There are many things people don’t know about coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition which causes the body to attack itself when gluten is present. One of them is how to spell it.
From co-workers to family members, explaining the digestive disorder (which affects one in every 100 people in the UK) to those without it is crucial to prevent crumbs of gluten sneaking into our autoimmune bodies.
To mark Coeliac Awareness Week from 14-20 May, this list of tips for sharing a kitchen at home or in the office will help friends, family, colleagues or partners avoid contaminating you unintentionally. Pop it in their inbox this week as a good-natured FYI and bookmark it to avoid years of passive aggressive Post-it notes to housemates in the future.
1. Get your own kitchen essentials
Here’s the thing - gluten is sticky. You can’t use the same colander you used for your gluten-free pasta right after you drained the kids’ gluten pasta with it. You can’t throw your free-from bread bun on the same baking tray your partner (enviably) just baked their croissant on (unless you cover it in foil).
Chopping boards and non-stick pans are other cross-contamination red zones - the tiny scratches on them can harbour microscopic bits of gluten, so buy your own. Get your own utensil pot, too: think wooden spoons, forks, spatulas, rolling pins and whisks.
2. Create an entirely gluten-free zone
If you share a kitchen with gluten-eaters, it’s important to create your own little space where you know everything is safe from cross-contamination. Ideally, do it the other way round: segregate the gluten-containing foods and utensils to one corner of the kitchen. Whichever way you do it, make sure there’s a cupboard for your food, a place for your utensils and pans, and an area to prepare your meals. Thoroughly clean counters before making food anyway, just in case crumbs have accidentally made their way to your space. People make mistakes.
3. Don’t double-dip
Most households don’t buy multiple jars of jam or margarine tubs, but it will be safer if yours does. Condiments such as ketchup and mayo are fine as long as they’re squeezable, but anything you have to plonk a spoon or knife in to spread on toast or plop onto chicken dippers is potentially going to harvest sneaky crumbs. Have a strict ‘no double-dipping’ rule or even better, buy your own condiments and scrawl your autograph over the lot with a Sharpie.
4. Buy your own toaster (or bulk-buy foil)
Your toaster is the first piece of kitchen equipment you need to replace when you find out you have coeliac disease. It’s one of the most common causes of accidental ‘glutening’ for newbies to the diet. You can get a decent two-slice toaster cheap enough and pop it in your gluten-free corner of the kitchen. If you’re staying at a friend’s house or using the kitchen at a holiday apartment, use the oven grill instead by covering a baking tray with aluminium foil and toasting your wheat-less bread for a couple of minutes on each side.
5. Segregate your sponges
The kitchen may be a place to clean, but it’s a high-risk area for gluten contamination. Take one look at your kitchen sponge and you’ll see a whole universe of food debris on there. Gluten is one of the stickiest substances known, so it’s practically impossible to avoid it latching on.
To avoid contaminating your plates, pans and other utensils, get your own sponge and keep it separate to the ‘communal’ sponge. People also frequently wipe their hands on dish towels (maybe after making a gluten-y baguette?) or even use them to mop up the counter (crumbs!). Be safe and buy your own.
6. Mark all of your fridge foods
Unless your kitchen has space for an extra fridge, chances are you’ll be sharing one. To make it work, designate the top shelf to entirely gluten-free food and make sure no other foods are placed on that shelf. Use stickers or marker pens to label all condiments such as butter and mayonnaise with an unmistakable ‘gluten-free’ sign.
Mistakes can happen (especially with kids) but it’s important that if someone accidentally uses your jam on their gluten bread, for example, they immediately tell you it’s no longer safe for you to use.
7. Be open and transparent
It is possible for gluten-eaters and coeliacs to share a kitchen in harmony - just make sure everyone in your home is on the same page. If they slip up, make sure it’s dealt with in a friendly and open manner. Don’t underplay the dangers of their mistakes on your health, though - that needs to be taken seriously.
You have a disease, you’re not being a Moaning Mildred. If someone uses your gluten-free space to knock up their gluten packed lunch, immediately tell them why they absolutely cannot do that. If this means making ALL CAPS sticky notes and plastering them around your free-from zones, then so be it.
Those without the disease don’t constantly have to think about it like we do, so with friendly reminders, non-coeliacs will hopefully learn to watch out for crumbs and clean up after themselves. If all else fails, share this article with them.
Nina Cresswell is a freelance feature writer specialising in food, travel and lifestyle content. You'll find her scouring the world for the best coeliac-friendly eats on her blog GlutenShe.