Avoiding Being “Glutened” During the Holidays: Common Cross-Contamination Culprits

Liking is contagious!

Thanksgiving is over but the holiday parties continue past the end of the year. Whether you are gluten intolerant and attending parties or whether you are hosting a party with gluten free guests, you need to understand how to avoid gluten cross-contamination.

What is gluten cross-contamination?

No… Not the album Cross Contamination by the rock bands Batmobile and Peter Pan Speedrock. Yeah, I haven’t heard of them either… But I do know that Wikipedia is an amazing tool for useless knowledge, sure to impress your blog readers!

And no we aren’t talking about the spread of bacteria from one food source to another either.Sneaking a bite of gluten

And no… When I speak of cross-contamination, that does not include when someone who is gluten intolerant has JUST ONE bite of a cake and then tries to cover-up the missing bite by blaming mice. No, that’s deliberately consuming gluten and deliberately choosing to upregulate your immune system and spark a chain of inflammation as you momentarily give in to social pressure, cravings or a desire to cause yourself pain and hardship.

In relation to gluten, cross-contamination refers to food that is naturally gluten free being contaminated by gluten so that it is no longer gluten free and results in its “eaters” being “glutened”. (Not to be confused with “glue-friend” or the act of an over-zealous friend that glues themselves to someone with Elmers or rubber cement so that they never have to be alone. Though it should be noted that most glue is gluten free, but that’s really irrelevant isn’t it.)

Cross-contamination is when a gluten intolerant person is eating the “safe,” naturally gluten free foods and is incidentally exposed to gluten either through the food being grown in the same fields as wheat plants (common with all grains), being manufactured in the same facility with gluten containing products or ingredients, being manufactured on the same manufacturing line, being packed/stored/refilled in the same area as gluten (problem with most bulk bins), or when during the cooking/meal preparation process, the gluten free item comes into contact with gluten.

For the purpose of this article, we’re discussing the last cross-contamination scenario—incidentally being glutened by something that should be safe. When you’ve made all the precautions…  You’ve read all the labels… You’ve only used naturally gluten free ingredients and certified gluten free packaged foods… And yet, with all of your work… You’ve been GLUTENED.

Glutened imageThere is no time of year that being “glutened” is an enjoyable experience, but especially problematic is being at a party and all you want to do is dance, eat and enjoy libations but instead all you get to do is hang out in the bathroom and clutch your stomach like an alien is trying to tear itself out of you. And being that it is November, there is an endless supply of parties connected to food and eating on the horizon and all offering the potential of gluten cross-contamination.

So as an eater or someone throwing a party that has gluten free guests… let’s chat about avoiding being glutened… avoiding the gluten cross-contamination.

  • Wood cutting boards – Don’t use ‘em unless they have lived their lives as gluten free cutting boards never looking up at the Wood cutting boards sweat glutenkitchen through the veil of bread crumbs as a knife slices above you and shards of bran rain down upon you forever embedded into your pores that open and close with heat and cold. Forever sharing gluten love with any new foods cut on them and forever cross-contaminating all foods they come in contact with.

Unless your wood or bamboo cutting boards are designated gluten free for their whole life, use plastic. And no… Please don’t ever use glass. Sure, yeah it’s non-porous, but it’s awful and wrong. If I hear you cutting against a glass cutting board, not only will your knives hold it against you (with a dull blade after that), but if I hear it, I will bust in with the “nails on the chalkboard police” and destroy that glass evilness with petty abandon.

And do travel with those cute little flexi-plastic cutting boards. You can throw them on top of your Aunt’s wood cutting board and make everything you cut safe while not being obvious.

  • Wood utensils (aka stirring spoons and spatulas)—See above… Wood and bamboo love gluten (actually they love everything), they are porous and hold onto little molecules of anything coming in contact with them, which means that no matter how hard you scrub, your cutting boards and utensils are always going to sweat little incidental amounts of gluten into anything else cut on them or stirred with them (ewww).

