One of the first things you’ll want to do after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease is to set up your kitchen in a way that minimizes chances of cross contamination between gluten and gluten-free foods. While some Celiacs feel it’s necessary to have an entirely gluten-free kitchen, living situations don’t always allow this. By taking some important precautions and educating your household on the dangers of cross-contamination, Celiacs and non-celiacs can co-exist peacefully!
A system that has worked well in our house is to store gluten and gluten free foods in separate cupboards or pantry areas. In doing so, newly diagnosed patients will not only prevent cross contamination of foods, but they will also be giving themselves a visual cue that further distinguishes their foods from those of the rest of the family.
I have found that late at night when I’m groggy, half-asleep, and searching for a box of cereal to snack on, I can lessen my chance of grabbing the wrong box if they are stored in different areas of the kitchen. This is especially important when first beginning a gluten-free diet, and following the necessary restrictions has not yet become automatic.
Storing items separately will also help when the one diagnosed is too young to understand the complexities of a food allergy. Even young children can quickly learn that “this is my cookie cabinet and that one is for everyone else!” Who doesn’t like having their own cookie cabinet?
The other reason for storing gluten products separately from gluten-free products is to avoid cross-contamination. We have all seen shelves in grocery stores that have little piles of white powder from leaking bags of bleached wheat. Because of this you may wish to put your wheat and other gluten flours into tightly sealed containers.
You should also store your wheat and other gluten flours on bottom shelves. This way if dust from the flour does happen to leak, as it settles downward, there will be nothing below it to contaminate. In the same manner, it would be wise to place breads and other gluten based products in the bottom of your refrigerator, preferably in a drawer that closes, like the veggie crisper. However, you could also use a plastic box with a lid to achieve the same result. This will minimize the chances of bread crumbs falling into the other foods.
Toasters and Ovens
Another important item to consider when setting up your Celiac friendly kitchen is your friendly little toaster. You will need to own two of them if you’re sharing your household with non-Celiac eaters. Each toaster should be used and kept in separate areas of the kitchen. They should also be of different colors or styles to help tell them apart. A “don’t feed me evil gluten!” post-it may suffice.
When sharing your conventional oven with non-celiac bakers, you will need to be certain the oven has been properly cleaned of residual gluten products that may be stuck on the ceiling or other places in the oven. You should also line the oven rack with foil (following the oven’s safety guidelines) as a further precaution against cross-contamination.
In some instances, you may find it easier to use condiments sold in squeeze-type bottles. You will still need to wipe the tips of the squeeze bottles where the product exits the containers, but you may find that this can work. If you live with family members who are able to understand why you are doing this, you can instruct them not to let the squeeze bottle’s tip touch their food items. I don’t recommend doing this if you have young children. They like drawing smiley faces right on the bread. It’s true.
In some cases, however, it will be necessary to buy condiments that don’t come in squeeze bottles. For these it is necessary to put them into separate containers. I save old plastic yogurt containers just for this purpose. Then use a sticker system to distinguish which are to be used for gluten products and which are being reserved for gluten-free foods.
Colanders, Spatulas and Other Utensils
When using colanders, spatulas, mixers, and other hard to clean utensils, you should always check after the item has been washed to be certain that there are no clumps of gluten pasta or gluten bread sticking to it. Sometimes they get into little cracks and have to be dug out. For this reason, you may even consider investing in separate cooking utensils.
Wooden spatulas fall into the same category as wooden cutting boards. The absorbent nature of wood is what makes it a problem. Tiny milligrams of gluten can be stuck on the surface. (It only takes a small amount of gluten to cause problems for people with Celiac Disease.) You may find it more convenient in the long run to either purchase two cutting boards, or to use a non-porous one. Shatter resistant glass cutting boards work well, as do marble cutting boards.
Because flour sifters are so difficult to clean, I strongly recommend that you use separate sifters. You will need to purchase a different brand or style so that you can differentiate between the gluten and the non-gluten used sifter. If you use stickers, they will likely come off in the washing machine and possibly damage your washer.
All that would be a good start, but I’m sure there’s more. Please add your kitchen safety ideas by leaving a comment!