Cross-contact and cross-contamination essentially mean the same thing and are often used interchangeably. Cross-contact happens when gluten comes into contact with a gluten-free food or when a piece of equipment, a utensil, or a fabric such as a hand towel has residual gluten left behind on the surface and comes into contact with a gluten-free food or your hands.
Using “cross-contact” versus “cross-contamination” is often a matter of semantics, but there is a subtle difference. Although crosscontamination is the most widely used of the two phrases, crosscontact best defines exactly what you want to avoid from the start: you want to avoid contact first, in order to avoid contamination. Without contact you can’t have contamination.
In a restaurant there are hundreds of ways cross-contact can occur, and implementing strict procedures and standards for avoiding cross-contact is becoming paramount to servicing a growing population with special dietary needs. This serious issue requires a paradigm shift in thinking about food service operations among all service professionals, from chefs, cooks, and servers to dishwashers and bartenders.
Walt Disney World Resorts, for example, keeps ahead of the curve in developing cutting-edge service procedures and training practices for servicing guests with special dietary needs. Joel Schaefer, Disney’s Culinary Development and Special Dietary Needs Manager, has the cross-contact issue down to a science which serves as a model for the hospitality industry to follow.