Cross-contamination, defined by Merriam Webster as the inadvertent transfer of bacteria or other contaminants from one surface, substance, etc., to another especially because of unsanitary handling procedures, has been established as the curse of the celiac world. It happens in manufacturing, it happens in food preparation and it happens by other unexpected means.
The battle against cross-contamination mandates hypervigilance when shopping and especially when preparing food. It does not allow for complacency or slacking. Ask anyone with celiac or severe gluten intolerance and they will have a cross-contamination story or two to share.
Here is a brief window into our unfortunate experiences in cross-contamination.
Beans & Cross-Contamination – good for your heart but bad for your gut: Our first experience with cross-contamination came in the form of canned cannellini beans and has been described in detail. Long story short, many brands of beans are gluten-free. The one I used wasn’t. And Grace paid the price.
No, You Can’t Have a Sip: This eye-opener happened while on vacation fresh on the heels of Grace’s diagnosis when I was being screened for celiac and returned to eating gluten for 2 weeks.
It was a sunny Honolulu morning at the farmer’s market, when I ate a nibble of my son’s cookie. No big deal. A while later, Grace offered me a sip of her iced coffee. Again, no big deal. We’ve been sharing nibbles and sips all life long, right? . . .WRONG! Within minutes it was clear she’d been glutened as the color drained from her face and she felt weak and depleted of all energy. The gluten baby arrived along with the audible churning. The outing was cut short so she could take another long, cross-contaminated nap.
I marveled: Seriously? That is all it takes? I can set a week of tortured malaise in motion by sipping from the same straw after just one small bite of a cookie???? This is crazy!
A lesson learned: cross-contamination does not only happen by direct ingestion.
Barbecue Grill Grates: one hapless mothers day gift was a gluten baby delivered courtesy of a dinner lovingly prepared within months following Grace’s diagnosis. Extra caution was paid to every step in meal preparation. With absolute certainty, we knew this was a celiac-safe dinner. Flummoxed, I researched and learned.
Grill grates, no matter how well scrubbed or long incinerated, are porous and can leach gluten into food.
Green Juice: Reaching for a nutrient-rich, health-packed juice seems like a great idea when pressed for time. Bright and fresh in the grab and go case in a cafe or in the grocery store fridge section, they lure you in with their all-natural and often organic non-GMO goodness. Between classes, it is an easy way to keep you going before diving into the next long lecture. Or so thoughts Grace! She called me from the middle of campus, irritated and imploring me why, if all of the other bottles of this one brand of products are gluten-free, why wouldn’t this one be? The simple answer: wheatgrass. A year later, I stocked the fridge at home in preparation for Grace’s return. A lovely bright green-apple based smoothie seemed perfect for a spring break refresher. Two sips and she knew: wheatgrass again.
Unless specially made, green juices and smoothies can be risky, so always read the label!
TIPS & TAKEAWAYS:
Grilling Workaround: use a grill mat or heavy-duty aluminum foil atop barbecue grates to create a barrier between grill surface and food.
Check, Recheck & Check Again: Reading labels is vital. Always. Gluten can be found deep in the list of ingredients, in very small print, but it is there.
Indirect Ingestion: A quick bite or sip, a pass of lipgloss and kissing are among the ways cross-contamination can happen.