Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cross-contamination: The silent killer

Whoa. Apparently the lack of sleep has led me to take a sensationalist, 24-hour-news-station approach to this week's post title. Of course cross-contamination doesn't really kill many glutards (although some people can have an anaphylaxis-type reaction to wheat), it is a real issue. I've written a few times about how to navigate this at restaurants; today's post will be about minimizing cross-contamination in the home. This has become second nature for me, but after the sudden announcement from a roommate that he is moving, I decided it was time I think about what it means explicitly to minimize cross-contamination. I have roommates, but the same tips apply if you're living with a family or convicts or a pack of dogs or whoever. 

Depending on your level of sensitivity, you may not need to implement extreme versions of these tips. I like living XTREME, so I am vigilant about some of them (especially #2). 

1. Wipe food prep surfaces and wash dishes well. 
I like to wipe countertops before I begin cooking just in case a roommate accidentally left contaminants behind. If you're super sensitive, it might be a good idea to have separate rags, sponges, and towels for cleaning glutenous messes vs nonglutenous messes. I also like to visually check dishes before I use them to make sure there's no food remnants stuck to them. I had a roommate once who loved baking bread. She'd "wash" the dishes, but leave clumps of bread dough in the bowl. Disgusting, but also frustrating because I get sick from cross-contamination and there were gobs of dough our dishes. 

2. Store gluten-free food separate from glutenous food. 
I keep my flours, oatmeal, and treats in a location separate from the shared baking goods in my apartment. This helps ensure that my special stuff doesn't intermingle with wheat flour or regular oats or crumbly cookies and breads. This also dissuades roommates from helping themselves to my expensive gluten-free foods. I'm like sharing, but not when my food is easily 2-3 times the cost of their food. 

3. Separate tools for hard-to-clean surfaces.
I have my own cutting board that has never had bread sliced on it. Breadcrumbs get everywhere, and their favorite place to vacation is in the crevices that knives leave behind in cutting boards. Similarly, I don't bother using their bread knives for anything. I have a few other "special" dishes that I am sure have never marinated in soy sauce or had gluteny things in them. More than anything else, these other special dishes provide peace of mind if I do accidentally ingest gluten because I know that my special tools won't make me sicker than I already am. ...I like to feel in control :)

4. Communication.
Recurring theme, right? I know. Right. If people are slacking on the cleanliness front, remind them that your health is a cooperative effort. People have responded well when I have gently reminded them cleanliness isn't just an obsession for me (it is, though), but that it is vital to maintaining my health since I am very sensitive to gluten. People haven't responded well when I have accused them of trying to kill me with their gluten. I also find it is better to ask about ingredients used in foods left out to share than to assume that they're safe. The issue is not lack of trust, but rather the pervasiveness of gluten in the modern diet. 

Do you have other strategies for avoiding cross-contamination at home? If so, feel free to share them in the comments. But for now, I am off to bed. Gotta get me some ZZZ's, stat!

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