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

Ikea Kitchen

If you've just been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you'll likely be living with, and sharing a kitchen with, others who eat gluten.

However, that means you'll have the potential to be in daily close contact with various gluten products ... and their crumbs. It also means you'll need to keep close tabs on everything in the kitchen since it's easy to make a mistake and pick up the wrong item to use or eat.

Sadly, 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, and gluten seems to have a way of spreading itself around.

It is possible to share a kitchen if you need to be gluten-free, but both you and everyone else who uses that kitchen will need to follow some strict rules to keep you safe. A shared kitchen will only work if everyone in the household is completely on board with the goal of keeping you healthy and away from gluten.

Banish Gluten Items to One Corner of the Kitchen

The most successful shared kitchen arrangements don't segregate the gluten-free foods and cooking tools, instead, they segregate the gluten foods and cooking tools.

Put another way: In your new shared kitchen, foods that contain gluten and the cooking tools used with them should occupy one corner and stay in that corner, while the rest of the kitchen is gluten-free. That way, crumbs and other gluten residue remain in one area of the kitchen, and you can avoid that area.

To make this work, choose an area of the kitchen for the gluten foods that are relatively removed from the rest of the work areas. 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.

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.

One last note: 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.

Sharing a Refrigerator

The ideal situation for a shared kitchen would be separate refrigerators, one for the 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, practically no one I know has space for two refrigerators, so the odds are good that you'll need to share a refrigerator with some gluten foods.

In order to make this work, you should designate the top shelf as entirely gluten-free, no other foods can be placed on that shelf (and since no foods will be above yours, no crumbs can drift down onto your foods, either).

More importantly, you'll need to mark all of your foods, especially jars and other containers of condiments such as butter, mayonnaise, mustard, and jelly, with a prominent sign indicating that they're gluten-free.

Next, you'll have to educate everyone in the house that they cannot use your condiments as part of a meal that includes gluten. Again, it takes a minuscule amount of gluten to spark a reaction, one unseen crumb in the jam is more than enough to 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!), and you'll also have to educate everyone to own up to their mistakes, if someone accidentally uses your gluten-free butter on his gluten bread, he needs to tell you that the butter no longer is safe for you to use.

Sharing a 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.

First, you'll need 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 known.

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. 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 segregate by color, for example, use a blue sponge and scrubbie for gluten-free dishes, and a yellow sponge and scrubbie for gluten dishes.

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.

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

Make A Decision Based on Health, Not on Convenience

Not everyone following the gluten-free diet finds they can successfully share a kitchen with people who eat gluten. I've seen many cases where the person couldn't shake off symptoms until other family members agreed to ditch the gluten. I also know from experience that I cannot share a kitchen without getting continual low-level symptoms and frequent mystery glutenings.

However, you may not have a choice, you may live with family members who refuse to go gluten-free at home, or you may share a house or an apartment with roommates and feel that you can't restrict what they eat (it's their home too, after all).

If that's the case, try these rules for several months. If you still feel as if you're experiencing too many symptoms, you may need to take extreme measures, such as creating a gluten-free kitchen space in another room in the house.

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