A Safe Gluten-Free Diet Begins with Kitchen Cleaning
Credit: Lavender Rose
Have you recently been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity? Did anyone tell you about how to handle your gluten-contaminated kitchen? Do you need to know how to make your kitchen safe? Unfortunately, most of the instruction given to those of us with celiac or gluten intolerance only focuses on gluten-free food.
Common practice among physicians is to send you to a dietician for help in implementing a gluten-free diet. That consultation doesn’t always cover issues with cross contamination nor the risks that continue due to your previous diet. If your home is not completely gluten free, cross contamination remains an ongoing problem that has to be dealt with appropriately.
As a result, many individuals on a gluten-free diet remain ill due to previous or ongoing gluten contamination in the home.
Deep Cleaning the Kitchen is Essential for Some Celiacs to Heal
The kitchen is the largest area of gluten contamination in your home. Since even small amounts of gluten can cause intestinal damage, kitchen cleaning needs to be done as soon as possible after diagnosis. Airborne flour and gluten particles settle onto everything and may go unnoticed. Dry pet food crumbs may become scattered. Even if you take pride in keeping a spotless kitchen, gluten contamination is a serious issue.
If there is just a single bread crumb in the silverware drawer, an invisible particle of flour in a corner of the cupboard, gluten-contaminated fingerprints on the counters and other work surfaces, scratched non-stick pans, plastic storage containers, or greased-stained cookware, any gluten-free food you fix or store can easily become contaminated enabling your intestinal problems to continue.
A simple wipe-down is not always enough to rid the kitchen of gluten particles and residue. Although some celiacs will tell you that they didn’t go to all of this trouble and are fine, my own gastrointestinal issues didn’t begin to subside until I thoroughly cleaned my kitchen. For me, deep cleaning was essential to heal. For someone else, perhaps not.
The extent you need to go to depends on the amount of gluten that’s required to initiate an autoimmune response. That amount is not the same for everyone. While many gluten intolerant individuals have done just fine with only replacing a few kitchen items and giving their kitchen a typical cleaning, those who are extra sensitive to gluten might need a stricter plan.
Unfortunately, deep cleaning requires you to take everything out of the kitchen, so it can be completely washed down. That means your kitchen drawers, cabinets, windows, and counters, as well as the floor and all of your major appliances. Cleaning also needs to include the handles, sides, and back of your appliances, and the floor underneath them. We’re talking every single surface there is.
Cleaning products can be green cleaners, natural cleaning products without gluten, or some other gluten-free soap with plenty of hot water. Examples of natural cleaning products that are gluten free would be:
- Earth Friendly Products “Dishmate” Hand Dishwashing soap, Free and Clear
- Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby-Mild Pure-Castile Soap
These are the two products that I use in my home because they are free of fragrances. That way, I know they have no hidden gluten, and are completely safe to use.
An Automatic Dishwasher Helps Avoid Cross Contamination
If you have an automatic dishwasher, the force of the water will thoroughly clean any gluten residue and will help you to avoid cross contamination. This is helpful for the initial kitchen cleaning process, since everything in your kitchen needs to be re-washed, and is essential if you live in a mixed household.
Load your dishwasher with as many non-plastic glasses, plates, and silverware as it will hold, but be careful not to overcrowd it. You can use Cascade or Finish dishwasher powder, liquid, or gel, or some other dishwasher cleaner that is guaranteed to be gluten free. To save time, this can be done at the same time that you’re deep cleaning the kitchen.
If you don’t have an automatic dishwasher, your dishes will need to be thoroughly scrubbed by hand with some type of brand-new scratch pad in order to remove every trace of possible gluten. Dawn dishwashing liquid is not supposed to have gluten, but some types of Dawn contain endocrine disruptors. An endocrine disruptor interferes with the way your body handles blood sugar, so it can cause trouble for those with pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or diabetes.
That’s why I personally use Dishmate instead. I do not use my dishwasher, but I have a completely gluten-free home. In addition, Dawn isn’t fragrance free, so there’s no way to actually know if the fragrance itself contains hidden gluten or not. Fragrances are protected by law. They are considered a Trade Secret, so their ingredients do not have to be revealed.
Do not put anything away until all of your cupboards and counters have been completely cleaned first. That might sound like a no-brainer, but when you’re first diagnosed with gluten issues, many people don’t feel well, so you might not be thinking too clearly.
Check All Kitchenware for Gluten Contamination
One of the benefits of removing everything from the kitchen is that each item can be slowly checked and cleaned before putting it back. Carefully look over all of your kitchen cookware, pots and pans, cutlery sets, kitchen tableware, and kitchen utensils.
Non-stick pots and pans must be almost brand new with absolutely no scratches. However, Teflon and old baking stones are both porous and must be replaced. The surface retains gluten from previous cooking or baking. Stainless steel pots and pans clean up well, but must be stain-free and without seams because gluten has a tendency to become trapped in the cracks and crevices.
