Cleaning House

by | Sep 5, 2019

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Gluten Cross-Contamination.  If you’re gluten-sensitive, it’s likely one of your greatest fears.  It’s a concern that rears its ugly head every time a gluten-sensitive person goes out to eat at a restaurant, at a friend’s or relative’s home, or at social gatherings.  Even if the food is prepared with gluten-free ingredients, it may have become contaminated simply by being in a non-gluten-free environment.

Ironically, while most gluten-sensitives obsess over the issue of cross-contamination when eating away from home (and with good reason), some of those same people have little problem living and eating in a non-gluten-free environment in their very own homes.  Such was the case with our family… until recently.

Our Celiac Disease Journey

My wife, Jill, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003.  After that diagnosis, we decided that she would simply eat gluten-free, while the rest of the family continued to consume gluten-containing foods.  At the time, we had what we thought were valid reasons for approaching it this way:

  • In 2003, there were very few food products that were labeled gluten-free.
  • In 2003, there were very few food products that were labeled gluten-free and tasted good.
  • In 2003, there were very few food products that were labeled gluten-free and didn’t require a bank loan in order to buy half the amount of a similar gluten-containing product.
  • In 2003, the information that could be found on celiac disease was somewhat sparse, and much of it was anecdotal.  Some of it was downright wrong by today’s standards.  Some of this information led us to believe that small amounts of gluten “sneaking” in occasionally likely would not be problematic.

After doing our research we concluded that it was okay for us to maintain both gluten-free and non-gluten-free lifestyles within the same household, and that the supposedly minute amounts of gluten my wife might be ingesting likely wouldn’t be any cause for concern.

A Mixed Environment

For years, we continued this way.  Most of the food prepared in our home had gluten in it.  Jill prepared gluten-free alternatives for her and our daughter (who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2015), and the rest of us continued to consume gluten.  As time went on, however, our entire family naturally gravitated toward a more gluten-free diet.  Most of our dinners eventually evolved to become gluten free, simply because it was unnecessarily difficult to prepare both gluten-free and “gluten-full” dinner meals.  Nonetheless, gluten still existed in our home in large quantities.

The Wake-Up Call

And so it was until 2017, when a biopsy for Jill came back positive for blunted villi, indicating active celiac disease.  After her initial diagnosis in 2003, she had religiously returned to her doctor for intestinal biopsies every few years just to make sure she was keeping her celiac disease at bay.  These biopsies had all been negative, leading us to assume that our mixed gluten-free/gluten-full environment was working.  That assumption came to an abrupt end with that positive biopsy.

A Conundrum

After receiving that biopsy result, we fretted over what to do about it.  Jill had been following the same rigid gluten-free diet protocols as she had since 2003.  We couldn’t put a finger on what it was that had caused celiac disease to become active again.  Obviously, she was being glutened, but we kept asking ourselves “where is it coming from?”

In reality, I think we knew the answer.  The only reasonable culprit was cross-contamination from our gluten-infested household and foods.  But oddly, we remained in denial for an embarrassingly long time after that biopsy.  The thought of making the entire household gluten-free was almost too much for us to process, and it honestly seemed next to impossible to accomplish with a family of 8 people. We discussed it a few times, but always rejected the idea as too difficult, too expensive, too controversial (within our family), etc.

Heads in the Sand

So in lieu of making our home gluten-free, we instead went out and bought a few appliances which we decided would be dedicated for gluten-free use only.  We picked up another pancake griddle, waffle iron and toaster. In the past, we had shared these appliances between gluten-free and gluten-full foods.  We convinced ourselves that washing them between uses was sufficient.  In the case of the toaster (since you can’t really wash a toaster), we had dedicated two of our toaster’s four slots for gluten-free use only.  Again, we convinced ourselves that this was okay.  So now we had some new dedicated gluten-free appliances, which we decided would be sufficient in fixing our problem and put Jill back on the road to good health.

On and on we went in our delusion, fooling ourselves into thinking we were adequately addressing the problem.  However, despite the delusion, we were never really at ease with the situation.  And the knowledge that Jill’s celiac disease was once again active continued to gnaw at us.

2×4 → Head

It was shortly after implementing our new appliance solution that Jill decided to enroll in a program designed to naturally treat gastrointestinal disorders–primarily SIBO–but also other things.  After a thorough examination of Jill’s long health history as well as current scenario, the Naturopathic doctors and nutritionist in the program strongly recommended that we completely de-glutenize our kitchen.  When Jill told me about the recommendation, I felt like the doctor had just smacked us upside our heads with that proverbial 2×4.  It was one of those “Well, Duh!” moments.  No more hiding from reality.  It was time to quit messing around and make some real changes.

