Cross-contamination is the curse of the celiac world. An ever-present threat to someone with celiac disease, despite great efforts, it happens. It is a surprise that can hit, and you’ll wrack your brain asking, “How did I/she/ he get glutened?” Clearly symptomatic, and clueless as to how it happened.
Simply defined in the Cambridge dictionary, this process lurks in the shadows, ready to strike without warning.
Our first experience with cross-contamination came in the form of canned cannellini beans. Until this unexpected incident, Green Chili had been a favorite of Grace’s. Recently diagnosed with celiac, we knew that none of our wares had a nick, scratch, or any other means of trapping gluten and we were honing our label reading skills. This dinner was 100% celiac approved! You can imagine my surprise when just a few bites into the meal, Grace dropped her spoon and said, “Something is wrong with the chili.”
I was indignant, with thoughts running wild: “We’d already been through so much. There’s no way there’s something wrong with the chili! This chili is safe! It’s fine. I am sure of it! What could possibly be wrong but the chili?”
To me, it seemed that if S&W, Bush’s and our local store’s house brand of beans were all gluten-free, so too would be the cannellini beans that I had purchased from my beloved Trader Joe’s.
It didn’t take long for the “gluten baby” to appear (this is what we call Grace’s abdominal distension that comes after a glutening. Along with the gluten baby came the drained facial coloring, the energy dip, and the need to go to sleep. So, it was fairly clear despite my balking that yes, in fact, she had been glutened.
I took to the internet. Lo and behold, Grace was not the only person to react negatively to these beans. In communications with Trader Joe’s, I later learned that despite the absence of any disclaimer on the can, unless an item specifically says gluten-free, they cannot confirm the processing practices. In summary, Trader Joe’s beans are likely made on shared equipment. Again, we learned that hypervigilant is required when checking the labels on cans.
This was our first of many cross-contamination stories.
Cross-contamination happens in manufacturing and it also happens at home. This means we have to ward off this ever-present threat when shopping and especially when preparing anything in our kitchen. In addition to the items outlined in the purge, below are a few best practices to prevent accidental glutening.
TIPS & TAKEAWAYS:
- Double Up for Safety: In a household where not all members are gluten-free, one way to keep cross-contamination at bay is to have duplicates of commonly shared items. Clearly marked GF or kept in a separate container, possibly accented with a visual colored hue, such items might include butter, peanut butter, and condiments.
- Squeeze Please: An alternative to open lids, squeeze bottles can help reduce cross-contamination. One call out here, don’t let the tip of a squeeze bottle come in contact with gluten or that new bottle of your favorite condiment is rendered unsafe!
- Always check labels, as manufacturing processes have a way of changing without warning.
- Keep it clean! Gluten can be transferred from surfaces and wares, but it also lurks in sponges, towels oven mitts, and table linens. Be certain you do not use a gluten-compromised towel when drying your GF wares!
- Putting Up Barriers: When it comes to cross-contamination, a barrier is a friend. Such barriers include parchment or heavy-duty aluminum foil on cook and bakeware
- Heed Warnings: Avoiding a situation like the abovementioned cannellini bean experience requires dedication to reading labels and not making what seem like safe assumptions. Check for phrases like “May contain traces of…” or “Processed in a facility that…” These are cloaked messages that though the ingredients themselves are gluten-free, the manufacturing processes are not.