Cross-contamination. Until recently, most people would have associated it with being in a scientific lab.
Now, of course, it’s just another hellish problem we coeliacs have to deal with, and the place it’s likeliest to wind us up is in the home.
That is, if you’ve got one coeliac and everyone else eats gluten.
Let’s start at the beginning.
You probably live in a household where (at some point) everyone ate gluten. Then you discovered one of you couldn’t and you were warned about cross-contamination. Cue a new thought-process:
Everyone will simply eat gluten-free!
Goodness – three quid for a loaf of bread?
I want my Shreddies!
What will we eat for lunch?
Oh no, a party buffet. What’s gluten-free?
Oh, thank goodness: wine.
The gluten-free bread’s still in date but it seems really dry.
A roast dinner without gravy. Great.
Wait, is all gluten-free bread revolting?
How many ingredients go into pre-packaged food?
Ooh look, wheat-free. That’s the same as gluten-free, right?
Whaddya mean it’s wheat-free but not gluten-free?
Dear me, we’ve been in the supermarket for 2 hours and there’s nothing in the trolley.
How long does it take to read the back of a food packet?
Ah, the soft drinks section. Let’s get an orange barley water.
Oh. Barley’s no good, either.
This bread problem. Maybe we should just switch to potatoes.
(After 2 weeks of dinners with jacket potatoes.) I hate potatoes!
Ok, this is ridiculous. Let’s just eat normally and get gluten-free for those who need it.
And thus the cross-contamination problem begins.
So you buy a new toaster. One that’ll be for gluten-free only. And someone puts normal bread in.
You get toaster bags. But gluten crumbs get on the outside and mean you have to wash your hands before and after using the bag just to get out one bit of toast.
Someone butters their bread and double-dips their knife in the tub, thereby spreading crumbs everywhere.
You do two separate pans of pasta and someone transfers the spoon to stir the gluten-free pasta after using it on the normal pasta.
You set up CCTV on the oven, the microwave, the washing up bowl and the fridge and lose hours of sleep poring over culinary activity.
Does it really have to come to this?
My top 10 tips to avoid cross-contamination in the home
Try and make as many evening meals as possible that are naturally gluten-free*. That way you won’t have to worry about cross-contamination or being inclusive.
Have a cupboard dedicated to gluten-free food only & label it with a sign.
Only buy gluten-free flours. There are lots of ways to bake delicious gluten-free goodies. If those who eat gluten complain about it, remind them that they’re not having to sacrifice much. How often were they going to bake with strong bread flour, anyway?
Only buy gluten-free stock cubes, soy-sauce equivalents and so on. There isn’t that much difference in price and these kind of food accompaniments seem to last forever.
If you choose to buy a separate toaster for gluten-free bread, keep it in a different room. It might seem ridiculous to have a toaster in a sitting room but at least you’ll know someone hasn’t accidentally shoved their morning bagel in it.
Become a stickler for scrupulous washing-up. Blast all plates with hot water first (so crumbs go down the drain and don’t linger in the water) and then wash up normally.
Wipe down all surfaces before food preparation, preferably with a throwaway cloth. It’s amazing how far toaster crumbs can travel.
Have a no double-dipping rule. If you’re taking a spoonful of jam from the jar or putting a knife into the margarine, take what you need and don’t go back. Given this is usually a daily activity, it should be pretty easy to master.
Where possible, buy squeezable products such as mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, honey and so on. That’ll mean people can’t stick a crummy knife in.
If guests offer to help in the kitchen, unless they’ve got your gluten-free prowess, keep them to jobs that don’t involve food (like drying up).
* Stuck for naturally gluten-free food ideas? Easy ones include: curries with rice/ meat & two veg/ cottage pie/ baked salmon/ steak & mash. If you decide to go for shop-bought versions then make sure the ingredients don’t include gluten (like sauce in a potato-topped pie).
And finally… Try to remind yourself of the great food & drink that you can eat. It can be easy to get bogged down in negativity so take pleasure in the things you can still enjoy. My list includes:
A blue steak (yep, just show it the pan).
Fresh mango (admittedly, a bit of a rare treat).
Black Russians (that blend of vodka & kahlua has been a fave of mine for years).
A good old cup of tea. English Breakfast if you have it.
Have you got any tips on avoiding cross-contamination? Do share them below!