Cross Contamination…A Serious Issue for Celiacs

I believe a little information is necessary on this issue as it seems like many people do not realize that the problem of cross contamination is huge for celiacs.  Hence this post to try and clear up this issue for the general public. Cross contamination is when minute amounts of gluten get in food that normally does not contain gluten.  Like in my hash browns cooked on your grill in the same area you recently made wheat based pancakes.  It means that we celiacs can get really ill from that dusting of flour on your counter that gets on the bottom of our gf pizza slice, those crumbs left in the lettuce when you yanked the croutons off my salad or the sunflower seeds in my granola; which seeds were processed on equipment that also processes wheat, barley, or rye.

Even a tiny amount of gluten is enough to cause major health problems for people with the severe gluten allergy which anyone with celiac disease lives with every day of their life. For many celiacs it is a lot like if you got a severe stomach virus.  This is not a pretend illness nor is this is not a diet we are on for losing weight.  For those of us with celiac it is serious and important and we need you to understand why we have such concerns about cross contamination.

A great explanation of cross contamination is near the start of a well written article posted by an engineer with celiac: https://blog.safaribooksonline.com/2015/02/01/gluten-free-celiac/. I suggest you read what he has said on cross contamination.  The rest of his article is very good too.  He and his child both have celiac and his articulate description of celiac and how to live with it are worth the few minutes it will take to read.

This severe reaction to even a tiny amount of gluten is no exaggeration.  I had trouble getting it at first.  When I went gluten free due to my diagnosis with celiac I just didn’t understand cross contamination.  I thought that as long as the ingredients in my food did not include wheat, rye or barley I was safe.  I found out otherwise the hard way, several times, in several ways.

I recently had to give away a huge batch of homemade granola because the sunflower seeds I added for extra flavor were cross contaminated.  Even the few seeds in my sprinkling of granola over yogurt were enough to bring on major symptoms this Christmas season. The peanuts I bought at Giant, store brand, the label says – processed on equipment that may process wheat.  I didn’t know notice or think about that sentence until I got ill and read the fine print on the label.

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Until those several incidents within one week, I had kinda pooh paahed cross contamination as an exaggeration or maybe just pretty rare to deal with.  Nope. It happens frequently and it is serious.  Getting ill from gluten poisoning causes damage to the small intestine. It can lead to a number of diseases and health issues including MS, diabetes, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. None of which I want to contract.

So I will continue to read the fine print and be skeptical of a number of food items that are often processed on equipment that handles gluten containing grains.  A while ago I threw away some oat flour as it made me ill, not sure why at the time but now I realize it is the cross contamination.  Ditto for oatmeal.  I have been buying oatmeal that is labeled gluten free.  oatmealThat label gives me peace of mind, that I am safe and that I will not have to throw away or give away cookies or granola made with my oatmeal.  I nearly got sick from food prepared at a Panara restaurant, someone forgot to change their gloves and wipe down the area before they made my salad.  When I inquired about it the staff decided they needed to re-make my salad so it would be free of any possible cross contamination.  I was really thankful they made a new salad after cleaning up the salad area and putting on fresh gloves.

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The basic facts are: food that should be safe and gluten free sometimes is not, due to cross contamination like being prepared in same area as food made with/out of wheat or other gluten containing ingredients or your food might have been processed on equipment that also processes gluten containing foods.  So it is just not enough to know a food doesn’t have gluten in the list of ingredients, we celiacs have to be constantly vigilant as to how/where our food was processed, baked, mixed or stored.  We are not exaggerating.  The risks of cross contamination are very real and very serious for someone with celiac disease.  Please take this issue seriously if you know someone with celiac disease.  Or, if you have celiac  you can show this post to someone who doesn’t understand the concept of cross contamination and it might give them some insight.  Be safe and read those labels!

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