How to Set Up a Shared Kitchen on the Gluten-Free Diet

Ikea Kitchen
Ikea

If you've been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity and you live and share a kitchen with others who eat gluten, you are probably worried about your health and safety. Unless you take measures to separate gluten foods and utensils from gluten-free ones, you could put yourself in daily close contact with various gluten products—and their crumbs.

Unfortunately, the gluten cross-contamination that can result from a shared kitchen has the potential to slow your recovery and impact your health. Remember, the amount of gluten that can make you sick is microscopic, so it doesn't take much to trigger a reaction.

By putting some strict rules and guidelines in place, however, it is possible to safely share a kitchen with others even though you're gluten-free.

Separate Gluten and Gluten-Free Items

A shared kitchen will only work if everyone in the household is on board with the goal of keeping you safe and away from gluten. You will need to keep close tabs on everything in the kitchen since it's easy to make a mistake and pick up the wrong utensil to use or item eat.

The most successful shared kitchen arrangements don't separate gluten-free foods and cooking tools. Instead, they designate one area of the kitchen as a gluten containment zone while the rest of the kitchen is gluten-free.

Foods that contain gluten and the cooking tools used with them should occupy one area of the kitchen, while the rest of the kitchen is designated gluten-free. That way, crumb, and other gluten residue remain in one area of the kitchen, and you can avoid that area.

Designate the Gluten Zone

Choose an area of the kitchen that is relatively removed from the rest of the kitchen. Ideally, this gluten area would have cabinet space (both for foods and for cooking tools) along with counter space for preparing foods and for countertop appliances, such as a toaster.

Get Everyone on Board

Once you've chosen it, make sure everyone in the house understands that they cannot work with gluten foods anywhere but this space. Obviously, they're allowed to bring gluten food on plates to eat at the table, but they also need to watch out for crumbs and clean up after themselves.

Note that you absolutely cannot have gluten flours in your kitchen, even if they're restricted to your "gluten space," since inhaling airborne gluten can make you sick.

How to Share the Refrigerator

The ideal situation for a shared kitchen would be separate refrigerators, one for gluten-containing foods and one that's gluten-free. That way, you can't possibly pick up the "wrong" bottle of ketchup or a questionable container of yogurt. Of course, this is not a practical solution for many people, so the odds are that you'll need to share a refrigerator with some gluten foods. Here's how you do it:

  • Designate the top shelf as entirely gluten-free. This means no other foods can be placed on that shelf. Since no foods will be above yours, no crumbs can drift down onto your foods, either.
  • Mark all of your gluten-free foods. This is especially important for jars and other containers of condiments such as butter, mayonnaise, mustard, and jelly.
  • Educate everyone in the house. Everyone in your household must be aware that they cannot use your condiments as part of a meal that includes gluten.

All it takes a minuscule amount of gluten to spark a reaction—one unseen crumb in the jam could result in a glutening that produces a day's worth (or more) of symptoms for you. Even touching the tip of a squeeze bottle to gluten bread could lead to a reaction.

Mistakes will happen, of course—especially if you have kids in the house. That's why you'll also have to educate everyone to own up to their mistakes. If someone accidentally uses your gluten-free butter on their gluten bread, they need to tell you that the butter no longer is safe for you to use.

Using a Shared Kitchen Sink

You'd think it would be perfectly safe to share a kitchen sink, after all, your goal here is to get the dishes clean, right? Well, yes—but you still can risk potential glutenings from a shared kitchen sink unless you take steps to avoid them.

Designate Your Own Sponge

If you take a close look at a used kitchen sponge, you'll see it harbors all sorts of food debris. Even if you wash it out carefully, food particles stick to it—and gluten is one of the stickiest substances around.

The same goes for scrubbies or anything else you use to clean dishes, get new ones for yourself and keep them separate. It can help to separate by color, for example, use a blue sponge and scrubbie for gluten-free dishes, and a yellow sponge and scrubbie for gluten dishes.

You don't want to contaminate your plates, pans, and other utensils as you're trying to clean them, so use your own sponge and keep it someplace separate from the "community" sponge.

As with the refrigerator and the separate gluten area of the kitchen, you'll need to teach everyone else in the house not to use your sponge and scrubbie. If they accidentally use the wrong sponge (i.e., clean off a gluten plate with your gluten-free sponge), then they need to fess up and replace the sponge with a fresh one. It only takes once to gluten you.

Get Your Own Dish Towels

You'll also need your own dish towels. People frequently wipe their hands on a dishtowel (possibly after eating a gluten-containing sandwich) or use the towel to clean off the counter (think: gluten crumbs). Choose a color for your own gluten-free dish towels and educate everyone in the house not to use that color towel.

A Word From Verywell

Not everyone following the gluten-free diet finds they can successfully share a kitchen with people who eat gluten. Some people who are especially sensitive may still continue to experience low-level symptoms and mystery glutenings despite their efforts to keep foods and utensils separate. Others may have difficulty getting everyone in their household on board.

Try these rules for several months. If you still feel as if you're experiencing too many symptoms, you may need to take more extreme measures, such as creating a gluten-free kitchen space in another room in the house. Remember, your health and safety should always be a top priority.

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