How To Start a Celiac-Safe Gluten-Free Kitchen

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In this article, dietitian Tiffany Torok, MA, RDN, discusses How To Start a Celiac Safe Gluten-Free Kitchen. If you or a family member have Celiac or serious Gluten Intolerance, this in-depth, informative article will walk you through the steps of starting a celiac safe kitchen, whether you live alone or share your kitchen with family members.

Boy using toaster with mother in Celiac Safe Kitchen

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, not only was I confused about what to eat, but I was also confused about what I was supposed to keep or toss in my kitchen. Current research only confuses things more. While the research may still be trying to define what quantifies and qualifies as safe for cross-contact for those of us with celiac disease or severe non-celiac gluten sensitivity, given that the only treatment for managing our condition is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, the burden falls on us to protect ourselves from getting sick. Our kitchen should be the safest place for us to eat.

Even though getting in right away to see a registered dietitian may not be available to everyone who gets diagnosed with a condition that requires strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, some steps can be taken at home to avoid cross-contact, even if you are sharing a kitchen with others who are still gluten eaters. 

Tips & Tricks for A Gluten-Free Safe Kitchen

  1. Decide if it will be a shared kitchen or if you will make your entire kitchen gluten-free.
  2. Clean your kitchen from top to bottom with hot, soapy water, and toss the kitchen sponge when you are done.
  3. Take out all the baking sheets, muffin pans, and other cookware with a build-up of gluten foods on them and either donate, toss, or set aside only for gluten cooking using a shared kitchen.
  4. Make a list of the items that you will need to purchase or replace, such as pantry basics, a new toaster, separate sponges, and other kitchen appliances such as a food processor, depending on your comfort level and how much gluten contamination they have, as well as a dedicated baking sheet, muffin pan, etc.
  5. If cooking in a shared kitchen, while preparing food, keep at least 6 feet away from where wheat flour is used, and gluten-free foods are being prepared, and clean the kitchen thoroughly after use.
  6. Also, if you are sharing your kitchen with gluten eaters and keep pantry foods separate, I suggest a top shelf for gluten-free foods. The same goes for the refrigerator. Keep all dedicated gluten-free kitchen items, such as utensils, baking sheets, etc, in a large plastic bin with a gluten-free lid.  
  7. Buy sponges in bulk so you always have a clean sponge.
Cleaning out a refrigerator so it is safe for celiacs.
Gluten Free Sign written in flour

“How to deal with the overwhelm and the grief of letting go of gluten!”

When you find out that the food you have been eating your whole life is now contributing to making you feel unwell and putting you at risk for cancer or other autoimmune diseases (Ciao, et. al., 2019), it can be overwhelming to say the least.

Most of us purchase foods based on the look or marketing on the outside of the box. We know where our favorite foods are in the grocery store, and most of us don’t bother reading a nutrition label. But that all changes with a diagnosis of celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Suddenly, the grocery store becomes an overwhelming maze filled with foods that can make you sick. Thankfully, many delicious, gluten-free products are on the store shelves.

Tiffany Torok, MA, RDN

Navigating a New Gluten-Free Normal

I encourage my pediatric patients and their families to find the foods that are the best substitutions for the gluten-containing foods they used to love. That way, when they are craving something, instead of “cheating,” they can indulge that craving with a safe gluten-free option and move on from it.

For me, learning how to cook foods that were safe and nourishing helped me to move on from my grief over my disease and what I was missing out on. It allowed me to feel safe and confident in what I was putting into my body.

For families who are navigating this new normal, it helps to make a plan before going to the store and identify their favorite foods to eat together and make those foods gluten-free for everyone to enjoy so the family member who needs to eat gluten-free can feel included and as normal as possible while adjusting to this enormous change. 

Mom and daughter in gluten-free kitchen

Why It’s So Important To Keep a Safe Gluten-Free Kitchen and Why Cheating is NOT an Option

Two recent studies, one from the UK and one from Brazil, show how gluten-free food can be contaminated with wheat flour if prepared simultaneously in the same kitchen (Miller, Mcgough, & Urwin, 2016) (Farage et. al., 2018).

This is of enormous concern to people with both celiac and gluten intolerance because the amount of gluten that it takes to elicit an autoimmune response is so small, with only 10-50 mg/day of gluten being able to cause damage to the lining of the small intestine in people with celiac disease. Although a recent study disputes that it is necessary to use separate utensils when preparing gluten-free and containing foods, it fails to account for typical living situations that are not sterile nor subject to repeated exposure (Studerus et al. (2018).

It is essential to remember that the treatment burden for these diseases falls on those living with the conditions and those we entrust to prepare food for us, which takes trust. 

What To Do If You Have Guests or Holiday Parties with Extended Family

People love to celebrate social holidays with food, and a celiac disease diagnosis shouldn’t keep you from enjoying good food with the people you love. However, food-related gatherings can be stressful to manage for the newly diagnosed. 


