Sh*t Happens. Don't Let it Ruin the Evening.

gluten cross contamination

Dude note: As I’m writing this post, I just popped open a pre-Walking Dead Experimental Ale from the good folks at Ground Breaker. All I can say is…oh my.

Anyway…I’ve had celiac disease 7 years now (yay me!)

In those 7 years, I have eaten at my brother’s house I would say at least 75 times.

My sister-in-law absolutely rocks the house when it comes to cooking for me. When I say she gets it, she seriously GETS IT! It is such a joy to be able to go out and not worry.

But sometimes…stuff happens.

Case in point: Mrs. Dude and I went to their house for dinner Saturday night. The usual amazing gluten-free appetizers for me were put out and we enjoyed a few cocktails. Dinner was going to be steak, potatoes and asparagus. Not just any steak, but “straight from the farm” steak and both rib eye AND filet mignon. Yay me again!

My brother, who was in charge of grilling, was also cooking a non gluten-free marinated pork chop for himself.

I think you can see where this is going.

Dinner is just about ready and my brother walks in from outside with the two steaks and the pork chop…all on the same plate. Ooops. And he used the same utensil to cook all of the items. Double ooops!!

He simply forgot and truthfully, totally my bad for not reminding him.

My sister-in-law was mortified, my brother felt bad and the night was taking a turn for the worse.

So did I get pissed? Did I throw a tantrum because I couldn’t have steak? Did I give him a hard time for cross-contaminating my meal?

Of course I did…I was hungry!!!

Totally kidding. My reaction? Meh…it’s only food. And more to the point, it’s only ONE meal. Not a biggie.

I’ve said this time and time again. If you’re a celiac, it means rolling with the punches when it comes to food. There are gonna be nights like this one. You have a simple choice to make it better or make it worse.

Always, always, always choose to make it better.

And for the record, the potatoes and asparagus were amazing. As was the after dinner espresso martini and the ping pong.

Life is good.

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45 thoughts on “Sh*t Happens. Don't Let it Ruin the Evening.”

      1. If flames take care of it what about wheat crumbs that have been nuked into charcoal? I myself just put a wheat bagel for my daughter into my gluten free toaster. Never did this before and the toaster is expensive. Can I burn to a crisp a couple of pieces of toast in there and feel fairly confident that it’s all gone?

  1. I usually ask people to cook my food on a piece of tinfoil just to be safe, in case they haven’t scraped the grill enough.

  2. Kudos to you GlutenDude for managing the situation so well. And thanks for spreading the positivity. We sure would be needing this reminder ” Always, always, always choose to make it better.” with the upcoming holiday season.

    Something that’s been nagging my scientific brain (for quite sometime now) is : Gluten is protein- YES. Protein’s are very sensitive molecules. They get affected with simple things such as heat. A good example would be the egg proteins (albumin, globulin,mucoproteins etc) which upon heating (degrade?) and become solid. Thus letting you consume eggs as an omlette or scrambled eggs (or how ever you like it).

    So, shouldn’t gluten also degrade upon heating. And if it degrades shouldn’t it become inactive? Would this explain why once we really give the grill a good scrub down and let the flames burn a while, the grill becomes safe for the next time you want to make something gluten-free.

    Protein biochemistry 101:
    Proteins are polymers. Think of them as balls of aminoacids held together by a string. They have 3 or 4 stages of folding, dependent on how complex the protein molecule is.
    primary protein structure : Open chain, denatured, essentially inactive protein
    Secondary structure : A few coils and turns, still inactive protein.
    Tertiary structure: A mess of coils and turns – Active protein (e.g. insulin)
    Quaternary structure: Usually formed when complexed with another non-protein molecule, e.g. haemoglobin.

    Now, when you heat proteins OR change the pH of the solution they are in OR Change the ionic concentration of the solution they are in, it affects their structure for better or for worse [dependant on the protein and the condition of the solution it is in].

    I realize I’m leaving a lot of open ended questions here, but i’m really trying to understand this. I hope you & some of your readers can help me make better sense of the biochemistry of gluten.

    1. I don’t know anything about the biochemistry behind it, but I guess heating isn’t enough to degrade the gluten (at least as easily as your egg example), because otherwise baked goods would be fine, and they’re clearly not.

