Cross-contamination an issue when handling gluten-free product

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This was written a while back but I think because going gluten free is still so trendy, this carries an important message about how serious it can actually be.

(Written in 2013)

Many restaurants advertise gluten-free products on menu items. While this can be a help to people whose bodies cannot process gluten, these same products can be a health hazard if they have been accidentally cross-contaminated with gluten.

Celiac disease is defined by the Canadian Celiac Association as “a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.”

Personal experience

Cait Hartford suffers from celiac disease. She says if she ingests gluten unintentionally her body reacts with various problems, including bloating, stomach pains and a suppressed immune system. The symptoms can last anywhere from two to seven days.

She says that she’s had both positive and negative experiences when eating at restaurants. “Some managers are aware of gluten-free and come out to ask me questions to make sure I doesn’t get sick — they use different knives or different pans.”

Other restaurants have been less careful. Hartford says she’s been in places advertised as gluten-free, only to suffer a negative reaction after eating. “There was cross-contamination or there was gluten in the ingredients and they didn’t know.”

Kathy Collier, chapter manager at the Canadian Celiac Association — Calgary Chapter, says even a crumb containing gluten that comes in contact with food can cause a person with celiac disease to feel sick. She says soap and water is the only solution for ridding surfaces of gluten.

Both she and her youngest daughter suffer from the disease.  Collier says sharing appliances and some foods with other family members used to cause her daughter to react. Collier says she and her daughter now separate their foods, utensils and appliances from the rest of the family. The duo has their own toaster, separate spreads such as margarine, butter and mayonnaise, as well separate water for cooking pasta.

Fighting cross-contamination

Kerry Bennett is the owner of Care Bakery. She also suffers from celiac disease and created the bakery out of a need to find gluten-free bread and baking products. She says the gluten-free movement has exploded in the past few years and has created many more options for those who cannot eat gluten.

Bennett sells her breads and baked goods to various restaurants and grocery stores. She has created a cross-contamination guide (not able to link she explains in more detail in the piece) that she shares with the restaurants that buy her baked goods so that they too can avoid cross-contamination in their gluten-free products.

Bennett says that there are many questions to consider in the kitchen when providing a gluten-free menu.

  • What have towels and dishcloths been previously exposed to?
  • Is gluten-free pizza baked on the same rack as other non-gluten items?
  • Have knives or cutting boards been used with foods containing gluten
  • Have hands been washed after handling foods containing gluten
  • Has gluten-free pasta been boiled in uncontaminated water?

Resources

The Canadian Celiac Association — Calgary Chapter holds meetings for members and non-members every six weeks. They help people who are newly diagnosed get acquainted with the diet.

Hartford adds more restaurants are working to improve conditions when offering gluten-free items.

“There are quite a few restaurants that have acknowledged that gluten-free is important,” she says. “I can go out with my friends now and enjoy a gluten-free meal without feeling sick.”

There are many restaurants that offer a gluten-free menu in Calgary.

Care Bakery’s website also lists restaurants in Western Canada that offer gluten-free options.

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