Rolling bread picAnd knowing our penchant for pies over the holidays… be especially wary of pies (even with gluten free crusts) that have been rolled out with a wooden rolling pin. Ahh… I’m sorry honey—that apple pie ain’t gluten free anymore. The easy fix is to throw a piece of parchment paper over your gluten free dough and use the wooden rolling pin on top of the parchment paper (yes, before it’s baked). Hey and guess what? It’s waaaay easier to roll out that sticky GF dough that has a lot of starches added to it with parchment paper between the rolling pin and dough. It doesn’t stick to the rolling pin and it doesn’t ever need to be touched by human hands that tend to tear and put holes into GF pie crust.

Turkey with stuffing pic

  • Keep that stuffin’ out of that bird! Besides food safety issues with stuffing a bird with bread that soaks up all sorts of bacteria and may not get hot enough to destroy it—the other problem with stuffing a bird with bread, is that it makes the bird no longer gluten free. The chicken or turkey will be cross-contaminated with the gluten from the stuffing, even if you don’t eat the stuffing.

So keep the stuffing separate… Easy!

Flour Sifter danger pic

  • Flour sifter danger—Yay! You get to avoid the extra work and not sift your gluten free flours before using them. Why? Because if you are using a flour sifter that has been used with gluten flours, good luck in getting it clean! The more crevices and the smaller the crevices, the more difficult to keep tools gluten free. I’m just not a fan of sifters anyway—I’m a low maintenance cook—the less steps and the easier, the better. No fuss.. no muss.. and no being glutened!
  • Colanders and fine mesh strainers—Same. See above. Crevices bad and in the case of colanders, little pieces of sticky semolina spaghetti tend to stick it to the colander holes just waiting to join your rice pasta. Mmm… How ‘bout some rice pasta with crunchy, old, dried-up semolina pasta particles for your festive meal?

Get old school and use a slightly ajar lid to strain instead—besides I choose a little extra liquidness over a little extra gluten-ness every day, because there’s no such thing as “a little” when it comes to cross-contamination.

  • Kitchen appliances—Wash ‘em and get in the crevices. Sneaky gluten particles are kinda like rats that hang-out in alleys behind rats in the alley picrestaurants. You can’t see them, but they are there. Hidden and creepy. No, not like Baltimore rats—those are scary, non-elusive, fearless rodents of a completely different breed of hardiness and freakiness.

And sorry to tell you but toasters are forever cross-contaminated, because there is no way to safely clean out a toaster good enough to make it safe.  So toast it in the oven or on a pan on the stovetop instead.

Crumbs in the butter pic

  • Butter—used by double-dippers. Yeah, you know who you are… Those that take a bite of salsa on a chip and then dunk that partially eaten chip back into the dip bowl. Ugh… Gross!

Butter double-dippers are a plentiful epidemic in this country. They spread butter on their toast, not once but over and over and every time they put the knife back in the butter, crumbs (and not even the sneaky ones) contaminate the butter forever. And we all know that butter makes all holiday foods better. Butter = Better.

So use clean butter and if you are a double-dipper—change your evil ways.

Oh and you weird margarine users are not in the clear of double dipping risks either. Double gross!

  • Sponges and towels – Again, this is an issue with porous materials. When at a home that isn’t gluten free, make sure to have a gluten free sponge and table towels to use. And best is to wash the dishes AND run them through the dishwasher.
  • Silly mistakes—For instance, not having enough spoons for everything being served risks that spoons are going to get moved around and all of a sudden your previously gluten free gravy may end up being glutened when someone steals the gluten free gravy spoon for use in the gluteny goo!

In the next article, more tips to come on how to not get glutened when attending a party and how to keep your party safe and free of gluten cross-contamination—gluten free party planning and attending. Need more ideas? Join me for a complimentary Gluten Free for the Holidays workshop.

Liking is contagious!

17 Replies to “Avoiding Being “Glutened” During the Holidays: Common Cross-Contamination Culprits”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Katie!  As a person with many gluten-free friends, I have a lot to learn about preparing safe (and tasty) food.  I don’t want to gluten anyone!

    1. Myself and the rest of the gluten free world really appreciate friends like you that protect our health and educate themselves on cross-contamination risks. Much appreciation to you Andrea!