      Now I’m also interested in the answer, though 😀

      1. I’m not convinced his egg example even makes any sense. Are people with egg allergies okay with eating eggs as long as they’re cooked (or raw, perhaps)?

        1. Rachel, you’re right, if heating did kill the protein then it wouldn’t be a problem for us to consume to bread or baked dishes. John, i think the same logic applies to why people with egg allergies must not consume eggs, even though they are boiled, scrambled or prepared as an omelette.

          May be I can divide the question into several parts :
          1. Does heating degrade or kill the protein, sufficiently, for it to be safe for consumption by a celiac patient?
          2. If heating does not degrade the protein (gluten), how do we ensure there is no residual gluten in grill (or pot or pan or dish) used after we’ve finished cleaning it?
          3. How do we kill gluten to make it safe for consumption by a celiac person?

    2. Hi!
      Biochemist here. Proteins aren’t alive, they’re chains of amino acids. Heat can alter their form/structure and even break some of the chains into pieces. These broken chains are called peptides can still cause an immune response. This is because some cells recognize proteins not by their overall intact structure but by amino acid sequence, sometimes even very small peptides 5 or so amino acids long can be immunogenic. However, if you’ve charred a grill to the point where it’s essentially charcoal, then scraped it clean it’s a safe bet that you’ve not only broken down the structure of the protein but also broken down the amino acids that make up the protein. I’d say that’s as safe as you can get!

  3. Sorry to hear about the unintentional gluten foul. At least there was other stuff to eat.

    I think that Lennon quote might be a bit off — wasn’t it “*Nobody* told me there’d be days like this”? Maybe we’re thinking different songs. But point taken, in any case.

    Also, not trying to pile on anybody or anything like that, but marinating pork seemed odd to me. Maybe it’s just because I’m not much of a chef, but I tend to think of marinade as for tenderising — so, more of a beef thing. Pork is fairly tender as is, as far as meats go. I guess he did it more for flavour?

    Oh, and a word of warning re: scraping grills with wire brushes. Those things can be dangerous if a bristle comes off the brush, gets stuck on the grill and then comes off in your food. I’ve heard a couple news stories the last few years of people getting these stray bristles stuck in their throats/etc who ended up in hospital. They recommend discarding wire brushes with too many loose bristles, even replacing them with plastic bristle brushes.

    Check this for example:

  4. A great reminder of how to handle a situation gracefully while still staying safe health-wise. Sorry it happened, but glad you had such lovely evening with your family all the same 🙂

  5. At least you noticed it before it was too late!!! And, because they “get it” didn’t think you were over reacting when you didn’t eat your steak.

  6. I’m looking for different ways to handle my in-law situation. I was diagnosed about 7 years ago. My in-laws have never tried to cook for me, but as Gluten Dude says, it’s the company that matters, not the food. As time has passed, they have become less and less tolerant my being gluten free and of the meals I bring for myself. They will pass by with comments like, “haha, let me add some gluten to that for you” or stand over me with a roll, pretending to drop crumbs in my food.

    These are the only blood relations my husband has left, so I do want to try to make our gatherings pleasant for everyone. The more egregious behavior (like the crumbs), I address directly and pleasantly and the rest I try to pass off with a smile, but I’m starting to dread the holidays. Anyone have strategies I may not have tried?

    1. “They have become less and less tolerant of my being gluten free.”

      That speaks volumes about them and it’s doubtful they will ever get it. I’m sure you want to keep the peace but at some point, is it worth it?

    2. They sound really obnoxious. I would handle the situation by staying home for the holidays. You don’t have an obligation to be polite in the face of rudeness and disrespect for your medical condition. Just my opinion.

    3. Smartie, I am so sorry that your in-laws are shall we say, less than supportive of your situation. It’s really sad that they don’t seem to respect that having Celiac Disease is serious. I applaud you for trying to take the high road when it comes to their attitude. Since it is your husband’s family is there anyway you can ask him to advocate for you? That would be my next strategy if I were in your shoes. Good luck!

    4. A sharp kick in the shins?
      Handouts with gluten horror stories for all?
      Bring your doctor to the party?

      I’m sorry, they just sound like horrible people. As you say, it’s the company that matters, and in this case, the company sounds about as appealing as getting glutened. Be sure your husband knows how much their attitude bothers you.

