Cross contamination and eating gluten free is something people know even less about than Celiac disease (CD). But it is one of the main reasons people still feel sick within the first months of adhering to a strictly gluten free diet.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is caused by a miscommunication within the two parts of our immune system, the innate and the adaptive. The innate is the first line of protection when an invader is detected and defends the body against bacteria and viruses and many more toxic pathogens than we know. But when a toxic material is detected that the innate cannot protect the body against, the adaptive part of the immune system is called to come and destroy it. This is where the miscommunication occurs with Celiac disease, instead of the immune system attacking the gluten invader, it starts attacking the body.
I think about cross contamination all the time, I have to, I cannot leave the house without thinking about it; even if I am just running around doing errands. I have to make sure I have celiac safe snacks with me in case I get hungry, long gone are the days where I can stop somewhere and pick up something to eat. If I am going to meet friends for lunch or dinner I need to call the place ahead of time or look it up on Yelp to see their menu, talk to the manager and inquire about their GF items and their cross contamination procedures in the kitchen and with staff. If going to a social outing, I usually stick to foods that I know will be safe like the fresh veggies or fruit.
Everytime I leave my house and eat out I know that I am rolling the dice with my health, even when taking every precaution possible; it only take s a few tiny crumbs to cause a reaction and blow up my stomach within minutes.
Shared Space Cross Contamination
For example, someone using a shared, not completely gluten free cream cheese container.
The gluten eating person dips their knife in, spreads it on the bread, dips the knife back in leaving crumbs… you get the idea. Then I go to use it unknowingly or a restaurant staff member thinking its safe because the ingredients are GF, spreads it on my bread and bam, I am sick.
Cross contamination occurs easily within a shared space and it takes hyper vigilance to make sure it does not happen. I need to worry about utensils, pots n pans, shared plates, toaster oven, cutting boards, the wire rack inside my oven, anywhere that crumbs can hide. I have had friends come over and attempt to throw in a regular pizza without putting it on a pan first. Those little crumbs left behind are something I have to constantly consider as I yell, ‘noooooo, wait, you need a pan to put that on,’ as I dive towards the oven in angst.
In restaurant kitchens I need to worry about them using:
- The same water to boil gluten and gluten free pasta
- Using the same oil to fry GF and non GF food in
- Where they are preparing my food and what their hands or gloves just touched before touching my food
Cross Contamination Example
Yesterday I was in Chipotle and as the long line finally filtered down to me, I had watched the woman over and over again pull out wheat burrito wraps. When I started to order I asked for her to first change her gloves, explaining that I am a medical celiac and will get sick. She changed her gloves no problem and then as she started to take my order, her hand drifted back down to the wheat burrito wraps.
This is the time where I totally do not mean to feel like a pain in the arse but I need to be, ‘I’m sorry, but would you mind changing your gloves again? I am hyper sensitive to gluten and once you put on clean gloves you can’t touch the wheat again before you touch my food’. The girl looked confused and then the manager came over and took her in the back for a moment as she changed into clean gloves for the second time and I am assuming explained to her what I meant. Another employee leaned over to her and said, “you have to stay and finish with this order because it has to be GF down the line”.
I was most appreciative, which is why I love Chipotle, there are always smiles and never attitude, no matter how busy they are. Here is a list of their special dietary menu: Chipotle Menu Information
In a pizza place, I always call ahead AND look at reviews on Yelp or one of the GF dining apps to see what everyone says about their own experiences.
- Are they making the GF dough next to the wheat dough like they do at Domino’s pizza or is it prepared in a separate place?
- Are they using the same pans and where is it being placed in the oven, on the top or at the bottom?
- I always have to find out how safe my food is and then from there deduce how safe it is to eat it.
Gluten Free isn’t just Saying Gluten Free
Needless to say, when someone like me is gluten free and has to eat safe gluten free, it is not as easy as just saying I am gluten free. I have to do research, always prepare ahead of time, my friends and family have to prepare ahead of time and I have to always know what questions need to be asked and not be afraid or embarrassed to ask them. This is my life and my health we are talking about, so putting you out with a few extra questions does not really bother me and if it bothers you, I am completely ok with going somewhere else.
When it comes to cross contamination inside and outside of your house, it is up to you to be the vigilant one always looking out for yourself because most are completely unaware or believe a few crumbs will not hurt. They are also not living with the ramifications that CD can cause. So, do your research, ask the proper questions, be prepared and do not stop living your life because of this, live your life in spite of it.
It is never a bad thing to have GF labels for your house, school or work or in a kitchen that offers gluten free food. It is up to you make people aware.