For most of us, going gluten free is an "all-in" move. No cheating, no sipping, no nibbling; basically avoid all gluten containing foods and beverages. In addition, you also need to be mindful of gluten cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is when gluten free foods come in contact with gluten. Unfortunately, there are many ways for this to happen. And the place where we think we are safest, our very own homes, can often be a leading cause.
Sure, the easiest way to prevent gluten cross-contamination is to have a 100% gluten free kitchen. However, I know for my home, as well as many others, this is not really feasible. In order to maintain a safe, multiple allergen environment, everyone in the home needs to be aware of the the pot they use to boil water, the plate they put food on and even the shelf where grocery items are stored. We are always Cheatin' Wheat, and here are our top 10 tips for preventing gluten cross-contamination:
Always give your countertops a good wipe before preparing gluten free foods. Truthfully, this is just a good practice, gluten free or not. I also try to prepare or prep the gluten free foods first to minimize the chances of cross-contamination from other foods.
2. Knives, Utensils, Pots and Pans
Make sure all cooking equipment has been thoroughly cleaned after preparing gluten containing foods. Since I am in charge of cleaning the kitchen in our house, this works for me. Kathy, on the other hand, has a separate set of utensils for gluten free food preparation. If you use this approach, make sure the gluten free pieces are clearly marked or differently colored so they are easy to identify.
3. Flour Sifters and Pasta Strainers
You may be telling yourself I just covered this. Shouldn't this fall under kitchen equipment? NO! Gluten is sticky and people are lazy. Even I am not willing to take toothpicks, toothbrushes, scrub brushes to all those nooks and crannies. So, buck up and buy a dedicated gluten free set.
4. Cutting Boards
People often use different, color coded cutting boards for meats, poultry, vegetables, etc. Why not add a gluten free cutting board to the collection? For maximum benefit, store the gluten free cutting board in a dedicated gluten area of the kitchen.
Have a separate toaster for gluten free items. Do me a favor and look inside your toaster. If it isn't immediately apparent why this is necessary, you have a brand new toaster. So, two toasters, one of which is dedicated gluten free. Easy!
6. Outdoor Cooking
Many sauces and rubs used in barbecue and grilling contain gluten. Or maybe you like to cook pizza on the grill and toast hamburger buns to get a little char. This means the grill can be easily contaminated. Just clean the grates properly or dedicate a section of the grill to gluten free items.
Whether you are using a fryer or shallow frying in a pan, don’t fry gluten free foods in the same oil used to fry gluten containing items.
Jelly, butter, peanut butter, cream cheese, etc are on my "worst offenders" list for cross-contamination. In and of themselves, they are not necessarily the culprits. It is the habit of double dipping utensils to spread said condiments that causes gluten cross-contamination. So, you have a few options. First, you can use squeeze bottles whenever possible to prevent anyone dipping at all. Second, have a dedicated gluten free, duplicate condiment for the gluten free family member. Third, just don't ever dip, spread, dip.
Be honest, when was the last time you cleaned your oven? Ever? Many people don't clean their ovens all that frequently. If you are not a 100% gluten free kitchen and you use your oven for anything, it likely has plenty of gluten containing crumbs on the bottom. You'll have to make sure you scrub everything, especially the racks, really well. Also, make sure to clean the drawer under the oven, since that frequently is a crumb catcher. Speaking of drawers, clean out your utensil and cutlery drawers regularly. I am always amazed at how dirty, and possibly gluten filled, these get.
10. Storage Hierarchy
Whether in the fridge, freezer or pantry, gluten free items get top billing. Consider it trickle down glutenomics. If gluten free food is at the top, gluten containing crumbs via breads or dishes can't accidentally fall and contaminate those foods. Better yet, you could also dedicate a whole separate cupboard to all gluten free pantry items.
To sum up, the key is to keep things clean and separated. That means crumb-free food preparation surfaces, separate or carefully cleaned cooking and serving equipment for gluten free foods, strategic food storage and good dishwashing skills. Once you get the hang of it, it is all in a day's work.