten-free, however they are not very expensive. It’s best to have a separate set of these for gluten-free cooking and baking. 

Avoid Cross-Contamination:  Food Preparation and Food Storage
Food Preparation. When you live in a gluten and non-gluten household, more than likely you’ll have to make two versions of some main dish at some point. It’s helpful to make the gluten-free version first, and then cook the gluten version of your dish. This helps to keep the counter top, utensils, pots and pans gluten-free, thus avoiding cross-contamination. 

Food storage. Another area for concern is the storage of leftovers. It actually helps to have a part of your refrigerator and freezer set as gluten-free. A top shelf (or two) makes the perfect spot to store your gluten-free leftovers, as this will keep any possible contamination from crumbs and other residue from getting into and onto your food containers and packages. You might consider marking those shelves and/or containers as gluten-free so other members of the household don’t grab the gluten-free food by mistake. It’s also helpful to mark these areas so that no one will mistakenly store gluten-containing food in those specified areas in the fridge and freezer. 

Pantry. The pantry is another area where it’s important to have separate shelves and/or containers for your gluten-free foods. Packages of crackers, flour and snacks can spill, leak crumbs, etc. This puts the gluten-free person in danger when they are exposed to the gluten crumbs and dust. Separate shelves, with the gluten-free foods stored on top, help to avoid gluten cross-contamination and keep the pantry safe for your entire household. Organizers and small bins can also be helpful to separate the gluten and gluten-free foods in your pantry.

Separate Spreadable Foods
Spreadable foods are another danger for those who need to avoid gluten. Most of us put our knives into the butter, jam, mayonnaise, etc. and don’t give a second thought to the tiny bits of gluten we might leave behind. Those tiny bits of gluten contaminate these spreadables for the gluten-free person in your home, and can make them quite sick. The best solution is to have separate spreadable foods—one gluten, and the other gluten-free, and mark the gluten-free version to keep it safe from contamination.This way, the gluten-free family member will be safe from gluten cross-contamination, while avoiding pesky crumbs in their butter/jam/mayonnaise.

Squeezables (such as ketchup, mustard, etc.) aren’t as dangerous, but it is important to keep the tip of the bottle from touching any food that contains gluten. If the tip of the bottle touches a food that does contain gluten, be sure to wipe the tip down completely. This will help to avoid gluten cross-contamination.

Keep Your Kitchen free of Cross-Contamination 
All of these measures are inexpensive, and only require some behavior modification to keep your kitchen safe and clean for the gluten-free members of your household. Gluten can be dangerous for those who need to avoid it, so the best measures are to do a thorough cleaning (wiping down counter tops, hand washing, cleaning the floor) and keeping foods separated as much as possible. These are some tips you can use in your own kitchen in order to avoid gluten cross-contamination in your home. 

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