If you or one of your family gets diagnosed with coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or is highly sensitive to gluten then the only way to manage this is to avoid gluten entirely. But it’s not easy, especially if there are other people in the household who eat gluten. This is all about how to avoid gluten cross-contamination.
Gluten is the sticky substance in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut. Traces of gluten are also usually found in oats, however gluten-free oats are now available in all supermarkets. The most obvious sources of gluten in the diet are bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, flour, pizza bases, couscous, pastry, cakes and biscuits. Gluten can also be found in foods such as soups, sauces, gravies, condiments, beer, ready meals and processed foods such as burgers and sausages. Thankfully there are more and more gluten-free options available so no one needs to miss out.
If you are coeliac or extremely gluten sensitive, then you need to avoid ALL gluten – even a crumb can disrupt the immune system for up to six months. Think of it akin to an extreme allergy and it’s advisable to run a gluten-free kitchen at home. Here are my tips to transform your kitchen into a gluten-free safe zone:
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Where gluten can lurk and how to avoid it.
- Flour is very easy to get into the atmosphere and can contaminate a whole kitchen very quickly – even the tidiest cook would find it difficult not have flour flying around the room when baking. I would not bake with normal flour at all if you need to keep your kitchen gluten-free.
- Invest in new non-wooden spoons and chopping boards as wood can harbour traces of gluten from the past.
- Buy a new toaster and clean waffle makers meticulously. Some people use special toaster bags when travelling to avoid contamination from other people’s toasters.
- If you do need to share the kitchen with someone who eats gluten then you need to separate cooking pans, bread bins, cleaning cloths and separate out the washing up. Plastic bowls, spoons and non-stick pans can also harbour gluten.
- Scrub down your barbeque or grill pans and designate one side of the barbeque to being gluten-free. Cover the grill pan with foil every time you use it.
- Use parchment paper to line cake tins and paper muffin cases for muffins and cup-cakes.
- Place gluten-free items above gluten-containing items in your larder or fridge, so gluten particles don’t fall or settle into gluten-free foods. Ideally use entirely separate cupboards.
- Identify gluten-free foods with an indelible pen or stickers. Place leftovers in labelled plastic bags or jars.
- Many foods in the supermarket may not contain gluten but are been made in the same factory as gluten rich foods. Initially avoid all grain based, baked and processed foods unless they are stated gluten free.
- Even some naturally gluten-free foods such as buckwheat flour and quinoa can contain traces of gluten, so again please source certified gluten-free products.
- Knives or tongs that have been used to handle gluten containing food like cake in public places frequently causes cross contamination. Luckily most gluten free foods are wrapped to prevent this occurring.
- Use separate water in a clean saucepan for cooking or re-heating gluten free pasta. Use a separate sieve or colander for gluten free pasta or strain it first.
- Always read the label EVERY time – some products are made in several factories – some will be gluten-free and others not.
- Be cautious of condiments, jam and butter – other people might have put a knife or spoon with gluten crumbs into the pot. Newly diagnosed gluten-free people should start with fresh pots. Squeezy ketchup, mayo and honey can help lower risk of contamination.
- Chips and other deep-fried foods may be contaminated with gluten, so always check with the restaurant or take-away that these are gluten free and that they have used separate oil, pans and tongs.
- Barley creeps into quite a few day-to-day foods as this is present in malt vinegar and beer. Gluten-free barley products like beer are now available and condiments that use wine or cider vinegar are OK too.
Glue & Play Dough
Away from the kitchen, remember that many glues and play dough contain gluten. Please avoid licking envelopes and stamps and use glue with caution. If you have a child with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, then consider providing their school with gluten free glue and play dough.
When you are eating out it is important to call ahead and check that the restaurant or café can cater for a gluten-free diet. This is becoming much easier these days and many big chains are now able to provide gluten-free options. Some of these outlets are better at preventing cross contamination than others, so do not assume that the meal will be entirely gluten-free unless you can see they have a special separate gluten-free preparation and serving area. When ordering your food do specifically say it needs to be gluten-free and that they should not sprinkle croutons onto a salad or serve the dish with bread. The UK seems to be better at providing gluten-free facilities than those on the European continent and further afield.
Again, when visiting friends or relations do remind them that you are gluten-free and give them a list of what you can and can’t eat. Not that many people are educated on which foods are gluten-free or have the confidence to cook a gluten-free meal. Many people do not realise that cous-cous is gluten and gravy or stock cubes normally contains wheat flour. The easiest option is to offer to take your own gluten-free food with you or eat beforehand in case there it not much on offer that you can eat. Drinks parties with canapes can be a real challenge and you may end up only being able to eat the hummus and dips or olives, so again ensure you don’t turn up with a hungry tummy.
Schools are usually very good at providing a gluten-free lunch for children, however they often forget about providing a decent gluten-free packed lunch when the kids are on a school trip or at sports events. Always pack some gluten-free snacks in a backpack or sports bag so that they never go hungry or miss out when out and about. If they are allowed to bring birthday-cakes into school, then consider having some little pre-packed gluten-free cake slices at school so your child gets to eat some cake too.
Ice-lollies at the beach tend to be a safer option than ice-cream which may have been cross-contaminated with ice cream cones that contain gluten.
I hope this is a useful list and will give you the confidence to be able to live a happy and care-free gluten-free life without the worry of being glutened and getting sick.