Have you ever gotten hit with gluten in the home of friends or family? I have and it can be another difficult Gluten Free learning experience. I am hopeful a guide to contaminated kitchen environments will help with your next venture into a foreign gluten laden kitchen.
My daughter house sits for family and friends. She has learned the hard way how to keep herself safe in foreign environments. The trunk of her car is full of silverware, cutting knives, pans and baking dishes. It is all set and ready to go any time she needs to take care of a few dogs. It is a pain to be so saddled with extra stuff, but it is what she does to keep herself safe.
What happens in environments we have no control over? What are the pitfalls? My brother and his girlfriend were always amazingly considerate of our predicament. My brother has a mat for the grill which allows him to cook anything for us, and not worry about anything that may have cooked into the grill previously. It has worked wonders and have had no issues since he started using it.
What Do You Mean My Stuff is Contaminated?
But there are so many things we don’t think about being contaminated. Knives, cutting boards, counters, toasters, silverware, pans and grills are all danger zones. It’s astounding where stray gluten will get.
So first, let’s just talk about what cross contamination is. Cross contamination occurs when microscopic bits of gluten move from something with gluten to something without. We got hit at the local pizza place, when they used the same wheel to cut our gluten free pizza that they had used on all the regular pizza’s. Ouch. I found myself exposed to gluten when someone had already touched gluten based bread and then handled the cold cuts that we shared. The gluten passed from their fingerprints to the cold cut slices. Also Ouch.
It can happen quite easily and innocently. This is a pervasive thing. Shared knives, serving spoons are all problems – because some salads will potentially have gluten. With knives or silver ware, the gluten can remain on the utensil after it is washed just once.
To me, the most amazing of all – Balsamic Vinegar which is highly touted as gluten free is not gluten free. Most balsamic vinegar is stored in casks sealed with wheat paste. Some manufacturers are beginning to change to rice based paste, but this change is slow. We are careful with our condiments. Heinz is a household favorite for the simple fact that they never use wheat in the manufacturing of their vinegars which makes every vinegar they produce clean, and they have committed to transparency in their secondary products. In other words, if there is even a small amount of wheat (like barley malt), they will label it accordingly as barley malt instead of just malt.
Yes, I actually checked a few years ago to see what mustards, ketchups, salad dressings and other condiments are actually safe. It was painstaking, but important work. I learned a great deal.
Will A Guide to Contaminated Kitchen Environments Keep Me Safe?
There is never a guarantee that you will get through an unfamiliar eating environment without cross contamination. However, doing research for simple basic truths will help. I reach out to restaurants by email about a week prior to a visit. If they do not understand the basic rudiments, if their Chef does not go out of his way to educate himself with food allergies (the best do), then I choose a different venue.
Safety requires vigilance and is still no guarantee. When cross contamination is as easy as a finger in two different dishes, or a common cutting board for sandwiches, or a person using the knife on two different types of sandwich, then guaranteed safety is not always possible. Our favorite restaurant put gluten laden cookie crumbs on our gluten free desert and one of us took a bite before the server could tell us not to touch it.
Supplements that Mitigate Gluten Exposures
As such, we must need to understand that there is a constant risk of cross contamination. How do we protect ourselves further? Supplement companies have been hard at work trying to help with that. I do not ever use these supplements so I can enjoy a blast from the past and just consume something with gluten. In the case of venturing out and encountering foods and environments that may not be totally clean, there are helpful products.
These products cannot stop a gluten reaction in our bodies from exposure to gluten, but they do help to mitigate the damage. Here is the list of products we work with when we venture to a new restaurant or to a friends house.
1.) Gluten Defense by Nature’s Way – I am a big fan of Swanson Vitamins, and although this is not a Swanson product, they carry it at a pretty good price. It helps digest both wheat and dairy. It says it has gluten and casein digestive enzymes.
2.) Now Gluten Defense – This is a vitacost.com item and they usually have the best price. This claims it “Helps Digest Gluten and Cereal Grains”.
3.) Gluten Rid by Swanson – This one works with Tolerase G Prolyl – Swanson states “Tolerase® G prolyl endopeptidase is an enzyme that works in the acidic environment of the stomach to cleave gluten’s peptide bonds, breaking them down into individual amino acids that can be comfortably absorbed through the intestinal wall.”
I have used the Gluten Digest product for about three years now. The other two for about a year. I trust the Gluten Digest will actually mitigate the exposure issues. I take the others to help my body deal with whatever the gluten defense cannot.
Will a guide to contaminated kitchen environments ensure you will never suffer cross contamination in a different environment? No, but the more educated you can be about what is safe and what is not, you will be a little more prepared and proactive in these stressful situations.
If you are looking for a more in depth guide to cleaning a kitchen to prepare gluten free food in, read our companion piece, Gluten Free Kitchen: A Quick Guide to Cleaning