5 Kitchen tweaks to avoid gluten cross-contamination (crumbs!)

If you have recently been diagnosed with coeliacs disease, you might feel quite overwhelmed of all the potential hazards there are that could cause you to accidentally digest gluten. With coeliacs disease the diet is strictly no gluten and if you might get contradicting advice to the point of a frustrated meltdown, crumbs do matter. I base my stance on the instructions of the NHS and Coeliacs UK (which I suggest that as a coeliac you join, for they offer a wealth of resources and support) where coeliacs need to refrain from eating anything that may contain gluten or has had possible contact with gluten either from direct contact or by indirect contact through surfaces or utensils etc. which is called cross-contamination.

Here are the arrangements and adjustments I have done in my kitchen, which is a natural place to start creating a coeliac-friendly environment. In my house the other members of the family eat regular bread, pasta, cereals etc. You might ban these from your house entirely, a safe environment can however still be maintained, I believe, if certain steps are taken:

1. Separate area for handling gluten

In my kitchen there’s a gluten-handling area with the wooden cutting-boards that are only used for regular gluten-containing bread etc. I have allocated the end of the worktop to the left of the hob for gluten. The cutting boards are in the cupboard above and knives in the drawer below, so there’s no need to scurry about and take the bread somewhere else. Other food items are handled in opposite parts of the kitchen. Our kitchen is big, so in between the hob and sink there is a ‘no-man’s-land’ where I might lay baking trays to cool down and have the bio-caddy on to put food waste in. I will be mindful of not placing any food on the counter but always use tray, plate etc. just in case crumbs migrate there.

It's a good idea to dedicate a part of work top for gluten-containing ingredients.
In our kitchen regular bread and other gluten-containing things are handled on the end of the countertop on the wooden cutting-boards.

In addition to separate areas for handling gluten-containing foods, we also have separate cupboards for gf and regular things. If you can’t have a separate cupboard, use tight containers to avoid gluten-containing and gluten-free things getting mixed up or cross-contaminated. Always close bags tightly.

If possible, separate cupboards for gluten and non-gluten containing items is a good idea.
On the whole gluten-containing and gluten-free things are stored in separate cupboards in our kitchen to avoid cross-contamination and mix-ups. However even with a brand new kitchen we noticed that because of space some naturally gluten-free things need to be stored in the ‘gluten-cupboard’ but these are things that are stock pots and oils etc. where the risk of cross-contamination is low.

2. Separate cutting boards + clean knives

As mentioned above, I have dedicated the wooden cutting boards for gluten, I don’t use them for my food at all. I use plastic ones, which I store in a cupboard underneath the worktop where I handle gf food, so that I don’t wonder of to the areas that might have crumbs on. As general food hygiene goes, it’s of course also a good idea to have a dedicated cutting board for chicken and a separate one also for other meats and own one for vegetables. You can buy fancy labelled ones, but I rather buy inexpensive ones that are thin so one can store many on top of each other and replace cheaply if needed. If you want to use something else than plastic, feel free to choose so.

When the dedicated cutting boards are stored close to the area where gluten is handled, there's less likelyhood of accidentally handling them elsewhere.
The cutting boards dedicated for regular bread and other gluten-containing foods are stored above the counter where regular bread is to be handled, so that one wouldn’t venture out to get them and handle the items somewhere else.
To avoid mistakes, the cutting boards for non-gluten things are best to be stored near the place where they are to be used.
The plastic cutting boards used for anything that doesn’t contain gluten are stored in the opposite corner of the kitchen so that one remembers to handle them in the area where any crumbs shouldn’t migrate to

I also clean a knife each time I pick one up, even if I’m quite sure I have been the last person to use it.

3. Separate toaster or using toaster bags

For people with coeliacs disease it is recommended that one uses a separate toaster or toaster bags. I’ll share here my choice of getting a 4-slot toaster which has separate crumb trays for each side. I went for this option for we don’t eat that much of bread and I’m the one using the toaster most. After using the toaster, I do think the safest option is however to have separate GF toaster or using toaster bags. The reason is, that when the toast jumps up, some crumbs tend to fly out. We do swipe all the crumbs on to the gluten side and I have been alright but to be super-safe I would not choose this solution anymore.

The best option for a coeliac is to have a separate toaster for their bread or use toaster bags.
I don’t think my choice of having a double toaster is entirely safe even if it has separate crumb trays and I have marked clearly which side is which. This is because crumbs can fly away when the toast bounces up. I have minimised migration of crumbs by always swiping anything to the gluten side, but would still recommend having separate toasters or toasting bags to be totally safe.
Toaster bags can also be used to make toasties in a toaster.
Toasting bags will safeguard you from cross contamination, providing that the bread will fit properly in the bag. Usually with smaller gf bread slices this is not an issue. You can also take the bags with you when traveling or to your workplace.

4. No wooden utensils or clearly gf dedicated ones

In our house, I’ve chosen not to use the wooden utensils for cooking gluten-free things. This is because I don’t trust getting them thoroughly clean due to the porous structure. I use only machine washable utensils for gf cooking and make sure that everything is always cleaned properly. If you want to use wooden utensils, I suggest you mark the gf ones clearly to avoid mix-ups, if gluten is present in your kitchen.

I don't use wooden utensils for gf foods for I don't trust getting them fully clean. You might want to have dedicated gf ones.
I’ve chosen not to use wooden utensils in gluten-free cooking, so these pretties are barely used anymore…

5. Separate sieves and colanders

Because sieves and colanders are trickier to clean thoroughly, I’ve chosen to have separate ones to be used on GF cooking. They are stored separately to the ones used for gluten, mainly draining pasta. If you want to be super safe, buy ones that are totally different colour or label them clearly.

I have separate sieves and colanders for gf things, which I store separately from the others.
We have separate sieves and colanders for gf things, and they are stored in a different cupboard from the ones that are used for gluten-containing things (mainly draining pasta).

So here are the measures I take in my house to avoid cross-contamination and I have been quite successful. Of course cleanliness and wiping down surfaces plays a large role in avoiding crumbs to be getting where they shouldn’t. In our house all the baking is done from gf ingredients because I don’t want to bake anything that I can’t eat myself. This also eliminates flours that might be trickier to manage from flying about than crumbs. I also switch cleaning cloths and sponges more often and wash kitchen towels frequently.

Hope these tips and ideas help you to maintain a gluten-safe environment in your home even if gluten is allowed in your house. Do let me know if you disagree of something or feel I have missed something, I’m happy to discuss different views.

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