Making Your Kitchen Safe for Gluten-Free Visitors

If you have friends or family who have celiac disease and therefore maintain a gluten-free diet, there are a few steps you can take to make your home a more hospitable place for them. Obviously, which steps are necessary depend on the severity of the gluten sensitivity involved and the frequency and length of visits. While most people who have celiac disease will always carry some gluten safe products with them (I always have snacks with me, and usually bring some food supplies as well as safe soap and shampoo with me on longer visits), you can make a celiacs life a lot easier with a few simple steps to protect them from gluten in your home.

If you bake, store all flour either in mason-jars or similar canisters with a tight seal. If you keep your flour in the refrigerator (please don’t; it risks contaminating everything with gluten), store it in two layers of plastic bags. When celiac’s come to visit, consider buying non-gluten flours for making and cooking – potato, almond, rice and amaranth are all examples of gluten-free flours that can be found at health food and gourmet stores.

If you keep bread in your freezer, clean out all the crumbs and consider double-bagging the bread to prevent gluten contamination. Many gluten-free baked goods spoil more easily because of a lack of preservatives, and for this reason many gluten-free foods must be stored in the freezer. It is important that this area of your house not be a source of gluten-contamination.

Your toaster is also another major gluten-contamination risk. While any sane celiac will not toast their gluten-free bread in a device used for regular wheat-based bread, the fact is toasters accumulate and distribute crumbs that can contaminate other food with gluten – especially if you have a small city kitchen. Clean the toaster out before guests arrive, and if you can, move it farther away from your main food preparation area to reduce this gluten risk.

One of the biggest sources of hidden gluten risk for the celiac is condiments. Most ketchups, mayonnaises, mustards, soy sauces and horseradish sauces contain either undistilled white vinegar (distilled white vinegar is fine) or modified food starch – both sources of serious gluten risk. Nothing is more annoying than not being able to flavor your food. For frequent or long-term celiac house guests, buying gluten-free versions of these products is one of the kindest things you can do. Gluten-free products of this sort are available at Whole Foods and most health food and finer grocery stores. Expect to pay a little more for them. Prepared flavorings like Barbeque sauce and teriyaki sauce can also pose gluten significant risk. Check labels for allergy warnings and gluten risks in the ingredients.

Take gluten cross-contamination at mealtime seriously. A celiac cannot eat around the croutons in a salad – they will get sick. If you place bread at the table during meals (and my friends do, and it’s fine), keep it away from their side of the table and do not let it share a dish with other food. Make sure knives that touch the bread do not touch the butter (serve people individual pats).

At parties, make sure there are spoons on hand for all dips and use them! If someone dips a cracker into humus, a celiac is no longer safe from gluten with that humus. Conversely, don’t serve wheat-based crackers for dipping. Get gluten-free crackers or stick to things like corn chips.

Respect a celiacs decision not to try a certain dish, and don’t take it personally. For some of us, even the smallest amount of gluten consumed can make us sick for days to the point of missing work. No matter how much risk we may take in other areas of our life, risking gluten is often non-negotiable, especially before important events. Let the celiac do what the celiac needs to do.

Finally, most with celiac disease understand all too well that being gluten-free is seriously limiting to a diet. You don’t need to feel overly sensitive about eating foods containing gluten in front of us (although maybe don’t rave and rave and rave). However, it’s always polite to make sure that when ordering out, snacking, or baking, that some reasonable gluten-free alternative can be obtained. Gluten will always leave me out of some things, but that’s no reason for me to miss out on the communal and convivial nature of food.

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