For parents of kids who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, preventing any exposure to gluten is a daily worry when even a tiny amount of gluten-containing food can make their child seriously ill. As a result, the vast majority of these families maintain a second set of cooking utensils and equipment to prevent the transfer of gluten via food preparation.
However, a recent study conducted at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., shows that this labor-intensive and costly step may not be necessary. After testing several different scenarios thought to pose a high risk of gluten transfer, researchers there found that no significant amount of transfer occurred during common food preparation tasks.
Amounts of gluten greater than 20 parts per million [ppm] are considered high enough to pose a risk, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations allow foods with less than that amount to be labeled “gluten-free.”
In the first two situations researchers tested – toasting both types of bread in the same toaster and cutting both types of cupcakes with the same knife – amounts of gluten transfer did not exceed the 20 ppm threshold. In the third, cooking gluten-free pasta in the same water as regular pasta, significant gluten transfer did occur, but dropped below 20 ppm when the gluten-free pasta was rinsed under running water after cooking. If the pasta pot was rinsed with fresh water before it was reused, no gluten was detected.
“So many celiac parents, including me, have taken every precaution to prevent a gluten exposure in our homes. In many cases that means having two of everything, with little or no hard evidence showing we needed to,” says Vanessa Weisbrod, executive director of the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National, who led the study. “Though the sample is small, this study gives me hope that someday soon we’ll have empirical evidence to reassure the families we work with that their best defense is not two kitchens – it’s simply a good kitchen and personal hygiene.”