While out with friends for dinner at an Italian restaurant, I ordered what I consider my fail-safe dinner: Steak, steamed vegetables and a baked potato. It’s a slam dunk, right? No sauces, creams, seasonings or additives to worry about. Unless, of course, they dunk those steamed vegetables in pasta water. A hard lesson was learned that day.
Unless something is prepared in a dedicated g-free facility or kitchen, the chances of cross contamination are high. Retracing what you ate, what you purchased or how something was made can help solve the mystery. But it’s often impossible to pinpoint the source or avoid cross contamination, even when you’ve taken great pains to go g-free.
A fun little point to keep all of my neurotic readers awake at night: Cross contamination can happen before products even make it to store shelves. A 2010 study by the American Dietetic Association found that of 22 naturally g-free grains purchased and tested, nine (41%) had been contaminated with a small but significant amount of gluten, while seven (32%) contained enough gluten to not be considered g-free.
In other words: 73% of the g-free grains tested had been contaminated with gluten. How? Unless those naturally g-free grains had been processed and packaged in a g-free facility, they very likely could have come in contact with gluten-containing products.
So what’s a g-free person to do? Look for labels that specifically say “Processed in a dedicated gluten free facility.” Other tips to avoid cross contamination:
- Have dedicated g-free dishes, cookware and condiments at home
- Be specific and ask questions when ordering out
- Avoid items fried in the same oil as breaded items
- Ask how food was prepared when eating at a party
- Make sure serving utensils aren’t used across g-free and other dishes
Find more tips from the ADA here.
For a list of g-free friendly restaurants, click here.
glu*tened [gloot-nd]: (verb)
- the accidental ingestion of foods containing gluten
- an act of evil
Example: “I think I was glutened at Jane’s dinner last night.”
I appreciate anyone willing to take on the task of cooking for me, but when you’re not g-free, the idea of cooking g-free can be a foreign concept wrought with the potential for error. I took a little tidbit from Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s playbook, The G-Free Diet, and casually ask my chef for the evening, “Looks great! So, how’d you make it?” Usually, any offending items will come out in the answer to my question, and I can politely avoid the item for the evening.
I once had dinner at someone’s house and witnessed them spraying a baking dish with a cooking spray that included flour. The food going into the dish was naturally g-free, but by using the spray, the food would obviously be off limits for me. My host stopped spraying, looked at the can, back at the dish, made a little shrug and proceeded to prepare the dish as usual. Needless to say, I refrain from accepting dinner invites from this person.
But this experience highlights an all-too-common predicament of guests and hosts alike: How do you gracefully handle being glutened? And, to what extent should a host go to accommodate a g-free friend’s diet?
The epi-Log on Epicurious had a great post about how to cook for a g-free guest. Suggestions include:
- Make sure all ingredients are truly gluten free—read labels, find substitutions and even better, ask your guest!
- Keep it simple—a complicated recipe is going to be even more complicated g-free; skip it and go with something that’s easy to modify
- Let the guest help! Seriously. We’d prefer to assist than to spend three days in the fetal position.
- Use common sense—flour-laced cooking spray should not be used in cooking for a g-free guest. Capiche?!
And for the unfortunate guest whose host has inadvertently (or in my case, purposefully) glutened them, my advice: tell them how much you appreciate the effort, and either plan to eat out at a g-free-friendly restaurant (find some here), or retire your host from future dinners and offer to cook the next one.