When I realized it was going to be impossible to avoid gluten contamination if I lived with a gluten-eater, we immediately decided to make the whole house gluten-free.
I wish I could say a mixed-gluten kitchen was easier in a sticks-and-bricks home, but our apartment kitchen at the time was a little smaller than our RV’s kitchen, so that’s not true. The fact is, it’s extremely difficult to maintain a mixed kitchen, and impossible for us personally. So in preparation for a very a deep cleaning, we sorted everything in the kitchen to decide what could stay and what must go.
Maybe this post will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation, following a celiac diagnosis or eliminating gluten for other health reasons.
This is what we learned.
- Cross contamination is an unending battle: Accidents happen and recipes change. It requires constant vigilance.
- Trust your body and its reactions. Your immune system is always more trustworthy than a gluten-free label or a company’s promise.
Where do you begin?
If you’re doing a temporary gluten-free test to see if you feel better, there are a few things you can do to make the test more successful, which also eases the transition into full-time GF life if the test is successful.
What is gluten?
Gluten is sticky, heat-resistant, and can’t be “killed” like a germ with antibacterial wipes. Because of this, when making a kitchen gluten-free, the gluten molecules must be physically removed, because it only takes one molecule to trigger a reaction.
Gluten is known as a composite protein, which is the combination of two different proteins, and enormous by molecular terms. A person with celiac disease will have a reaction to a small segment of the protein, and everyone is different. This is why you might know someone who can drink barley-based beer without getting sick, but a rogue crouton will knock them into bed for a week (or more). This does not mean that physical damage isn’t happening when they consume the barley-based beer, just that they’re not experiencing symptoms. This is known as “silent celiac.”
Contamination rule of thumb
** If it’s scratched, porous, or a bread-specific item, it’s permanently contaminated. **
Scratched items include anything with a nonstick coating, cutting boards, serrated knives, Tupperware, plastic spatulas, Instant Pot seals, and chipped plates. Gluten seeps into the crevices and cannot be removed.
Porous items include sponges, colanders, wooden utensils, pizza stones, and cast iron. These items absorb everything they touch, and gluten cannot be removed. I know that some people really love their cast iron, or it’s been in their families a long time. I have heard of people sanding the cast iron down to its shiny metal base and reseasoning it in order to make it safe for them, but I’ve never tried it. The dust generated from the sanding process would be enough to make me gluten-sick.
Bread-specific items include the toaster, bread maker, pizza stones, and bread baskets. These cannot be salvaged, sorry. If you’re in a trial GF period, you may want to box these up or put big “Out of Order” labels on them, because it’s really easy to forget.
What to clean or replace
I suggest starting with a new cutting board which can double as a safe food-prep surface during your transition period, colander for washing fruits and veggies, wooden spoons, and a single saucepan (only if your existing pan is nonstick and can’t be decontaminated).
But the key is to look at what you use every day, and evaluate what’s safe to keep and what must be replaced.
- Toaster: I’ve heard of people using toaster bags for gluten-free toast, but I don’t recommend them. For the first few weeks, you may want to skip the gluten-free breads altogether, because they’re a little different than the gluten bread you’re used to, and can be a contamination risk (interfering with your GF experiment). When the time comes to commit to gluten-free life, savor the fun of going gluten-free toaster shopping.
- Silverware drawer: No matter how clean you are, these things collect crumbs. If it’s wooden, I recommend replacing it or using disposable silverware during your GF trial. If it’s not, giving it a good scrub is all it needs.
- Cutting boards: The inevitable scratches in these things (no matter how small or slight) will collect the gluten from marinades and breads. You might make an argument that you only cut fruits and veggies on your cutting boards, but are you certain you never once used it to make PB&J for dinner one night? Alleviate the worry for under $20.
- Colander: There is no way to be sure all the gluten has been removed from all the cracks and crevices in a colander. Since gluten-free pasta has come in a long way in the last few years, treat yourself a new colander so you can try them all out. Perhaps Fred the Big Blue Whale or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
- Cooking utensils: My suggestion is not to stress over trying to clean. For now, just replace them with some inexpensive bamboo, a spatula, and a serving spoon.
- Baking pans: Unless they’re glass or enamel, you’re probably going to need to replace these. I bought some inexpensive Granite Ware, thinking I’d replace them when I decided what I wanted to invest in for the long-term. But it turns out these are incredibly durable and versatile, and 7 years later I still have the same brownie/cake/roasting pan, bread pan, and pizza pan I started with. Even better: they all fit in our RV oven!
- Measuring cups and spoons: It’s possible these could be cleaned, if they don’t have any little nooks and crannies that could hold contamination, and they’re visibly unscratched. But if you enjoy baking or plan to experiment with gluten-free baking, I recommend shopping for a new set just to alleviate any potential risk of contamination.
Your fridge and pantry
You will need dedicated GF condiments: peanut butter, jelly, butter, and anything that gets used on gluten bread should be replaced. If wasting food makes you sad, purchase replacement items, clearly label them “gluten-free,” and let gluten-eaters finish the contaminated items.
Think twice about open packages of naturally gluten-free food: That family-sized bag of potato chips probably had gluten-covered hands in the bag at some point. The sugar you use for baking is technically gluten-free, but can you be certain that you never used a flour-covered spoon or measuring cup in there?
Replacing groceries gets pricey the first time around, but your health is worth it.
Wow, I feel amazing! I’m never eating gluten again. Now what?
Go ahead and throw out or give away the contaminated stuff. Use Marie Kondo for inspiration if it helps.
Since my cookbook collection was covered with years of indelible flour residue, I gifted them to friends interested in vegan cooking, which was great for both me and the animals. I was a three-loaves-a-week bread baker, and it was sad to get rid of my bread machine, but in the end it was about what was best for my health, not my feelings.
Don’t feel obligated to replace your entire kitchen, or even everything you deemed too contaminated to keep. Replace only what you use frequently. Take this opportunity to decide what you really need in your kitchen and what was just taking up gluteny space.