Cross-Contamination Is Dangerous - or Is It?
We've all read it, said it, complained about it...cross contamination between gluten and gluten-free items in a kitchen. We've explained, over and over, to disinterested colleagues, interested chefs, loving friends and even doubting family members, how that one little crumb of gluten from their countertop can cause a full-blown, stomach-exploding, brain-fogging, everything-in-life-sucks celiac reaction.
For more than 25 years, "cross-contamination is dangerous" has been my mantra. And now a recent study seems to cast doubt on whether that's true.
This is not your run-of-the-mill junk testimonial masquerading as science. There are no magic enzymes or detox recipes in the article. Written by experts from the Celiac Program at the Children's National Health System in Washington DC and the Harvard Celiac Disease Program at Boston Children's Hospital, this is genuine science from reputable scientists.
You can read the details for yourself. The study, published in the respected journal Gastroenterology, evaluates 3 different scenarios for the risks of cross-contamination. We've all experienced these situations: Toasters in hotels. Pasta in restaurants. Cake at picnics, parties or the office pot luck.
My first thought was "excellent, these are real-life scenarios!" (Well, except for the ones where they slice cupcakes. Slicing means sharing and if I've gone to the effort to bake the darn thing, I'm not giving part of it away!).
The results show that, with the exception of making gluten-free pasta in the same water used to make gluten pasta, we're actually pretty safe in all the scenarios. And yet, I still don't believe it.
The authors note that the study was small, that the tested samples were actually taken from a mix of the repetitions of each scenario (so-called "homogenized sampling"), and that they could have used a better test that would have detected hydroyzed gluten. They also noted that more studies are needed - a point with which I agree 100%. I want to know, for sure, how safe is safe enough.
The lived experience of thousands of celiacs disagrees with these findings. Yes, good science is about fact, not anecdote. But when the science is preliminary and the anecdotes overwhelmingly disagree, I need more data to be convinced.
I agree with Drs McDonald and Kupfer of The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, who wrote in response to the article, "It would be premature to recommend changes to current precautionary culinary practices based on this provocative, but preliminary study...The goal is to establish evidence-based food preparation practices that minimize gluten cross-contact with the broader goal of reducing the burden on celiac disease patients without sacrificing safety."
Frankly, I'm still playing it safe. What are you doing?