Make your House a Safe Zone

When first going gluten-free, there are several issues with having any gluten-containing products in your home that may range from annoying to really serious depending on your level of sensitivity.  Keep in mind that if you have any gluten-containing products in your home, you have what is known as “cross-contamination.”

That means that the gluten in your roommate’s sandwich travels!

  • It travels to the kitchen counter, tabletop, or any other surface it touches directly.
  •  It travels to the knife used to cut it and the plate it was eaten from, which may come completely clean in a working dishwasher.  An older, imperfectly working dishwasher can simply re-deposit the crumbs onto all the dishes washed in the same load, including those you eat from.
  • It travels to the rug, couch cushions, chair, and other surfaces over which it is eaten.
  • Because the person making the sandwiches handled the bag, which your roommate then touched, it may have traveled to every doorknob used to enter the house.
  • Unless your roommate immediately washes their hands with hot water and soap after eating the sandwich, it travels to every surface they touch (including the sink taps, chair arms, remote control for the TV, handle for the fridge, the two-liter of soda, etc.).
  • If your roommate washes their hands but then touches their mouth without realizing it, the gluten then travels to all the places listed above.
  • If your roommate stores the sandwich leftovers in the fridge, it can leave gluten from the wrapper on the fridge shelf or drop crumbs onto items below.
  • If your roommate is also your romantic partner, they can spread the gluten by kissing any part of your face or hands, unless you wash that spot immediately afterwards with soap and water (if they kiss your mouth, there’s no hope).

Do I really need to be this careful!?

If you’re not gluten-sensitive, or only mildly sensitive, this probably sounds pretty paranoid.  In most cases, people in the house simply need to be careful to wipe up crumbs and not share dishes or drinking glasses.  If you are very gluten-sensitive, though, then this might sound familiar.

I know of one woman who got sick every weekend and couldn’t figure out what she was still eating that had gluten.  It turned out that she became sick every weekend when her grandchildren visited, because they had crumbs on their clothing and gluten traces on their face when they kissed her. Simply having the children change clothes and wash their hands and faces on arrival was enough to keep her safe.

I started paying close attention in our house, and realized my partner was regularly sick after “game night,” when visitors ate gluten in the house and then touched shared surfaces such as dice, pencils, and paper.  When we started providing gluten-free snacks and asked people to not bring gluten-containing food, he stopped getting sick after game night.

What can I do?

Consider making your house a gluten-free zone, if at all possible.  I know that you have little control over unrelated roommates, but you may be able to claim a section of cupboard and fridge as your own, maintain your own dishes and tableware, and hand-wash them with your own sponges and towels.

If you host parties or have friends over, provide the food yourself and ask them to chip in to cover the cost, or invite a few over early to prepare food from what you have available.  If you can trust your guests to take care, teach them how to shop for gluten-free items.  They may not want to prepare things in their gluten-filled kitchen, but they may be happy to pick up gluten-free chips, soda, or fresh fruit to contribute.

If you are in a home with family or partner(s), talk to them about the danger to you from cross contamination.  There are so many good gluten-free substitutes and recipes out there these days that it is easier than ever on the people who must go gluten-free to support a loved one.  There are also so many unsafe spaces for the gluten-sensitive that your own home should not be one of them.

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