The Cleanup

So, we went to work.  We first went through everything in the refrigerator, freezer, cupboards and pantry.  If it had gluten in it, we tossed it out or gave it away.  Then, over a period of about two weeks we deep cleaned our kitchen, pantry, and dining room.  We either threw away or gave away, our old gluteny toaster, microwave oven, pancake griddle, and waffle iron.  Practically all of our plastic, rubber, or wooden food prep utensils and many of our mixing bowls and storage containers got the old heave-ho.  We kept most of the metal or glass cookware and bakeware, but thoroughly scrubbed them down and then ran them through the dishwasher.  Every square inch of the drawers and cupboards got thoroughly wiped down and re-fitted with new liners.  We thoroughly cleaned the neglected areas, such as the tops of the cupboard doors, behind the stove, and underneath and on top of the fridge.

Some unexpected findings

Speaking of the top of the fridge, at the time we did our home de-glutenization, I was contemplating the idea of putting this website together, so along the way, we did a few gluten tests.  One of the first tests we did was a cotton swab of the dust that had settled on top of the refrigerator.  I stuck that swab in the Nima Sensor, and guess what?  GLUTEN FOUND!  How in the world did gluten get on top of the fridge?  We had never stored any food up there.  The answer is a simple one: Gluten can fly.

No, seriously.  Airborne Gluten is a thing!  Don’t believe me?  Check out my post on that topic.

After that top-of-the-fridge test, I wondered just how far gluten might spread if it becomes airborne.  So I did a few more tests to satisfy my curiosity.  I think you’ll find the results of those tests quite interesting!  You can check them out over in the Other Tests section.  But I’ll summarize here by saying I believe that gluten can get airborne, much more frequently than most people realize, and can wind up in places that most people would never dream of.

Hindsight

In hindsight, as I look back on the experience, I can’t figure out why we waited so long to eliminate gluten from our home.  The peace of mind that it has brought has been so worth the effort.  And now that it’s done, I marvel at how much more simple everything is.

Out with the Old

Prior to de-glutenizing, we always had to remember to wash hands, utensils, countertops, or cookware after preparing or coming into contact with a gluten-containing food item.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve prepared a “gluteny” sandwich, and then proceeded to make a gluten-free sandwich without thinking to wash my hands in-between.  Generally, I would catch myself partway through preparation of the gluten-free sandwich, but what can you do at that point?  Two words: TRASH CAN.

Since our de-glutenization, I’ve not had to worry about that.  I don’t have to worry about whether someone thoroughly washed the pancake griddle after the last batch of “gluteny” pancakes.  Not to mention the waffle iron!  Have you ever tried to thoroughly wash a waffle iron well enough to remove gluten?  I don’t think it’s possible.  But if it is possible, that’s a half-hour of your life you’ll never get back!

Sharing space with gluten-containing and gluten-free foods in the fridge and freezer can also pose a big hazard.  We used to make a batch of gluten containing pancakes and a separate batch of gluten-free pancakes. Then we would put them into separate freezer bags and label the gluten-free pancakes. In one instance, the gluten-containing pancakes accidentally got marked as gluten-free.  My wife saw the marking, warmed up a pancake and dove in.  After the first bite she thought it tasted too much like a “real” pancake, but she proceeded to eat about half of it. At that point, she started to feel sick and realized it was too good to be true.  She knew she had been glutened. She spent the next three hours in the bathroom in sheer agony, and the next few weeks trying to fully recover from the unfortunate incident. Since we made the switch to a gluten-free kitchen, she hasn’t had to worry about this dreadful mix-up happening again.

At Peace in a Gluten-Free Environment

And you know what?  To top it all off, I really don’t miss the gluteny food.  Now, if we had done this back in 2003, I think I would have struggled.  But in 2019, there is a lot of really good gluten-free food available!  And a lot of great recipes to make delicious gluten-free meals from scratch. That’s not to say I no longer like or eat gluteny food.  I’ll still eat a fast-food hamburger on occasion if I’m traveling or something like that.  But it’s not like I sit at home salivating over the thought of that yummy, tasty gluten.  I’m perfectly content, and much more at peace, knowing that my food choices are not inflicting great harm on those I love.

Are you gluten-sensitive, but living in a gluten-containing household?  Or do you have a gluten-sensitive person living in your gluten-containing household?  If so, I encourage you to consider the potential benefits of cleaning house.  The health benefits for you and/or your loved-ones simply should not be dismissed.  And I think if you give it an earnest try, you may find, like me, that it’s much easier than you think.

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