A very important part of maintaining a gluten-free diet is carefully avoiding gluten as an ingredient in food, drinks, and products that enter the mouth. Equally important is to avoid cross-contamination of gluten-free foods with gluten-containing grains.
Here are some ways to help you avoid gluten in many areas of your life.
IN THE KITCHEN:
If you share a kitchen with people who eat gluten or if you prepare gluten-containing food for others:
- Use separate utensils to stir and separate colanders or strainers to drain gluten-free and gluten-containing pasta.
- Clean your counter space well and often to avoid picking up crumbs or flour.
- Choose squeezable condiment containers to prevent crumbs from getting in the containers. Or buy your own containers of peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and ketchup, etc.
- Select separate (higher) shelves, cupboards, a part of the refrigerator, or a part of the kitchen for gluten-free foods. 1
- Use stickers or color-coded or labeled containers for gluten-free products.
- Use a separate toaster oven, toaster, and bread machine. Wash the rack and the top of the toaster oven if you are sharing one.
- Do not share wooden utensils or wooden cutting boards as they are porous and may hold gluten.
- There is no need to buy your own pots, pans, plate ware and utensils if they are washed very well and often (dishwasher is suggested).
- Wash your hands often and use a clean towel. 1
- Use a cast iron skillet or "foil packet" if using a shared indoor or outdoor grill.
- Baking stones can harbor small flour particles; choosing non-porous baking pans helps minimize risk for cross-contamination.
Click here for a handout on simple ways to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.
Which of the following do you use in your home to prevent cross-contamination?
- Squeeze bottles for condiments
- Separate butter, margarine and peanut butter containers
- Separate colanders or strainers for gluten-free food
- Separate toaster oven
- All of the above.
- If you can, have a conversation with the host before you arrive. Talk about safe gluten-free ingredients and safe methods of preparation. If possible, try to spend some time in the kitchen to see how the food is prepared.
- Do not go anywhere hungry. Enjoy a small snack before you leave the house.
- Bring along a delicious gluten-free dish to share with others. This will stop the temptation to eat gluten-containing food. It's also a great opportunity to share your diet with others.
- Ask if gluten-free items can be placed on a separate table.
- Do not be shy; be the first to fill your plate to avoid contamination of gluten-free items with gluten-containing ones.
IN FOOD STORES:
- Purchase naturally gluten-free flours, grains and grain-based products (cereal, pasta, crackers, etc) that are labeled gluten-free by the manufacturer. 1
- Many companies are also certifying their products as "gluten-free."
- Steer clear of bulk bins; choose packaged products labeled gluten-free whenever available.
- Call ahead to determine if the store has a gluten-free product listing for their store and/or a specific area for gluten-free foods within the store.
- Shop the perimeter of the store where more naturally gluten-free foods are located such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, eggs and dairy.
- Shop the interior of the store for plain rice, dried beans and legumes, spices, peanut butter, gluten-free condiments, and oils.
For information on how to avoid cross-contamination when dining out, visit Dining Out.
CONTAMINATION OF GLUTEN FREE GRAINS:
Oats have had a controversial place in the gluten-free diet for many years. The main reason is because most oats in the United States are contaminated with gluten-containing grains in the field while transporting, milling and/or processing. For an in-depth look at oats and the gluten-free diet, please visit the Oats Page (see pages 11-14).
Gluten-free Grains: Look Again!
It may come as a surprise that the naturally gluten-free grains we turn to after saying good-bye to wheat, rye and barley may themselves be contaminated with gluten.
Bottom line recommendation: Eat naturally gluten-free grains and flours that are labeled "gluten-free". 2 Visit Gluten-Free Grains: safety vs. contamination to learn much more.
For more information on the healthy, alternative gluten-free grains, visit the Whole Gluten Free Grains section and Healthy Eating.
TAKE HOME MESSAGES:
- Although it is possible for gluten-free food to be contaminated easily with gluten containing food, there are many tips to help you safe-guard your food.
- Being organized and prepared will go a long way to helping you eat safely with minimal risk of cross-contamination.
* Depending on the product, it is not always necessary to choose a gluten-free label.
Example: the product is naturally gluten-free and has no likely contact with cross-contamination during its growth, processing/manufacturing, or transportation.
RESOURCES FOR YOU ON CROSS-CONTAMINATION:
About.com, Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease Toolkit. American Dietetic Association. Chicago, IL, 2011.
- Thompson, Tricia. Contamination of Naturally Gluten-Free Grains: Part 2. 2011. http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/contamination-of-naturally-gluten-free-grains-part-2/. Accessed 01 Nov 2011.
Revision Date: 8-21-12
Author: Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN
Editors: Shelly Asplin, MA, RD, LMNT and Rupa Mukherjee, MD