Your gluten-free kitchen really is the center of the universe isn't it? This is where all the food is and where all the chaos is. It's a minefield of toast crumbs and sticky pasta pots and you're wondering how you're going to make gluten-free food that's safe and actually gluten-free.
It's really up to you to decide based on your own risk tolerance. Some people opt for a completely gluten-free kitchen. They are just too anxious to have any gluten near their food. For most of us though, this isn't necessary.
Here are the three main approaches I see along with some of the pros and cons:
"This is my problem and I'm not going to inconvenience the rest of the family"
This is often where people start out. They're newly diagnosed and are starting to understand how big of a change going gluten-free will be. So they decide to take it all on themselves and expect no concessions from the rest of the family.
This usually means the kitchen and pantry stay the same but they carve out a little shelf space for their gluten-free food.
They make everyone else's meals then make their own gluten-free meal separately.
Recognizing the danger of cross contamination they may create a special place for themselves to prepare their gluten-free meals.
This "take it all on myself approach" rarely works because:
"I have an illness and my family needs to support me. There will be no gluten in my home."
This is certainly the easiest and least risky for you, the person with celiac, and a lot of people do it this way.
If you can convince your family to eat gluten-free bread and other gluten-free products and to give up all their favorite treats, then this may be the right solution and you have an amazing family. I wonder if they might be a little resentful when you're not looking though?
Seriously, a lot of people make this work but in my opinion there are some issues.
"Let's find a balance that keeps everyone happy and healthy"
I think this is where most people end up and it's how we do it in our home.
Most of the food we cook is naturally gluten-free. This means lots of fresh vegetables, whole fresh cuts of meat and other naturally gluten-free staples like beans, rice, and gluten-free pasta. Everyone eats this stuff.
It's all about keeping things organized and preventing cross contamination:
You'll need to make some changes to how you prepare and cook your food. You may need some new equipment too. But don't go overboard, there are just a few key things you'll need to keep separate.
Instead of a little bit of shelf space carved out for gluten-free food, it will probably be the other way around. Most of the food will be naturally gluten-free and there will be a little bit of space for gluten treats. Here are a few more tips:
Gluten cross contamination or cross contact are the same thing. It's what happens when a food or ingredient with gluten accidently comes in contact with a gluten-free food making it potentially unsafe for a person with celiac.
Keep in mind that up to 20ppm (parts per million) or between 10mg and 50mg of gluten per day is considered safe for someone with celiac1.
So you don't have drive yourself crazy trying to eliminate every molecule of gluten, but the goal is to keep it as close to zero as reasonably possible.
It's important that there are no toast crumbs or flour dust or pasta water where you are preparing your gluten free food. Suggestions for dealing with this are:
Does a celiac need separate pot, pans dishes and utensils?
It depends on how easy the item is to clean.
Gluten washes off smooth surfaces with hot soapy water, so items that can be shared are things like:
Items with lots of texture or grooves can be hard to clean. You may want to consider having dedicated gluten-free versions of the following:
*You can line baking pans with paper liners or parchment.
If someone in your home is cooking wheat pasta, have them wash the pot immediately with hot soapy water and get all the sticky pasta goop off. If you have a dishwasher I suggest running it through after hand washing.
Because pasta is so sticky it does make me a bit nervous. You may want to consider a dedicated pasta pot that you don't cook anything gluten-free in.
If you're cooking gluten-free and gluten foods together there is opportunity for cross contamination or cross contact. Here are some tips to stay safe.
Cook Gluten-Free First: On the grill, or the pancake griddle, cook gluten-free items first then set aside to keep warm while you're cooking the gluten items
Watch for splash over: On the stove or in the oven, make sure the pots are far enough apart so that liquid from one won't splash into the other. In the oven, have the gluten-free item on top and if possible, covered to protect it from splash over.
Add a Barrier: Grills and pans should be fine if well cleaned, but if you're not comfortable then lining with foil or parchment is a good way to protect yourself.