      Forget about being pleasant, it is not working. Don’t be mean, but be direct. Stop beating around the bush and tell the relatives directly how much celiac disease has affected your life, it’s not a joke, and you don’t appreciate them threatening your health. Tell them you don’t feel welcomed at their house. Perhaps they don’t realize how uncomfortable they are making the visit. And if they still can’t behave themselves after being talked to, then don’t go anymore. Volunteer somewhere for the day, go meditate, go to the gym, go to counseling; anywhere but there.

  7. Finding out before you eat is SO much better than once you are a few bites in. Yea, it sucks to not be able to eat, but at least you know you won’t get sick by not eating. I was about 3 bites deep into my Red Robin burger a few weeks ago to discover they used guacamole instead of avocado slices. And there is gluten in the guac.

  8. I was Dx’d in July of this year (after 20 + years of symptoms) so I’ve been reading everything I can find (kind of obsessively). Thank you for this site – it makes me feel supported and sane in the face of the naysayers like a co-worker who told me today he’s had celiac since he was a kid and he eats gluten anyway and deals with it (such a tough guy).

    I know that somewhere along the way, when I was wondering about the grill, I read that I should cover it with foil, replace the grates, or put them in my oven on the cleaning cycle as long as it reaches 900 degrees (!). I couldn’t find that information again just now when I searched and I can’t find a temperature at which gluten protein is destroyed. I’ve been on the 900 degree plan so basically assuming it cannot be. Would love to hear if anyone knows about temperature and also the best product (if any) to clean counters etc with.

    I am lucky to have lots of friends who get it and some who don’t. The best gift came to me then other night at a gathering when my friend explained food and preparation in detail then ALSO assured me she would not be the least bit offended if I chose not to eat any or all of it. Such a relief as I only ate the salad.

    Thank you again for this site – especially nice to feel the love as I approach my first gluten free holidays. Happy TG to all!

  9. I feel the same way. It’s not worth making someone feel bad. Two Thanksgivings ago my m-i-l, who is the BEST at trying to always do right by me, was making most of the meal at my husband’s gpa’s house. I think maybe she was just flustered from being in a different environment, BUT she bought a turkey that cooked inside a bag. She dusted the bag with flour before cooking it. I wasn’t there to witness this, but when my b-i-l was helping her to take it out of the oven and bag, she said, “I don’t know why it’s sticking. I dusted it with flour like the directions said to make sure it didn’t.” I looked at my husband and said, “Did she say what I think she just said.” Panic set in for a brief moment when I realized I wouldn’t get to have turkey on Thanksgiving. So my husband politely asked her and she looked from me to him to me and it dawned on her. She had an Oh. Emm. Gee. moment. I thought she was going to cry. She felt so awful. I just kept reassuring her it was okay. I didn’t have much to eat that day, but I survived to tell the story. HA!

    The funny part, the package actually said the turkey was gluten free. Why would you write directions then that said to dust it with flour?

    Secondly, I was SOOOOO glad we were sitting in the kitchen with them to witness this conversation or I would never have known and then eaten the turkey.

  10. I would have eaten my steak. I don’t think someone else’s marinated pork chop is enough cross contamination to put you over the ppm to actually make you sick. I doubt this is the first time it’s happened…just the first time you noticed. I hope you understand..I am not seriously trying to be mean to you. I wouldn’t do that to you…In a perfect world things like this wouldn’t happen but unfortunately they do. I do understand you handled the situation the best way you could…I do too. I guess our coping styles are just different. The only way I would have turned away a beautiful steak is if it was a major gluten mistake. Then again, maybe I’d be a much healthier person if I fussed more. Who knows? I sure don’t. Take care Dude. Please don’t be mad at me for my opinion. I probably just don’t get enough good steak in my life…lol

    1. Not the right way to go, Galwayfan. If you eat that steak (and yes, I would call what happened a “major gluten mistake”, albeit a perfectly innocent, unintentional one), what will you say next week when the same person who served you that steak offers you French fries that were prepared in the same deep fryer with battered and breaded fish/chicken/etc? If you protest about CC they’ll ask, “Well, you ate that steak last week, so what’s the problem with this?”, and you’ll be on the defensive, or even worse just keep going along again until next thing you know you’re scarfing doughnuts and drinking beer.

      It would be even worse again if that person laid the same trip on other celiacs. “Well, I know this other celiac person and just last week they ate this steak that I grilled on the same blah blah blah”. Now you’re putting others on the defensive over something they had nothing to do with.

