Gluten will fast become a vital word in your everyday vocabulary, and “cross-contamination” will be just as important as you navigate through a gluten-free life.
Cross-contamination occurs when a food that is otherwise gluten-free comes into contact with gluten, whether it’s one gluten particle or a large amount. Cross-contamination can happen in three distinct areas: food preparation, food manufacturing, and agriculture.
The restaurant industry is a prime area for cross-contamination issues. If a gluten-based food touches a gluten-free food, cross contamination has occurred and the gluten-free food is no longer safe. Any residual gluten left behind, even at the particle level, may make an individual ill when ingested.
There are countless ways cross-contamination can occur in restaurants; to illustrate, imagine that a pan used to sear a cut of meat dusted with wheat flour is then immediately used to sauté a plain chicken breast. Cross-contamination has occurred. The chicken breast is now contaminated with gluten and is therefore potentially harmful if eaten. Utensils are potential hazards also. If the same spatula used to flip wheat-based pancakes is used to flip your otherwise gluten-free fried egg, cross-contamination has occurred and your egg is no longer gluten-free.
Cross-contamination can also occur in the food manufacturing process. When wheat-based products share the same production equipment as products made without gluten and strict cleaning protocol is not in place, cross-contamination can occur. Even the slightest trace of gluten left behind on manufacturing lines can potentially cross-contaminate the gluten-free product. Many companies make only gluten-free foods and more such companies will certainly be founded to meet the growing need. For a listing of some strictly gluten-free dedicated companies refer to page 118.
Also, when crops are harvested next to each other or rotated throughout different fields, cross-contamination, or now being more commonly referred to as co-mingling, with a gluten-based crop can occur. This issue surrounds the oat debate.
And beware! Cross-contamination can occur in your own kitchen. Before you use any of your cooking equipment, read Chapter Five.