Cast iron is also extremely porous, but you can run it through a self-cleaning oven cycle to burn off any gluten residue, and re-seasoned them. Cast iron cookware and pans can also be saved by burning off the residue in a fire pit, wire wheeled until clean, and then re-seasoned. That’s how I saved mine. If either of those options aren’t available to you, you’ll have to replace your pans.
Corningware and Pyrex-type cookware must be scrubbed completely clean of all traces of grease residue, since grease can also trap gluten. Use a bright light, and what doesn’t clean up absolutely spotless, must be given away or tossed.
Pay particular attention to your kitchen utensils. Metal utensils without cracks and seams are fine, but you’ll want to replace the colander you used to drain your pasta in. You won’t be able to clean it well enough. In addition, plastic, wood, and Teflon-type kitchen utensils must also be replaced. That includes your cutting board, knives with serrated edges, rolling pin, flour sifter, and can opener.
Check Small Plastic Storage Containers and Beware of Sponges
Regardless of your sensitivity to gluten, plastic, wood, and porous surfaces do not clean up well. Gluten can embed itself into the material. Same goes for rags and sponges. If your kitchen is not entirely gluten free, never wash gluten and gluten-free dishes together, and never use the same rag or sponge to wash both types of dishes.
Whether you choose to live in a mixed household or go completely gluten free, any small plastic storage containers that are stained, scratched, peeling, or have been used to heat anything up in the microwave need to be tossed and replaced. For those who are extra-sensitive to gluten, it’s best to just replace all of them. That’s what I had to do.
Most Small Kitchen Appliances Cannot be Cleaned
While a good scrubbing gets airborne gluten residue off of a rice cooker, coffee maker, a hot air popcorn popper, tea pot, or other small appliance that has never come in contact with gluten-containing foods before, most small kitchen appliances cannot be cleaned up well enough and need to be replaced. Some of those appliances are your:
- electric mixer
- waffle iron
- pancake griddle
- toaster or toaster oven
- crock pots that are stained or scratched
- deep fryer
These items trap gluten, grease, rust, bread crumbs, and flour dust in the cracks, seams, crevices, and air holes. The result makes gluten impossible to get completely out, even if you take the time to dismantle and clean all the parts.
When I first went gluten free, I was feeling fantastic until I decided to dismantle the deep fryer. I thought I’d be able to clean it good enough if I used a pipe cleaner to get the grease out of the seams, but I found out the hard way that wasn’t true. That little stunt seriously glutened me, and set back my recovery for weeks.
How to Replace Your Kitchen Affordably
Replacing everything in the kitchen all at once will be expensive, especially if you decide to take kitchen cross contamination seriously, but you also need to get highly contaminated items out of the kitchen. However, the process can be done slowly and affordably.
Begin by purchasing basic kitchen utensils you use most often from your local dollar store. Although the quality will be very low, the idea is to quickly make your kitchen safe. You can then work on replacing those items with higher quality products as your budget allows.
Cover your cookie sheets and baking pans with foil, parchment paper, or a Silpat mat each time you bake. Use cupcake liners for cupcakes and muffins. Alternatively, you could also pick up cheap baking pans and frying pans at the dollar store or your local discount store such as Walmart, just to get you by.
Initially you’re going to have to make due with fewer kitchen items and appliances, so after purchasing the most important kitchen appliances first, look for utensils and pans that can do double duty. For example, a glass pie plate or square baking dish can be used to bake chicken or a cake. A loaf pan can double as a casserole dish. A slotted spoon can be used to stir sauces or a pot of chili, as well as dish up vegetables.
It can also help to preplan your meals. When planning, consider all of the utensils and pans that will be needed to make each recipe. When I first went gluten free, that’s how I decided upon which utensils and pans to buy first. I slowly added new kitchen items as I added new recipes to our meals and snacks.
Since it takes time to go through your recipes and learn which ingredients are gluten free and which are not, homemade gluten-free meals don’t have to be varied or complex. Neither do they have to be expensive. Although gluten-free products and flours are available, sticking to simple, whole foods such as roasted or sautéed meats, eggs, assorted cheeses, nuts, baked potatoes, fresh fruits, and vegetables can help to make the transition easier. The same goes for one-pot meals such as soups and stews.
If Your Kitchen Isn't Completely Gluten Free
Although having a completely gluten-free kitchen is the easiest way to help yourself heal, a gluten-free home isn’t always possible. For those who have family members still eating gluten, the following video offers five specific tips that can help keep you safe.
Keep Your Gluten-Free Meals Simple
When you keep your gluten-free meals simple, essential cooking utensils and appliances will be few. You’ll be able to afford to replace your kitchen more easily and quickly with the type of kitchen items that will be best suited to your new gluten-free lifestyle. Although thoroughly cleaning your kitchen is going to take a bit of work, doing what’s necessary to help yourself heal will be well worth the effort and time it takes. There is nothing more important than your health.