It's more than just switching your diet. When it comes to Celiac Disease and food allergies, cross-contamination prevention must take number one importance. Here is the quick and "dirty" guide to keeping things safe!
What is cross-contamination? "The process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another,with harmful effects."
Whether you need to convert your life to gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free, soy-free, corn-free, shellfish-free, etc., cross-contamination prevention must take precedence right off the bat. These practices are not only for the first few months or when you're preparing food for a gluten-free loved one. They must always be set in place and must always be practiced with care. Mainly focusing on gluten contamination, but these guidelines apply to any allergen (swap the word gluten with your chooses allergen!). Here is a quick and dirty clean guide to follow to ensure that evil gluten ninjas don't end up karate chopping your stomach!
- Remove the Contaminant - If you are converting your entire house to be gluten-free, than the first step that could potentially eliminate all cross-contamination worry in the home is to go through the house and purge all gluten-filled products. Now, we don't want to waste food, so any non-perishable items should be given to a friend or donated to a food pantry, same goes with hygiene and cleaning products.
- Take an Appliance Inventory - There are the big culprits like the toaster and oven racks, but let's break it down.
- Microwave: Yes, you need to clean out your microwave. Food splatters when uncovered and the inside will become contaminated. If you don't want to buy a separate new microwave, frequent cleaning is a must in a shared household.
- Toaster: Those bread crumbs are bombs of contamination and the metal racks are gluten-contaminated cages. This is a must to buy a new toaster as well as keep it covered when not in use so no contaminant falls inside. This is one of the easiest places to get cross-contamination.
- Convection Oven/ Normal Oven: Here you will want to deep clean the wire racks in all ovens you own. To avoid any cross-contamination in a shared appliance, never put gluten-free food (like a pizza) directly on a contaminated rack.
- Specialty Items (Food Processor, Blenders, Waffle Iron, Muffin Pan, Etc.): Thoroughly keep these appliances clean or, just like the toaster, get a separate and labeled appliance.
- Utensils, Plates, & Serving Dishes - For the most part all metal and stainless steel, glass, ceramic, hard plastic types of these dishes and utensils are fine when thoroughly washed. Just make sure they are thoroughly washed and dried with no stuck on gunk (like in between the fork prongs), before using in a gluten-free meal.
- But, Wood or Plastic? - No wooden utensils! Unless they are strictly only used for gluten-free foods and kept in a gluten-free drawer. Wood is porous and gluten gets trapped in there no matter how many times you wash it (i.e. that old wooden spoon). Nix the wood and opt for metal. Now a note on plastic. Most hard plastic is fine, but some plastic is porous like wood. So when it comes to things like cutting boards and colanders, get new gluten-free only ones. Gluten particles are too easily trapped in these things.
- Keep Gluten-Free Shelves/Cabinets - To avoid cross-contamination in the pantry and on the shelves, never put a box of whole wheat pasta next to a box of Banza, get my drift? Make designated gluten-free shelves and cabinets (above!) any non-gluten-free foods and products.
- Before You Cook or Eat, Clean the Table & Counter - Keep you "prep" are sterilized! Don't place your gluten-free cutting board down on a crumb covered counter. Don't set your apple down on the bare table where gluten contamination could be. Always wipe everything down with cleaner or disinfecting whips. This always goes for oven handles, microwave screen buttons, etc.
- How About Those Sponges? - If you're getting rid of porous wooden spoons and cutting boards, a sponge is the same way. Even though it is coated in soap, a sponge also breeds bacteria and traps gluten particles. You need to have a separate sponge. If you're cleaning you plate after you just cleaned a pasta coated dish, you are basically rubbing your dishes down with gluten. Nix the gluten sponge, microwave the sponge you use frequently (60 seconds to zap bacteria), and change it often.
- Gluten-Free First - With the clean counter in mind, if you are preparing a duel meal (gluten-free and non-gluten-free) always prepare the gluten-free dishes/component first and then keep it far away, covered, sealed when finished, before starting any other dish. This is the easiest way to avoid cross-contamination in bulk preparation (like for a party).
- Label Everything - So you're smart enough to get 2 jars of peanut butter and hummus, but you need to make sure they are clearly marked and labeled as GLUTEN-FREE. This also goes for appliances, plates, utensils, and dishes you will be serving or bringing to serve somewhere else.
- Split It Up - So you made safe gluten-free cupcakes and now they are ready to be stored and taken to that party. Make it easy for yourself (or the other gluten-free eaters) and make up 2 containers. Place a few on one and the rest in the other. Put out the extra containers for any grubby hand to take from, but keep yours separate. Even though they are gluten-free cupcakes, just make it easy and already have yours set and safe for the taking without having to worry about contaminated hands or serving utensils.
- Serve Yourself First - Along with #9, if you are at a party and there are gluten-free dishes, ask your host or (if you are hosting), to be served or take your food first before anyone else has a chance to "gluten" things up. This is essential in buffet-style settings as well since most of the time people get lazy and a serving spoon for this, gets thrown in to that or a drip of gluten-containing sauce drips into your pan of gluten-free pasta.
- Wash Your Hands - It may seem obvious, but before you touch ANY food or start to prepare ANY dish, wash your hands! You could have touched the door knob to your own bedroom which was just contaminated from the sandwich your husband was eating and the gluten from his hands transferred to the knob.
- Know the Sources - Maybe the most important thing to do to prevent cross-contamination is to know the sources! Print this list and put it on the fridge, give it to loved ones, friends, anyone who may be preparing food for you. Educate them and yourself not only on the sources of gluten, but also on safe preparation practices and methods for avoiding cross-contamination.
So tell me:
+ Do you live in a "duel household" where cross-contamination is an even bigger concern?
+ Do you struggle with keeping your home safe? If so, with what aspect? Let me know! I can offer help!
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