Kitchen & Food Safety Guidelines for Gluten Allergies


This article was written with friends and family members of gluten-allergic people in mind. If you live with or care about someone who has a gluten allergy, I hope this information is helpful to you.

As recently discussed in the article, Social Tips for Friends of the Food Allergic, food allergies can be stressful for the person diagnosed with them, as well as for the people who live with the food allergic individual. And while all food allergies are worthy of discussion, today’s blog article is solely focused on gluten. Why? I’m focusing on gluten not only because it is a subject near and dear to my own life, but also because gluten-free diets are becoming much more mainstream and, as such, there is a good deal of misinformation and confusion on the topic. The goal of this article is to clear up some of the confusion and to offer tangible ways to support a gluten-free lifestyle.

What is gluten?

According to our friends at the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is “a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.”

Sources of gluten

There are numerous sources of gluten, and it’s important to understand the various names for them. A complete list may be found on the Celiac Disease Foundation website. The most common sources of gluten are:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Malt
  • Brewer’s yeast

Don’t confuse gluten sources with food items that contain gluten

A client recently told me that she could eat pasta because pasta isn’t gluten. After asking a few questions to clarify what she meant, it became clear that she – and, I suspect, others – assumed that pasta itself is both a source (also known as an ingredient) as well as a food item. In fact, wheat is an ingredient / source of gluten that is in traditional pasta, which makes pasta a food item that contains gluten.

Some of the most common conventional food items that contain gluten are:

  • Bread, crackers, pastries, baked goods, pizza crust
  • Pastas, noodles – even many Asian noodles that are called “rice noodles”
  • Sauces and gravy, including soy sauce
  • Beer and many alcoholic beverages
  • Cereals, including oatmeal*

(*) Oats are an ingredient and food item that many in the gluten-free world deliberate about, often quite vehemently.  For some people on the gluten allergy spectrum, conventional oats do not create an allergic response on their own. For others, gluten-free oats are a good option. Various studies in the U.S. and Europe state that oats are safe for people with gluten allergies, including those with Celiac Disease. Those studies do caution people about the potential cross-contamination of oats with gluten sources such as wheat, barley or rye, however, in the packaging process. I, myself, cannot tolerate oats in any form, and thus avoid them completely. Please make an informed decision about if oats should be included in your gluten-free diet by consulting a qualified medical professional. For more information on oats, please visit the Celiac Disease Foundation website or other reputable sources.

Kitchen and food safety guidelines for gluten allergies

If adherence to a strict gluten-free diet is important in your household, the following guidelines should be followed, thoroughly and consistently. This is especially true for people who have severe gluten allergies, such as those with Celiac Disease.

  1. Gluten-free means being free of all gluten. This is going to be tough for some of you to hear: If you want to be truly gluten-free, then don’t bring anything that contains gluten into your home, ever. Not soy sauce, not beer, not flour, not even a crouton. No gluten, at all.  Please note that gluten is often used as an ingredient in personal hygiene products such as soaps, facial cleansers, sunscreen, etc. It is recommended that these products are also excluded from your home, even though it is unlikely they will find their way into one’s mouth. Some people have topical sensitivities or allergies to gluten and, with an allergy as severe as one to gluten, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  1. Reduce cross-contamination. If eliminating every source of gluten from your home is not possible, then actively working to reduce cross-contamination is an absolute must. This requires the understanding and participation of everyone in the household. Ideally, you will create a system together with everyone who shares your living space so that each person understands and is committed to these protocols. Among the recommendations for reducing cross-contamination are:
  • Designate gluten and gluten-free areas, items and foods. For instance, use one countertop for preparing gluten-free foods and don’t allow gluten to ever come near that space; buy a toaster that will only be used for gluten-free items (hint: toaster ovens tend to work better than pop-up toasters for gluten-free bread); store gluteny food items in sealed containers and then in a cabinet or drawer that is always kept separate from gluten-free items.
  • Clean up, thoroughly, every time. Flour particulate and breadcrumbs can be very small, and can easily get airborne, which makes it easy for trace amounts of gluten to get into other foods and on other surfaces such as utensils and plates. As an example, if bread has been sliced on a cutting board, be sure to thoroughly clean the entire area immediately after slicing the bread to eliminate crumbs and residue from all surfaces completely. Compact hand-held vacuums are particularly good for this purpose.
  • Don’t share or “double dip”. If you are serving a dip or sauce that will be shared by several people, for example, either agree that everyone will use their own clean utensil for collecting the portion they want to eat, or set aside your own portion so that you do not have to share with others. Also, if the dip or sauce is going to be shared, make sure everyone knows not to “double dip” – meaning, they don’t use the same utensil in the food item more than once, as it may have become contaminated sine the first time it was used.

 Other guidelines for shopping, cooking, eating out and living with a food allergic person

  • Be a vigilant ingredient reader and know the names of ingredients that are sources of gluten. Certified gluten-free items are a good starting point, but don’t rely solely on that label. It is important to read each ingredient for every product you purchase, every time. Ingredients change, and sometimes the ingredients for one size of the same product are different than for another size.
  • If you don’t know what is in a food item with 100% certainty, don’t eat it or serve it to someone who has a gluten allergy. Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Gluten is especially mobile, and people who have gluten allergies can be very sensitive to it. Therefore, if you have a bite of pizza or a sip of beer, don’t kiss the gluten allergic person in your life until you’ve had a chance to completely clear your face, lips and mouth of potential allergens.
  • At restaurants, help your gluten allergic friend or family member by doing the following: call ahead to the restaurant and ask them if they are familiar with preparing food for and serving food to someone with a gluten allergy, and ask them to explain their protocols (if they can’t answer your questions, don’t eat at that restaurant); ask that the wait staff not bring bread to the table; request that your table be thoroughly wiped down before you are seated; avoid deep-fried foods as they are often coated in batter and/or have a high risk of cross-contamination in the deep fryer itself.
  • Lastly, gluten free foods tend to go stale and break down faster than their conventional counterparts. To keep gluten-free foods safe from both cross-contamination and from going bad, it’s highly recommended that they are stored in air tight containers. Many gluten-free items can stay fresh longer by also being stored in a refrigerator.

What kitchen and food safety tips can you share with others?

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