Maybe not so bad as we thought

As celiac patients, we all know a crumb of a crumb of bread or other gluten containing item can set off the autoimmune cascade causing a range of issues. Normally, 20ppm is assumed to be safe and to not cause the autoimmune cascade. We don’t want this at all and avoid it at all costs. Many have separate toasters, separate colanders, separate pots, and potentially separate dishes. This may not be necessary.

What the heck? According to a new small study cross contamination happens but it may not be as dangerous as you think! This study looked at pasta, toasters, and cutting cupcakes and how many parts per million were on gluten free food after significant cross contamination.

Regarding pasta, they boiled regular gluten filled pasta in water according to the directions. Then they boiled regular pasta in the same water. The results were as you would expect and the gluten free pasta came out heavily contaminated (>115ppm). At my house in this scenario and after cooking pasta, the pot goes into the dishwasher for the longest hottest cycle available. But that may not be necessary.

Then the scientist took the gluten free pasta and rinsed it for 30 seconds with cold water after cooking gluten free pasta in the gluten pasta water. All six samples came out with less than 20ppm and four samples came out with less than 5ppm.


The scientists also took the pot that the past was cooked in and either rinsed the pot with water or washed it with soap and water. Of the additional 12 samples tested, twelve came out with less than 5ppm of gluten detected.

Now, if you are like me, you start to think, maybe they tested this with a Nima sensor and maybe it isn’t right. Nope. They used sandwich ELISA testing. Which isn’t quite as accurate as the R5 ELISA, but its still a very, very good testing method to detect gluten. Also, sandwich ELISA has lots of false positives, in this case would be gluten detection, and there was none. Here is more information about ELISA testing.

Toasters are another area they tested. They tested two types of toasters – a communal rolling toaster and a communal popup toaster. They toasted regular bread and then gluten free bread. Even with visible crumbs in the bottom of each toaster all 40 samples came in below 10ppm and 36 of the samples came in below 5ppm.

Cupcakes were tested too! They used a knife to cut a gluten containing cupcake and then cut a gluten free cupcake. When cutting without cleaning, there were visible crumbs in the icing on the knife. Without rinsing or cleaning in any way, they found that 28 out of 30 gluten free samples had less than 20 ppm. Only two samples were above the 20 ppm threshold. When the knife was washed with soap and water, water only, or cleaned with a wet wipe, the 28 out of 30 gluten free samples again had less than 5 ppm. The remaining two samples had less than 20 ppm.

What the heck does this all mean? Have we been overboard for no reason? Could eat shared peanut butter if we just ate around any visible crumbs? I’m guessing according to this study, we probably could without issue. This is just hard to wrap my brain around.

Anyway, I don’t have an extra toaster at my house. I use the oven to toast my bread. But now, it seems sharing a toaster at the office or at home might be okay. If I’m at a party, typically there are only gluten or gluten-free cupcakes, very rarely are there both. If there are, I probably will still use a separate knife to cut gluten free cupcakes, just so I feel better. Pasta water and gluten free pasta is still probably a hard no for me. I didn’t like pasta when I could eat gluten pasta, so the gluten free stuff is just not on my radar. But I’ve never been comfortable with places that serve both gluten and gluten free pasta dishes, so again, not a big deal.

The question is, what does this mean on the larger scale? Have we been overboard about cross contamination and is it really like the boogey-man out to get us at every turn?

I don’t live in a gluten free house and believe you can live gluten free perfectly safely when using a few precautions. I think some of the precautions people take are a bit extreme and I think some people don’t take enough precautions. I want to be somewhere in the middle. This study demonstrates that being cautious but not overly cautious might be a safe path for navigating this gluten-filled world while trying to live gluten free.

I feel like I should say more but I’m so conflicted and this article has rocked me and my beliefs to the core. I’m just flummoxed right now.

One thought on “Maybe not so bad as we thought”

Leave a Reply