If you are new to the gluten free life and someone gives you a plate full of gluten free items, you probably believe this food is 100% safe for you to eat.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The gluten free eater’s nemesis “cross contamination” can occur in all sorts of situations where we think our food is gluten free.
For a gluten free eater, cross contamination is when gluten from another source infects a previously gluten-free item – meaning the item is no longer gluten-free.
Let’s say that you are at a friend’s house and they made an amazing gluten free pizza with two slices of gluten free bread and butter to put on the bread. While this is very thoughtful of them, if you are a celiac, this isn’t enough for you. How might cross contamination be coming in to play in this scenario? For starters, the gluten free pizza was likely prepared in the same area where they prepare everything else they eat, which means it likely came in contact with flour or other gluten-containing foods. It was also likely cooked on a pizza pan that has traces of gluten from other regular pizzas, which were then transferred onto your gluten-free pizza during the cooking. The gluten free bread was probably toasted in the same toaster as regular bread; that toaster probably has thousands upon thousands of little breadcrumbs just chillin’ in there. And the butter? If the family ever stuck a knife into the butter, onto a piece of bread, and then back in the butter, guess what? It, too, has gluten in it.
Any area where gluten has previously been is a “code red” threat to contaminating gluten free food.
Many restaurants have good intentions when they offer a gluten free menu. They are trying to cater to their valued customers who ask for gluten free food. Unfortunately, very few of the restaurants actually go through the process of educating their employees, setting up a separate cooking and food preparation area, and learning about the different reasons people eat a gluten free diet.
Most people remember the Domino’s gluten-free pizza debacle: they released a “gluten-free” pizza but prepared it with all the other equipment and utensils and cooked it in the same oven as the other pizzas, therefore making it not actually gluten-free. While some gluten intolerant individuals might be able to tolerate this, celiacs most certainly cannot. The amount of cross-contamination occurring in a pizza place without dedicated equipment is through the roof.
You need to be thinking about cross contamination every time you are eating at some place outside of your friendly home. I will be covering all the basics of eating out in a later chapter, but cross contamination is a serious problem and it needs to be treated as such.
But, what if I am not a celiac?
If you are not a celiac, cross contamination might not be an issue for you, but you still need to be careful. Some people who are gluten intolerant are super sensitive and will still react if a couple breadcrumbs find their way in the food, while other people might only have a reaction if they eat a bowl of pasta. What I am saying is everyone is different, and only you know your body and how it reacts. I would just recommend that everyone be as cautious as celiacs have to be when eating out, but I know that isn’t likely to happen.
If you are gluten free to lose weight or another personal reason, cross contamination isn’t really an issue for you, but still be diligent in always sticking to your gluten free diet.