When you’re sharing a house with people who consume gluten you need to be careful you don’t accidentally (and unknowingly) consume any. It’s not impossible to safely coexist. Here’s what you need to know.
Gluten cross-contamination is a major concern for people with coeliac disease, as even a small amount of gluten can cause harm to the gut and trigger symptoms. In fact, a person with coeliac disease can experience intestinal damage after consuming just 50mg of gluten (roughly 1/100th of a slice of bread). When you’re sharing your home with people that can safely eat gluten, you need to take extra precautions.
TIP 1 – LABEL EVERYTHING
Once a knife or spoon has touched gluten-containing bread or a cracker, it cannot be used in a jar of jam or mayonnaise without potentially leaving behind traces of gluten. To avoid this, keep your own butter, spreads and condiments clearly labelled as gluten-free and explain to the gluten eaters why it’s important that they leave these products just for you.
Manufacturers sometimes add gluten-containing ingredients to unexpected products including sauces, curry pastes and stocks. You may find it helpful to also label these gluten-free substitutes in your fridge and pantry to ensure you don’t pick up the wrong one by mistake
TIP 2 – KEEP IT TOP SHELF
If you accidentally spill something in the fridge or a loaf of bread isn’t wrapped up properly, drips and crumbs are going to fall from the top to the bottom. To ensure gluten isn’t making its way to your safe foods, make the top shelf of your fridge a gluten-free zone. This will make it easier for you to locate your gluten-free products and reduce cross-contamination risks.
TIP 3- YOU MAY WANT YOUR OWN TOASTER
For decades experts recommended people with coeliac disease have a dedicated toaster just for their gluten-free bread. However, this is being reconsidered as a result of a study published in 2019.
In an effort to determine the extent of gluten contamination on gluten-free bread when toasted in shared toasters, researchers toasted gluten-free bread in machines that were not cleaned and had visible gluten on them. 40 slices of gluten-free toast were taken away to be tested for any gluten contamination.
The results were surprising. 36 of the 40 slices of gluten-free toast contained no-detectable gluten. The remaining four slices had between 5-10ppm (parts per million) of gluten detected, which is considered gluten-free outside of Australia and New Zealand. The International food standards in Europe, Canada, and the United States of America allow up to 20ppm of gluten to be in a food labelled gluten-free.
“So many coeliac parents, including me, have taken every precaution to prevent a gluten exposure in our homes. In many cases that means having two of everything – toasters, knives, and pasta pots, with little or no hard evidence showing we needed to,” says Vanessa Weisbrod, executive director of the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National Hospital, who conceived and led the study. “Though the sample is small, this study gives me hope that someday soon we’ll have empirical evidence to reassure the families we work with that their best defense is not two kitchens – it’s simply a good kitchen and personal hygiene. And, that we can travel to grandma’s house or go on a vacation without worrying about a second toaster.”
So while gluten-free consumers outside of Australia can prepare toast in a shared toaster, the findings aren’t as easy to interpret based on our gluten-free labelling. As four slices (or 10%) of the toast contained some level of gluten, you may wish to continue toasting your bread separately to ensure it is truly gluten-free.
TIP 4 – ONE AT A TIME
Good news, you don’t have to invest in a separate gluten-free microwave, but don’t cook or reheat gluten-free and gluten-containing foods at the same time. The internal space in most microwaves is small and things often boil over. Heat your gluten-free food on its own to prevent gluten-containing food coming in contact with your meal.
TIP 5 – DITCH THE WOOD
Wood is porous, which means wooden spoons and other cooking utensils can harbour hidden gluten if they’ve been used to prepare gluten containing dishes. Either invest in your own, clearly labelled set of utensils, or use metal or plastic utensils instead. If you regularly prepare gluten-containing and gluten-free food at the same time, we recommended having utensils in two different colours. Stick to one colour for gluten-free and another for gluten-containing. You don’t want to stir the gluten-free pasta with the gluten-containing ladle, it means you’ll need to cook a new batch and we all know how long that can take!
TIP 6 – CHOP, CHOP!
Another place where gluten can be left behind is on your chopping board. Sharp knives often make indentations into the board and they can harbour crumbs. We recommend getting a chopping board that is only used for gluten-free products in the same colour as your gluten-free cooking utensils.
TIP 7 – FOIL YOUR GRILL/BBQ
Sausages, meatballs and patties are sometimes thickened with gluten-containing ingredients or have been marinated in a sticky gluten-containing sauce. Anything left behind can be a source of cross-contamination for those following a gluten-free diet. Gluten cannot be “burnt-off” at high temperatures so if you’re cooking gluten-free products under the same grill or on the same BBQ as gluten-containing items, lay a sheet of heavy-duty aluminium foil before you cook the gluten-free items. If you do a lot of grilling, consider buying a small grill or portable BBQ that can be dedicated to gluten-free foods.
TIP 8 – THE FRY UP
When frying food you’ll need to use clean oil or a separate fryer to cook gluten-free items. If you do want to use the same oil, cook the gluten-free items first. The same goes for cooking pasta. You’ll need to cook the gluten-free pasta in its own water in a separate pot, or, cook the gluten-free pasta first.