What is Cross Contamination?

There are a lot of posts on Facebook in the Celiac Groups about cross contamination – let’s talk about what it is and why it is bad for those with celiac.

For someone with Celiac Disease, cross contamination is our worst enemy. We all know that we can’t have gluten – no bread, pasta, etc. We all know that even the slightest amount can hurt us. Studies have shown that 1/64th of a piece of bread has enough gluten to cause autoimmune problems in celiacs. The FDA has set 20 ppm or 20 parts per million as the maximum threshold for gluten in something labelled gluten free. It isn’t much.

Let’s use an example to describe what is happening. I’m going to use a very simple example because its, well simple. The kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, and an apple for their lunch. You pull out the bread, swipe the peanut butter and jelly on, and put it in their lunch box. Put the chips into a smaller container, open the fridge, pull out an apple, and call it a day.

Here’s the issue – if you put the bread for the sandwich on a plate, awesome, except the plate must now be cleaned before you can use it for any gluten free items. The knife you used to swipe the peanut butter and jelly across the bread now has crumbs embedded in the remaining peanut butter and/or jelly. Then if you stuck the knife back into the peanut butter and/or jelly it is now contaminated too and cannot be used by those with celiac. You introduced crumbs into the containers and cannot get it out.

Next is the chips – you thought you were safe there – wrong!! If you didn’t wash your hands and I’m pretty sure you didn’t, you introduced crumbs into the chip bag. The bag is contaminated with crumbs and is now unsafe. Also, did you wash your hands before touching the fridge door? You get my drift.

All of this can be controlled if we are careful. But most people don’t think about any of this unless they have a food allergy or a family member has one.

You might think this is a little extreme. It might be. But would you say the same thing for someone with an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts? Or tree nuts? Or anything for that matter? But food is a problem for people with celiac disease and it is a serious issue.

Many times celiac reactions aren’t immediately obvious but they do come. Sometimes the reactions are even violent – explosive diarrhea or vomiting. They might be more subtle like brain fog, extreme fatigue, or joint aches or any of the other 300+ symptoms associated with celiac disease. Not to mention the longer term damage with the villi in the small intestine that can take 6 to 12 months to repair themselves. With ongoing long term damage they may never repair. Then, really long term there is anemia, malnutrition, and potentially cancer. So a crumb of a crumb has the potential to cause cancer in those with celiac. Yes, I made a slippery slope argument to make a point. Sorry.

Other hotbeds of cross contamination are: toasters, butter dishes, scratched non-stick pans, wooden cutting boards and utensils, shared fryers, waffle irons, stirring the gluten pasta then putting the spoon in the sauce, gluten pasta water, non-squeeze bottle condiments, kitchens, and on and on.

Bottom line – If it has gluten and you touch it, you must wash your hands or the item before it is safe for someone with celiac.

Cross contamination is bad. Cross contamination is everywhere unless you are really careful. Most people don’t understand it but I’m hoping this gave you a good introduction into where cross contamination starts and why it is bad.

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