When you are eating gluten free but still getting sick, a very likely cause is cross contamination. This is an important part of having a successful gluten free diet. It will sneak up from anywhere and everywhere if you aren’t careful.
After 6 months of being on a gluten free diet, it seemed as if Jarett was getting worse. We were in college and there were days when he was so sick that he would sleep for 14 hours. I remember multiple times going to check on him in between my classes and finding him in his bed unable to form sentences…. ya that was scary.
Jarett was experiencing serious forms of brain fog. Why was this happening when he was eating gluten free? As we later found out, he was getting cross contaminated from a few different sources.
What is cross contamination
Cross contamination is when gluten free food comes into contact with gluten. This can be as obvious as rolling out your gluten free dough on a wheat floured surface or as obscure as using a colander to strain both regular and gluten free noodles. Cross contamination can occur when cooking at home, at restaurants, or in big food processing plants.
Cross Contamination at home
At the time, Jarett shared an apartment with two roommates, kitchen included. They stuck to their regular food, which included lots of gluten. Even though each of them had their own cupboards to put food in, they were sharing the microwave, oven, and fridge. All of these communal places allowed opportunity for gluten to mix with the gluten free food.
If you are just starting a gluten free diet, or have been trying without success, I recommend removing all gluten from your home in order to avoid cross contamination. Deep clean your kitchen by getting rid of all food with gluten, wipe out your cupboards, scrub your refrigerator and oven, and make sure to run all of your dishes through the dishwasher.
Meticulously clean appliances like waffle makers and toasters or consider investing in new ones if they seem impossible to clean. If gluten is still present in your home when trying to cook gluten free, it is very likely that you will continue to face cross contamination.
Once we learned about cross contamination, Jarett was able to get his own apartment where he could have an entirely gluten free kitchen, thank goodness! We made sure to deep clean the entire place before he moved in.
Cross contamination from a kiss….what?
After transitioning to an entirely gluten free apartment, the extreme cases of brain fog subsided. There were, however still times when Jarett would get “glutened”.
At the time, I was still occasionally eating foods with gluten because, why not, it didn’t affect me! When a friend told us that you can get cross contaminated through kissing someone who has recently eaten gluten, I felt horrible. I was one of the problems!
Well, that was the end of gluten for me! From now on if I ever eat gluten, which happens very very rarely, we make sure not to kiss until I have brushed my teeth and used mouthwash. Now, I know this seems crazy, but it really does make a difference.
Cross contamination from food processing plants
Sometimes a product may not contain gluten as an ingredient, but because it was processed on the same equipment as food with gluten, cross contamination may occur. In large food processing plants, many different foods can be processed using the same equipment.
It is important to pay attention to this information when reading labels. While the ingredients may look safe, if it says, “manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat” it’s probably a good idea to steer clear.
Cross contamination at restaurants
At this time we also quit eating out entirely. Even if restaurants say they have a gluten free menu or gluten free options, you need to be extremely careful. If your sensitivity level is high, make sure you talk with your server and explain how sensitive you are.
We found out the hard way that restaurants are a very dangerous place for cross contamination to occur. Jarett got sick multiple times before we figured it out.
Here are a few examples of cross contamination we experienced at restaurants;
-grilling gluten free buns on the same grill as regular buns
-using the same deep fryer for french fries, flour tortillas, and breaded meats
-using the same knife and butter container to butter both regular and gluten free bread
One time we ordered a gluten free pizza from a restaurant that offered gluten free options. When we walked in to pick up our order they were in the middle of preparing our pizza. Good thing we got there early because they were preparing it right on the same counter they had just made a regular pizza on!!! Needless to say, I was the only one eating that pizza.
Gluten Free Options Available
Beware of restaurants that offer gluten free options. It’s easy to get your hopes up when you see signs like this. Be careful because many restaurants don’t know how to properly handle the food to prevent cross contamination. Often they boast about having gluten free options yet don’t have any knowledge about celiac disease.
I know it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing asking for all of these special precautions. However, the more people bring attention to cross contamination, the more the industry will realize it’s importance and start to train employees on how to deal with it.
For some people this amount of caution might not be necessary, but for others it prevents days of being sick. Pay attention to your symptoms and reactions and get to know your own level of sensitivity.