      There aren’t very many of us celiacs/NCGIs among the whole population, so most unaffected people, who aren’t particularly motivated to understand our disease, will have their views shaped by whatever they passively observe around them. AFAIC, we’re responsible not just to ourselves but to the rest of our community.

      Please don’t take this wrong way. I’m not angry. Just concerned.

      1. John..I seriously think I’d die if I drank beer and scarfed doughnuts. I was hospitalized because I couldn’t eat at all anymore. I weighed 78 lbs and was still dropping weight. Smh. You don’t know me at all. I’m pretty fussy really. I refused to eat my niece’s wedding cake. My brother was not happy with me for it. Tuff! He can bite me! I’ve been through hell and back. Beer?? Lol I don’t really drink booze at all. My poor tummy can’t take It…if most if you would give me half a chance I think you might like me

        1. You’re right, Galwayfan — I *don’t* know you at all. All I had to go on was your previous comment to which I’d replied. And WADR it didn’t come off like someone who’s been living 27yrs with this thing.

          One of my main concerns about celiacs/NCGIs who cheat is the mixed message it sends to the uninitiated and unmotivated audience who observe this. These observers need to understand that gluten is a total no-no for us and any trace of it must be avoided at all costs. When they see cheating, it can come off to them as this not-all-that-serious thing that we’re just trying to cut back on here and there, or go easy with most of the time, which is as far from the truth as you can go.

          A personal anecdote to underscore this point: my parents and I live in distant towns and don’t get to see each other much, so I usually phone them every so often to catch up on things. I told them quite clearly from the outset of my DX and how things were changing forever from now on. A few months later my dad asks how much longer I’ll have to eat like this and whenever I do get to go back to the old way, would it be fully back to normal or only once in a while.

          I don’t really know how he ever got this impression that it wasn’t permanent. TBH I don’t think he ever witnessed anyone cheating, rather it was just his ex nihilo viewpoint of what for him was a fairly unfamiliar situation (still is in a sense as I’m not around him every day for him to see up close what this lifestyle is like). I dread imagining how misinformed he’d be if he actually witnessed someone eat a CCed steak.

          You mention that “maybe I’d be a much healthier person if I fussed more” which makes me wonder if maybe you have taken chances a little here and there that have impacted you. Only you know that.

          You also stated: “My brother was not happy with me” for “refus[ing] to eat my niece’s wedding cake.” This makes me wonder if he’s seen you be somewhat cavalier under more mundane circumstances, so that he assumed it would be perfectly okay (and even expected) for you to do so again under these rather special circumstances of a family wedding? I mean, after having “been through hell and back” as you put it for the last 27yrs I would think he would have understood your situation by then (or maybe the wedding was a while back, so however long you’d been living with it to that point). Like you said, I don’t know you at all. Only you know that.

          At any rate, I wish you well in your celiac battles. Do take care of yourself. We’re all in this together.

          1. John…lots to say but too tired to get into it. The celiac world was a different place 27 years ago. Sorry I can’t seem to reach you. Wish things were different. I’m so very tired tonight. I know myself and right now that’s all that matteres. You have already made up your mind about me anyhow. You should be ashamed for that. :'( I don’t need this

            1. I may have said some speculative things in my last comment but they were just that, speculations. They could quite easily be wrong; for example, you might have other health problems that you haven’t mentioned. So I haven’t “made up my mind about (you)” and would gladly take your word for it if you said there was no basis for any of that.

              I know things were different for people like us in the 1980s than nowadays and I certainly sympathise with how difficult it must have been for you in those times. It’s only in the last few years that food labelling laws have started to catch up to our needs, and some jurisdictions have been slower than others in responding. You probably had many frustrating times in those early years, reading labels that gave no indication as to whether the food item was safe and maybe even still do depending on where you live.

              As I said before I wish you well in your health battles.

