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Create and Maintain Your Safe Zone – Preventing Cross Contamination at Home

Clinicians, researchers and people with celiac disease agree that gluten contamination is the largest hurdle, and an ongoing challenge, to maintaining a strict gluten-free diet. It only takes a crumb of gluten-containing food to make an individual with celiac disease sick, and the same is true for an individual with gluten sensitivity. In the past, it was thought that those with gluten sensitivity were immune to the effects of gluten contamination; however, it has now been observed that people with gluten sensitivity are as reactive to gluten contamination as those with celiac disease.

When you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, tiny amounts of gluten ingested via contamination will trigger inflammation and systemic symptoms. You may feel digestive upset, a headache, fatigue, anxiety…or nothing. Some people have immediate symptoms from gluten exposure, but for others, symptoms can occur hours later or be non-existent. Regardless of your gluten-related symptoms, gluten consumed via contamination will cause inflammation and long-term health problems. Take the extra steps needed to minimize your exposure to gluten in your home kitchen. For those new to the diet, this information is vital for maintaining a successful gluten free lifestyle at home. For those of you who are veteran gluten free diners, please use this article as a refresher course.

Kitchen Gear

Maintain kitchen gear dedicated to gluten-free cooking and baking. Kitchen items that are porous and/or absorbent will accumulate gluten even when washed regularly. Therefore, these items must be purchased new when starting a gluten-free diet and then dedicated to gluten-free cooking.

•   Wooden utensils and cutting boards

•   Plastic utensils and cutting boards

•   Nicked or damaged plastic mixing bowls and storage containers

•   Nicked or damaged silicon utensils and baking pans

•   Non-stick skillets, baking sheets, and muffin tins

•   Cast iron pan

•   Toaster

•   Knife block (if there are crumbs lurking)

•   Strainer or colander

•   Sifter

•   Waffle iron

•   Stovetop griddle

•   Bread machine

•   Pasta maker

•   Wooden rolling pin

Clearly mark new items “Gluten-Free Only” using permanent marker, duct tape and/or Gluten Free Labels. Gluten Free Labels are dishwasher- and oven-safe silicon tags that can be used throughout your kitchen to easily identify dedicated gluten-free cooking kitchen gear. While you cannot get gluten out of the nooks and crannies of these absorbent surfaces, you can wash gluten off most other surfaces. Plates, spoons, forks, knives and glasses can be used for gluten-containing foods and then thoroughly washed and rinsed to remove gluten.

It’s Not Okay To Share!

The next source of contamination is sharing a dip or condiment with gluten-containing foods. Here are some common situations in which contamination occurs.

•  Jars of spreadable condiments such peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise or butter become contaminated if double dipped on gluten-containing bread.

•   Containers of sugar, cocoa and other baking ingredients become contaminated when double dipped with wheat flour.

•   Bags of gluten-free foods, such as potato chips or shredded cheese, become contaminated when unwashed hands that have recently handled gluten-containing foods, such as hamburger buns or tortillas, grab a handful of chips or cheese.

•   Dipping oil becomes contaminated when used for gluten-containing bread.

•   A bowl of dip becomes contaminated when gluten-containing chips are dipped.

•   Foods on buffet or serving lines become contaminated when utensils are shared between gluten-free and gluten-containing items.

In all of these scenarios, contamination can be avoided by thoughtful food preparation and serving. It is best to have separate condiments, utensils and serving dishes for foods that may come in contact with gluten-containing foods.

Create kitchen practices that work for you, and communicate this to anyone who enters your kitchen. Labeling helps so that you don’t have to always be present to “police” the kitchen.

Washing Works

Be conscientious about washing dedicated gluten-free kitchen items. You will transfer gluten to your gluten-free items by washing them with a sponge that was just used to wash dishes with gluten-containing foods. To minimize accidental contamination use two sponges, one for gluten and one for gluten-free; keep the sponges clean and separate.

The dishwasher is another source of contamination. Avoid placing dedicated gluten-free kitchen items into the dishwasher with dishes that have been used for gluten-containing foods.

Finally, wash your hands frequently when handling gluten. Wash your hands before touching handles and other surfaces, and certainly before handling gluten-free foods. Don’t forget to wash your hands before you eat. Keep in mind antibacterial gels don’t get gluten off of your hands. You need to literally wash and rinse the gluten away.

Be Patient

It takes time to address the many layers of gluten-contamination. Stay diligent and return to this list routinely until you have addressed all these sources of contamination.

Hana Abdulaziz Feeney, MS, RD is an open-minded, progressive dietitian that blends evidence-based nutritional science with the principals of intuitive eating and cutting-edge functional medicine. As a foodie-dietitian that has celiac disease she understands gluten-free living first-hand. Be sure to learn more and find delicious gluten-free recipes and tips at Please contact Hana at 520-429-3418 or