    2. I would love to win this app! At age 5 last fall my daughter was dasgnoied with Celiacs after blood work and a biopsy at a Children’s hospital. The first place we were directed to was Triumph Dining and it’s help me to manage her dietary intake successfully! THANK YOU SO MUCH! She is now thriving and has even started to gain weight. We are learning together as a family how best to support her. She loves keeping the special orange’ book with her as well as her dining cards! She is an avid reader and loves to play with my iPhone. Winning this app would help facilitate her independence as questions comes up while we are out and about. She loves being are GF princess and I love that you offer so much great information! <3

        1. A nutritionist can set you up with all the right tests and then give you the corcert diet. Pretty much any hospital has the resources to get you the tests and then some suggestions. Some clinics also are able to do it, you’d just have to ask. I’ll warn you though, the tests suck. I had mine done at a clinic, you get like 80 pricks on your back and then 20 shots in your arms.

          1. Hi Puneet, sounds like you were tested for IgE food allergies–aka the skin prick test. Yes, not fun at all. I prefer running blood tests for both IgE allergies (anaphylaxis-type reactions), IgG allergies (food intolerances/sensitivities) and IgA reactions (celiac disease and gluten intolerance and intestinal mediated food reactions). I think the blood tests tend to be more accurate than skin prick tests and the skin prick tests can’t test for food intolerances/sensitivities, celiac disease or gluten intolerance/sensitivity (just wheat allergies among other allergies).
            Katie Bauer recently posted..The Two Most Common Misconceptions about Digestive Health that Keep You Sick and Tired

    1. Cooking itself is no more work, you just change out or eliminate the gluten containing ingredients. But it is true that it is more work to eat out where you have to question the ingredients used and the cooking process to ensure you are safe. But that’s okay, the extra conversations are well-worth the improved health.

    1. David, I think it’s only difficult at first as after you educate yourself on what is safe and what isn’t and educate your friends and your family to help keep you safe, it’s pretty easy. A more difficult road is choosing to eat gluten or not worry about cross-contamination if you are gluten intolerant, because then you are choosing inflammation, poor health and possibly an early death. Our health isn’t something to be compromised.

  2. Fortunately I’m not gluten intolerant, but I do have friends that are and I had no idea until this article about gluten cross contamination! And all those ways that it can happen right in the home! This is a valuable article Katie, thanks for the heads up!

  3. Thanks Robine for reading! The amount of gluten that a gluten intolerant person can handle is different for everyone. So, one person might be able to handle 50ppm of gluten and another may only be able to handle 10ppm before reacting. The reactions are also different for everyone. There are over 200 symptoms associated with gluten intolerance. The symptom that we hear most about is termed Celiac Disease in which the body attacks the digestive system anytime gluten is consumed. It does not need to be intentional consumption, but could just be cross-contamination. Someone that has a gluten intolerance creates antibodies to gliadin (the protein in gluten) and anytime gluten is consumed (intentionally or through cross-contamination) a chain of reaction and inflammation happens in the body, the result of that could be the body attacking itself (attacking the digestive system, attacking the thyroid, attacking the nervous system, attacking the brain, attacking the joints, etc.), diarrhea, constipation, post-nasal drip, neurological symptoms, pain, acne, etc. etc. etc. There really is no end to the symptoms that the gluten intolerant experience–small and large. But regardless of the manifested symptom, inflammation in and of itself is dangerous–it means the body is distracted from what it should be doing. And if the body is constantly inflamed and the immune system upregulated in attack mode, eventually the body will turn on itself leading to other autoimmune conditions. Pretty scary stuff that the gluten intolerant need to be aware of but also all friends and family (and really anyone) need to be aware of.

  4. During the holiday season is the worst for anyone trying to stick to a healthy diet or any semblance of one. There’s so much good food and everyone is standing around eating and talking together. It’s hard not to snack on some of the yummy stuff that’s sitting around but getting overful is only one of the problems that occur as a result. I definitely agree that cross-contamination of foods can cause other problems. Thanks for the great information about how to avoid those problems. Everyone can use them pretty soon.

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