Keep Stirring Spoons Separate: When stirring items on the stove, keep separate stirring spoons and keep each one close to the dish it's meant for so you don't mix them up.
If your meals are mostly naturally gluten-free foods with maybe some bread or buns, this won't be a big problem.
Okay, we all know what the bottom of the toaster looks like. It's a black hole of evil gluteny bread crumbs down there and you need protection!
There was a study a few years ago where they made gluten-free toast in a toaster that was used for wheat bread and then tested for cross contamination. It turned out in the study that the cross contamination was minimal. But for me and for most people I've talked to, the risk is just too high.
Here are some suggestions:
I keep a separate toaster for myself labelled “Gluten Free” and it sits on the opposite side of the counter from the regular toaster.
This way I can be sure my toast is not being contaminated by wheat bread crumbs.
If your gluten free kitchen doesn't have the counter or cupboard space for a second toaster there are some other things you can do.
This way everyone can make their toast in the same oven.
You just need to make sure there is a piece of foil or parchment under yours so it doesn't touch the rack. You may need to flip it over and do each side separately.
You can also make toast in the oven. I often do this if I'm travelling or staying in someone else's home where I don't have the luxury of a gluten free toaster and maybe don't have parchment or toaster bags handy. Just do your toast on a piece of foil under the broiler. Keep an eye though or it will burn.
You can buy toaster bags, or make them by folding a piece of parchment in half and then folding in the edges. Then you can put it in the regular toaster
The bag comes out a bit scorched but the toast turns out fine, although it's not as brown or crispy as regular toast.
We all know that bread crumbs get everywhere. They sneak into the corners of your counter, even into the drawers if you’re not careful. So here is where you need to be almost obsessive and teach your family to be as well.
Counters must be wiped often, especially the area around the toaster. Teach the family to wipe up immediately after making a sandwich. They should use a disposable paper towel or put the cloth or sponge into the laundry immediately. You don’t want to wash your dishes with a gluten soaked sponge!
If the utensil drawer is near where sandwiches are made, be vigilant. I don’t know how it happens. I’ve never actually seen somebody wipe bread crumbs into the cutlery drawer, but somehow they get in there. You need to clean it out often. Do it when most of the cutlery is in the dishwasher.
The dish cloth or kitchen sponge: Change it often! Mine goes to the laundry a minimum of once a day. In perusing the internet, I’ve seen all kinds of complicated systems for washing dishes. One lady said she has four different brushes. I didn’t quite understand how it all worked but she seemed happy with it. In my opinion that’s just too complicated. If you’ve cooked items containing gluten and gluten free items at the same meal, wash the pots and dishes that held the gluteny items last. Change the water if it gets murky. Rinse well in hot water. Throw the cloth into the laundry immediately.
I hope by now your a bit more comfortable with getting your kitchen and pantry set up for gluten-free cooking and baking. Just to recap, here are the highlights:
Decide on the approach that works for you and your family. A shared kitchen with mostly naturally-gluten free meals and a few gluten treats is most common.
You can safely share a kitchen so long as you're careful about cross-contamination.
Gluten washes off smooth surfaces with hot soapy water so items like pot, pans, dishes and metal utensils can be shared.
Gluten is sticky so hard to clean items should be kept separate.
Guard against cross contamination during cooking.
Keep your kitchen clean and change your sponge or dish cloth often.
Home > Gluten-Free Kitchen
1. Collin, P., Mäki, M., & Kaukinen, K. (2007, July 1). Safe gluten threshold for patients with celiac disease: Some patients are more tolerant than others. OUP Academic. Retrieved July 23, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/1/260/4633248?login=false
2. Cross-contact. Beyond Celiac. (2021, February 8). Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/cross-contact/#:~:text=An%20Explanation%3A%20Most%20people%20will,for%20the%20next%2024%20hours.