How Someone Eating Gluten-Free Can Share a Kitchen with Gluten

In your shared-housing situation, a totally gluten-free kitchen may not be possible, so you need to take some precautions to ensure that you don’t accidentally consume gluten. If you’re gluten-free for health reasons, then avoiding all gluten — down to and including the crumbs — in your food storage areas, all the prep and cooking surfaces you use, and your eating spaces is crucial.

Storage: Go for the top shelf

Keeping your food separate from gluten-containing items is important to gluten-free living. So hopefully, your shared kitchen affords you a shelf in the pantry and in the fridge that you can call your own. If you have your pick, choose the shelf at the top. That way, your food is safe from the bits of crackers, cookies, and breadcrumbs that fall from your roommates’ shelves.

If space is super limited and you’re forced to mix and mingle food items in a shared area, purchase a small cabinet or shelf that you can position away from the other food. Even a lidded basket or plastic bin can work great in the pantry or the fridge. Label it prominently with your name and with the very important words “Gluten-Free!”

Keeping your gluten-free goodies away from others also tames their temptation to eat your food when the other supply is running low or gone. Your groceries are likely more expensive than traditional brands, and those gluten-free cookies are appealing — even to those who’ve never thought twice about cutting out gluten.

College food has a tendency to walk away when you’re not looking, so the farther away yours is from hungry eyes, the better.

Claim your stuff

Make sure everyone knows that your food is exclusively yours. Keep a marker in the kitchen and label everything that’s yours either with your initials or a big “GF.”

Hoarding your condiments is especially important when you’re avoiding gluten. The butter dish, the peanut butter jar, the jelly — they’re probably all full of crumbs in a typical kitchen. After the knife touches regular bread, it can’t go back into the container; otherwise, the entire container becomes contaminated to some degree with gluten.

Don’t trust your housemates to remember your instructions, even if they mean well. Buy — and label — your own containers of dips and spreads, especially these items (opt for squeezable bottles if you can find them):

  • Butter or margarine

  • Jelly or jam

  • Mayonnaise

  • Mustard

  • Peanut butter

Food preparation: Keep it clean

You’ve heard the saying, “Cleanliness is next to healthiness,” right? Okay, that’s not exactly how it goes, but if you’re gluten intolerant, that’s the deal. Cleanliness is the name of the game for avoiding cross-contamination in a shared kitchen. A clean workspace when you’re cooking or rummaging around for a snack is imperative to your health.

Even if you don’t see crumbs on your countertop, a light layer of dust from flour that your roommate may have whipped into the air while making cookies hours earlier can be all it takes to trigger a health crisis for you.

Chances are pretty good that those in your house who aren’t gluten intolerant care much less about the cleanliness of the space than you should. That’s why you need to take matters of cleanliness into your own hands and make sure your cooking space doesn’t end up making you sick.

Use this guidance to avoid the gluten in your kitchen when you prepare your own food:

  • Always wipe down the countertop before you begin to prepare your food. Use your own clean plate or cutting board. You can also lay out a piece of plastic wrap or foil to cover the area. A silicone pastry mat is ideal for this purpose, as it can keep any surface free of contamination while you work.

    Use paper towels to clean countertops and dry dishes. Crumb-filled towels and sponges sabotage your effort to keep your kitchen clean.

  • Buy and use your own cutting board and toaster. It’s almost impossible to keep these items crumb-free.

    Toaster bags can protect your bread from the toaster environment. You can get some online for a couple of dollars and reuse them many times.

  • Use your own judgment on sharing toaster ovens. If a crumb makes you sick, definitely skip it! If you choose to share, make sure you cover the bottom pan with fresh aluminum foil every time you use it.

  • If you’re making dinner for the house and you’re the only gluten-free diner, prepare the gluten-free food before making the gluten-containing items. Be sure to use your own colander for gluten-free pasta draining — and using your own cookware isn’t a bad idea, either. That way, you can make sure it’s clean each time you cook.

Remain vigilant for cross-contamination threats. No matter whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, be diligent about keeping your counters, shelves, and drawers gluten-free. Don’t expect others to do it for you.

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