            2. John.. My dumbass brother thinks a small cheat is ok because that is how he treats his diabetes. He doesn’t understand…our sweet mom died from type 1 diabetes 30 years ago. He has never seen me cheat and never will. I get too sick. I’ve had family get angry with me for refusing to scrape the gluten part off. Screw that!
              In 2008 I had a third of my colon removed. U digested food had rotted in there and destroyed that much of my colon. I also had a sigmoid volvulus. Google celiac and sigmoid volvulus. Also had bleeding ulcers in there.
              I have the classic presentation of celiac. I am blood and biopsy diagnosed. When I tell people that, they hate me..why? My symptoms are totally digestive and I have the malnutrition that goes with it. I have megaloblastic anemia right now. My white blood cells are so depleted it’s best if I stay home right now. Gallbladder removed a few years ago. Full of tiny stones and infected.
              I’m 4’10” tall and wear size 2 children’s shoes. I’m 60 years old and I believe that has earned me some sort of respect but most people would rather spit on me. When my GI doc diagnosed me he told me I was only the 4th real and true case he had seen in his entire career. No I don’t cheat…you have no right to assume. I probably would have wanted to read the marinade ingredients before I decided for sure about the steak…that’s all. I hate writing…much prefer speaking with someone in person. Sometimes the Internet just sucks. This is the last time I care to try to explain myself to you or anyone else for that matter!

            3. Thank you for that very illuminating message. Your celiac story is a perfect example of the kind that people really need to hear. This isn’t just some whimsical diet we follow to be hip and trendy.

              I suspected you had other complications — I’m sorry to hear it and I sincerely wish you well. I hate hearing that some of your family members don’t take your disease as seriously as they should, and I think you deserve better, especially after all this time and all you’ve been through. How can they not take you seriously after 27yrs? No one refuses to eat food with the gluten scraped off for that long without a damn good reason.

              As for the steak, if you misspoke about how you would have eaten it, then I take back my initial comment.

            4. I live in Flint Michigan. The only trouble I have understanding labels is because the print is too darn small. I need a magnifying necklace to take to the store. Best fresh food !

            5. With you 100% on fresh food. When I see a new product and the ingredient list is too long, especially when it looks like a chem lab inventory, back on the shelf it goes. Not worth the time to read.

              I’m in Canada and my understanding is that our current labelling laws (which came into effect Aug 2012) are a bit stricter than the USA ones that came into effect a few months ago. Up here, ALL foods with gluten above 20ppm MUST declare this, even if there’s no GF claim. In the USA, and anybody can correct me if I’m wrong on this, but if I have it right, gluten disclosure isn’t mandatory for foods sold with no GF claim.

              Which still leaves the consumer in the dark in many cases. Which sucks. The FDA took a step forward by at least putting a standard on the GF claim, but they should tighten it up further than that.

            6. Wheat has to be declared in the usa. Most companies choose to declare barley/malt. Rye isn’t used as a modifier…as far as I know. Besides, it has a strong distinctive taste. Labeling has come a long way in the past 27 years. Used to be I was afraid of modified food starch. Not anymore. Unless it says wheat…it’s safe. Same with natural flavor.

            7. I guess the wheat warnings are for folks with a wheat allergy, which has had a greater profile than celiac. Modified food starch would definitely be pretty vague. I recall “plant protein” in a similar vein.

              I spoke with my mother today about a candy factory here in Canada that recently got nailed for undeclared wheat in their product. She once worked there about 50 years ago, so the following, which really raised my eyebrows, might no longer be the case.

              But she distinctly recalls that to keep the sticky candy mixture from getting stuck in their machinery, they would occasionally dust it with flour, which was easy for them to come by since they also made cookies and crackers. I had no idea this was ever a thing (maybe still is?) but I suppose it’s much like a baker who flour-dusts their hands while kneading dough.

    2. Galwayfan. Sadly there are many who believe that the level of cross contamination would be too low to matter. No Celiac should gamble with cross contamination! Yes, it could be just enough to make someone sick, if that is not what happens to you, you are very fortunate. I have seen people get sick from a clean wooden spoon used in a non-dedicated kitchen. Even though it was washed and dried prior to using to stir the pot.

      1. Mariann…I found some wooden spoons my mother had used in her kitchen. I washed them througholy with hot soapy water and scrubbed them with SOS pads. I am fine…did not get sick. I would also consider a gentle sanding with fine grade sandpaper. My mom’s treasures are important to me. I hold on to every small part of her that I can…

  11. Dude if you’d ever like to talk to me I’ll send you my phone number. I’d like you to understand what it was like 27 years ago as opposed to now. Shoot they fed me Rice Krispies and corn flakes in the hospital when I was diagnosed. I’m much better with words than I am writing

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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