Cooking only a portion of your meals GF can be useful for a number of reasons (see this page for my list). It can also be harmful to a celiac or gluten intolerant person if not done properly.
Before I get to my list of precautions and safety measures to take, lets review some physics. Remember Newton’s Laws from science class? The first law, the law of inertia, says “An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by an unequal force. An object in motion will continue in motion with the same speed and the same direction unless acted upon by an unequal force”. Let’s focus in on the first sentence, “An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by an unequal force”. Simply put, if someone or something does not move a certain object it will not move. In science terms, a law is an absolute truth with no exceptions. The idea of something staying at rest unless it is moved by something else holds true for every object on this earth: soccer balls, sofas, t-shirts, pens, and even gluten. This means that I can set a loaf of GF bread on the kitchen counter next to, but not touching, a loaf of whole wheat bread that gluten free loaf is not contaminated with gluten. I can let those loaves sit there for 5 minutes, an hour, a day, and the GF loaf will still be safe. Now, say I left those loaves on the counter all night long, come downstairs stairs first thing in the morning and while I am clumsily making my coffee I bump the whole wheat loaf and it runs into the GF loaf. Now, that gluten free bread is contaminated.
There are two important principles we can take away from this. First, comfort. Gluten will not jump all over the kitchen or the house. As long as the GF food does not come into physical contact with gluten it will be safe to eat! The second principal is to be careful and alert when you are cooking both GF and gluten containing foods at the same time. Like the bread example, if you’re not really paying attention to what you are doing you can easily bump something, and the second gluten touches the GF food it becomes unsafe to eat.
Here are a list of precautions I take when cooking portionally gluten free:
1. Keep a clean kitchen.
This is really common sense. Make sure your dishes and utensil are clean, wipe down countertops and tables, change out your dishcloths when they get dirty, etc. You probably do this already.
2. Wash your hands.
Another common sense point, but still something to be cautious of. If you are touching something that contains gluten (ex. buttering a piece of wheat bread), wash your hands right when you are finished. Don’t give yourself a chance to spread the wheat around!
3. Always prepare the GF portions first. Always!
This simple rule alone will eliminate much of the opportunity for cross contamination. If you’re cooking something like pizzas, roll out your GF dough before the wheat dough. If you are baking cookies, mix up your GF batter completely before you even take the wheat flour out of the cupboard.
4. Plan to use two sets of utensils and cookware.
Sometimes it is not ideal to prepare the GF portions completely before starting the gluten containing portions. Take a pasta dinner for example. In this case, you’ll want to use two separate pots, two separate stirring spoons, and two separate colanders. You will have a few extra dishes to do, but your meals will be ready at the same time. Using two sets of utensils is good form, even if it seems unnecessary. If I’m following the the rule about preparing GF portions first it can be tempting to use the same utensils when I mix up the wheat version. There’s no harm done if someone who can tolerate gluten gets a little bit of GF food mixed in. Even in that situation, I try to use two utensils to keep myself in the habit so I won’t slip up at a time when it really matters!
5. Be cautious when using wheat flour.
If you drop a bag of flour and it bursts open flour will go flying everywhere. Sometimes even cracking an egg into a bowl of flour and cause a little cloud of flour. In cases when you are working with wheat flour, just cover up your GF food! Use a lid, plastic wrap, stick it in another room if that makes you feel better, or in a closed area like the microwave.
6. Use two separate work areas, if possible.
In my kitchen the range is in the center of the room, with countertop of either side. I consistently use the area left of the range for GF food and the counter to the right for gluten containing food. Another idea is to mix one version on the counter and another at a table. I also store all my gluten containing ingredients all in one shelf in the kitchen, away from the GF ingredients. The wheat shelf, which also has my husbands snacks, is too high for me to easily reach so it keeps away temptation, too!
7. Try not to taste test.
I’m a taster. I either want to test the food to see if it is good, or sneak a little bit because I know it is good! I probably shouldn’t tell you to do something I don’t do, but I will warn you. I have accidentally eaten gluten from taste testing, just out of habit. It’s the stupidest way to get yourself sick. Avoid it!
8. Keep certains items for GF food only.
There are a few kitchen items that should not go back and fourth between being used for GF, and then used for wheat:
- anything wooden. Wood will absorb foods.
- colanders. It’s just too easy to get a tiny piece of spaghetti stuck in one of those holes.
- toaster oven trays that don’t get washed after every use
- anything that doesn’t get washed after every use
9. Don’t touch the tips of condiment bottles to food.
This is another obvious one. If it’s hard to get people you live with to follow this rule, buy two bottles of each condiment and clearly label one as GF.
10. Do what is right for you.
On this blog I share my recipe and techniques that have worked for me. I hope that they will help you! If you know you are sensitive to having flour on your hands, may get an actual allergic reaction, or just know that you are extra sensitive, then by all means don’t put yourself at risk! Your situation may be different than mine, so please make modifications if you need to! If you are unsure how to modify something, you can contact me and I will do my best to help.
So there you have it! Now that you are armed with knowledge and a safe food preparation area – get cooking!