Food Safety Week (June 14-20) is approaching, and I would like to take this opportunity to mention some important aspects to consider if you are following a gluten free diet.
When you are diagnosed with celiac disease or any other gluten related disorder/allergy, the search for choosing the correct ingredients begins, and people know that they must avoid certain cereals such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, unripe spelt grain, etc; but they are not aware of some important aspects called “cross-contact and cross contamination”.
But are they the same? What is the difference?
Cross-contact is a relatively new term, used to explain when one gluten containing food cannot come into contact with a gluten free food. Many people find cross-contact to be one of the most difficult parts of the gluten free diet to manage.
e.g. using the same toaster for gluten-free bread and gluten containing bread. Even tiny amounts of gluten, smaller than breadcrumbs, may cause people with coeliac disease to have symptoms in the short term and gut damage long term. In this case the only way to avoid cross-contact is using reusable toaster bags.
Avoiding Cross-Contact Tips
- Always wash your hands and change gloves between preparing different menu items.
- Clean and sanitize surfaces between every menu item: countertops, cutting boards, flat-top grills, etc.
- Prepare meals on top of barriers like cutting boards, foil, deli paper, etc.
- When storing gluten free products in a cupboard, fridge, or freezer; if possible, use just one separate and safe draw.
- Use separate cooking utensils and a separate cutting board when preparing allergen-safe foods. Keep them in separate drawers. If you do not have the space have sealable bags or boxes you can store them on your shelves or drawers.
- Dishwashers’ clean crockery and cutlery super-well. However wooden products are harder to clean and do not respond well on dishwashers.
Cross-contamination implies that a food has been exposed to bacteria or a microorganism, which could result in a foodborne illness like salmonella.
Cross-contamination is the main reason for many food-borne illness outbreaks. Even if meat has been cooked correctly, meals can still become contaminated with pathogens if cross-contamination is not avoided in the preparation process.
e.g If the same chopping board is simultaneously used to handle raw shellfish and for chopping onions, they later may be contaminated with microbes from the raw shellfish.
This cross-contamination may cause the onions to be harmful to the health and vice versa if the chopping board and knife used has not been properly washed before, harmful bacteria may be transferred through them.
The same cutting board and knife should not be used to handle both shellfish and onions, due to the presence of allergens. If an onion contaminated with shellfish proteins is ingested by a person allergic to shellfish, the consequences may be life-threatening.
Avoiding Cross-Contamination Tips:
Cross-contamination can be avoided if the right precautions are taken and following proper food safety practices. Put it simple, if raw foods come into contact with ready-to-eat foods, cross contamination can occur.
- At the grocery store: Place raw meat and fresh produce on a separate bag, as the bacteria from the meat can contaminate the product. Bacteria can come from the juices of the raw meat or from contact with the products packaging, even though visible juices may not be present.
- Store food in the right place:
Raw meat, poultry and seafood should be stored in covered containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping or leaking onto other foods.
Meats and ready-to eat foods should never be packed next to each other or on the same shelves.
Meals that are not going to be used within few days of purchase, should be placed in the freezer for defrosting to a later day.
- Chopping Boards:
Use a separate chopping board for raw meats (meat, poultry, seafood, etc), and a different chopping board for ready-to-eat foods.
Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods and a different set for ready-to-eat-foods.
Replace chopping boars that are excessively scratched or damaged, as they can develop grooves that are hard to clean, making bacteria difficult to clean.
To conclude be aware that restaurants and take-away food places, are two big areas of concern for those with allergies or sensitivities. There are many, many well recorded incidents of people being served contaminated food to their detriment. I cannot tell you how and where to be, but I can advise to always look for the Crossed Grain symbol, a quick and easy way to identify foods and places, which are gluten free and safe to eat.
Over 3,300 venues in UK, are recognised by this GF accreditation. Venues displaying this trademark are recognised and trusted all over the country.