Let’s say you have a 13 year old child. And the DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING, your child gets diagnosed with celiac disease. Let’s say you also have three other children, all under the age of 8. In addition to figuring out this new disease, you also need to worry about cross-contamination. How much should you worry? How do you keep your child safe? That is the topic of today’s blog post.
I received an email yesterday that reads as follows:
My 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease the day before Thanksgiving. That was a hell of a crash course for us and heartbreak for her. We’re a family of 6 and I can’t afford to switch the whole family to a gluten free diet. I have a 2,4 and an 8 year old and the biggest concern is cross contamination. I have separate cooking utensils and cleaning utensils but kids are messy. I’m still on information overload. What’s the best way to make sure I’m not !}’#%*~¥ this up? Or maybe I just need to chill the hell out and take it a day at a time? I just want her healthy.
And then a follow up email that said:
My first piece of advice? Breathe. Breathe. And then breathe again. This is a lifetime journey and you are not going to learn everything in a day. (If you want to try…my book on living with celiac disease is available on Amazon and it’s readable in a day. And yes…this is a shameless plug.)
So…on to the question of cross-contamination. It’s important and it’s a pain. But it is doable. While it certainly would be a lot easier if the whole family went gluten-free, that is a totally personal choice. When I was diagnosed, my kids were young and the Dude Ranch did NOT go gluten free. But we did take a lot of precautions (discussed below).
I will say…it’s pretty easy to keep gluten out of most of the rooms in your house.
The bedroom? Unless you’re into some unusual practices (none of my business), I’d say it’s pretty safe. Bathroom? Should be good. Family room? Iffy if you’ve got kids, but not too bad. Just limit the eating area to the kitchen if at all possible and have the family wash their hands after every meal.
But the kitchen? This is where danger lurks. If cross-contamination is gonna happen, odds are it’s gonna happen here. See that kitchen in the picture up top? That is a celiac nightmare. Clutter is not your friend. The less clutter, the less chance for cross-contamination. Besides the clutter, what other steps should you take? Funny you should ask.
Here is my advice on how to best avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen:
- Buy separate cooking utensils and cookware to use for ONLY gluten free food. Everything we bought was red to make it easier to differentiate. Things you’ll need include your own toaster, cutting board, colander and pots and pans. Yep…it’s expensive to have celiac. Note that we did not buy separate silverware. Actually, I take that back. We did but realized it was overkill. If the silverware goes thru the dishwasher, it should be fine. If you do not have a dishwasher, get separate silverware.
- If possible, have one counter in your kitchen completely gluten-free at all times. That becomes a safe-space. I understand this may not be realistic for everyone.
- Again, if possible, keep gluten-free food separate from food with gluten. In the fridge and freezer, have one shelf for gluten-free good. Try to get one kitchen cabinet for just gluten-free food. It makes it so much easier when things are separated.
- Get a different colored sponge for your gluten-free dishes. Again, do red to keep it consistent.
- Put “gluten free” stickers in any location where there is no gluten allowed. This especially helps when you have company.
- Do not allow any hands in the ice bin. Get a scoop.
- Watch out for contaminating condiments, butter and the like. If a utensil touches gluten and that same utensil then dips in GF food, it’s no longer safe.
- Make sure your family is 100% on board and knows the rules of the kitchen. And trust me, getting your teen to stop cutting her bagels on my friggin’ counter is easier than it sounds. Yes…that comes from experience.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Mistakes are going to happen. Learn from them and move on.
- Be patient and always, always, always err on the side of caution.
In the beginning, this is all overwhelming. Just understand that we have ALL been there and it get’s easier as time goes on. Eventually, it becomes “almost” second nature.
May the gluten-free gods be with you. You got this!!
Oh…and one more piece of advice to the mom who wrote the email. Celiac disease is genetic and if a family member has it, it increases the chance that another one has it. You may want to get everyone tested.