Here are a few ways to manage holiday gatherings at your home if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity:

  • Provide all the food yourself – this can be difficult and expensive and isn’t an option for everyone.
  • Limit who brings food to a few trusted family members or friends whom you can entrust to prepare safe, gluten-free foods but still have the whole celebration be gluten-free.
  • Allow a mix of gluten-containing foods prepared by guests who are not gluten-free savvy and place them separately from the gluten-free items made by either you or trusted friends and family, clearly labeled, with their utensils, at the end of where food will be served and make sure you inform your guests not to use the serving utensils for anything else.
Family Party in Celiac-Safe Kitchen

Keeping a Safe Gluten-Free Kitchen Step-by-Step

Refrigerator

When you are diagnosed, go through your refrigerator and throw out items that could have come into cross-contact with containing foods such as jams, butter, mayo, etc., if you are planning on making the entire kitchen gluten-free, or label them as gluten-containing if having a shared kitchen. Also, clean your refrigerator with hot, soapy water. If you are going to have a shared kitchen, dedicate a fridge shelf as gluten-free.

Toaster

When you are newly diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, purchasing a dedicated gluten-free, separate toaster is essential. There will be no way to safely clean a toaster of all gluten-containing food particles in a previously used toaster. Toaster bags are available on the market, but I recommend saving your money and using those for vacations only. While a recent research study tried to replicate cross-contact in a shared toaster and was unable to determine the threshold for what was considered safe, what they failed to do was follow families who used a shared toaster day in and day out and then test the individuals who have celiac disease for evidence of disease activity (Weisbrod, et. al., 2020).

As mentioned before, without an additional therapy currently available to treat intestinal damage or symptoms of either Celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance, it is risky to expose oneself to cross-contact daily.  

Counters

It is good practice to clean kitchen counters after every use with hot, soapy water and a kitchen sponge. This is especially important for a shared kitchen to avoid gluten exposure from cross-contamination. You can purchase sponges in bulk from big box stores.

Pots and Pans

Stainless steel and other pots and pans without accumulated gluten contamination can be washed in hot, soapy water and used to cook gluten-free items such as gluten-free pasta and other foods. Most people do not have to purchase new ones when newly diagnosed.


Stocking Your Gluten-Free Kitchen


  • Gluten-free pasta – my favorites are Tinkyada and Lundberg’s 
  • Gluten-free bread – I like both Schar and Canyon Bakehouse for flavor, but Schar bread is also low FODMAP and is a good source of dietary fiber
  • Whole grains such as quinoa and rice
  • Condiments such as nut butters, jam, mayo, etc
  • Gluten-free salad dressings – Annie’s and Ken’s brands have some good options that are labelled gluten-free
  • Something quick and easy like some gluten free soup from Amy’s Kitchen, or gluten-free mac and cheese by Annies or Kraft
  • Gluten free flour for baking such as Pamela’s Products or Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Baking flour
  • Nuts, seeds, and beans that are free from cross-contact
  • Breakfast items such as gluten-free cereals and certified gluten-free oats
  • Spices that are free from cross-contact – McCormick is a brand that will have information on its website about which spices are gluten-free or not
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh poultry, seafood and meat
  • Gluten-free snacks, crackers, popcorn etc.

Tiffany’s Tips for Success With Celiac Kids

Tips for families with Celiac Kids – As a pediatric dietitian and a mom who has celiac disease, I can tell you that it can be difficult for families to manage both having an utterly gluten-free kitchen and having a kitchen that separates gluten-containing foods from gluten-free food items. This is because, on one side, there will always be the chance for resentment amongst siblings if they have to exclude their favorite foods. After all, their sibling has to eat gluten-free, and on the other side, there will be the risk of the kiddo with celiac disease getting into gluten-containing foods and getting sick. 

Here are my top tips for a shared kitchen for families with a celiac kid:

  • Prepare naturally gluten-free foods for the whole family to enjoy together.
  • Keep gluten-free products readily available for everyone to enjoy snacking on, such as string cheese, fruit, apple squeezes, and popcorn, such as skinny pop.
  • Keep gluten-containing snacks out of reach of the kid(s) with celiac until they are old enough to understand that those foods would make them sick.
  • Have a dedicated kitchen cabinet where kitchen utensils, mixers, muffin sheets, pots, pans, and other gluten-free items are kept separate.
  • Purchase a dedicated gluten-free toaster. 

I hope this article has been helpful. We invite you to sign up for our weekly newsletter with gluten-free tips and recipes.

Girl in wheat field

Gluten-Free Resources

Resources

1.Weisbrod et al. 2019. Gastroenterology. DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.09.007. 

2. Caio, G., Volta, U., Sapone, A. et al. Celiac disease: a comprehensive current review. BMC Med 17, 142 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-019-1380-z

3. Miller, K., Mcgough, N., Urwin, H., Catering Gluten-Free When Simultaneously Using Wheat Flour. Journal of Food Protection, Volume 79, Issue 2, (2016). Pages 282-287. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-15-213.

4. Farage P, Puppin Zandonadi R, Cortez Ginani V, Gandolfi L, Yoshio Nakano E, Pratesi R. Gluten-Free Diet: From Development to Assessment of a Check-List Designed for the Prevention of Gluten Cross-Contamination in Food Services. Nutrients. 2018; 10(9):1274. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091274 

5. Studerus, D., Ilg Hampe, E., Fahrer, D., Wilhelmi, M., Vavricka, S. Cross-Contamination with Gluten by Using Kitchen Utensils: Fact or Fiction? Journal of Food Protection, Volume 81, Issue 10, (2018). Pages 1679-1684. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-17-383.

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