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Can You Successfully Share A Kitchen?

Learn the Risk of Gluten Cross-Contamination in a Shared Kitchen

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Updated January 15, 2012

Can You Successfully Share A Kitchen?
Getty Images/Simon Winnall

Most people who've just been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity assume that they'll need to share a kitchen with people who eat gluten ... and they may be right. In lots of cases, it's too expensive for the entire family to follow a gluten-free diet, or family members/roommates aren't willing to give up gluten foods.

This article, How to Set Up a Shared Kitchen on the Gluten-Free Diet, explains how to approach kitchen-sharing. But before you make the decision to share a kitchen, you need to consider the factors involved. It's possible to share a kitchen successfully, but it isn't easy ... for anyone involved. You'll need to have the buy-in of everyone in the house to make it work.

Here's a series of questions to ask yourself and the people who live with you:

• Will everyone cooperate to keep my gluten-free foods and workspace free of any gluten foods? In most cases, everyone will answer "yes" to this question — and they'll mean it. But you need to consider the people involved to know whether this will work in practice. For example, if you live with people who are always solicitous of your health and who are very careful, sharing a kitchen might work. If, on the other hand, you live with someone who tends to be a bit careless and absent-minded ... and maybe even a bit of a slob ... the odds of sharing a kitchen successfully drop pretty substantially.

• Do you live with children? Your young children certainly will want to keep you safe from gluten cross-contamination, but they'll have trouble grasping the specifics. In addition, young children tend to be careless about crumbs and about cleaning up after themselves. Older children and teenagers probably can muster the necessary caution ... but only if they're motivated to do so. I recommend having an honest, detailed conversation with your kids about what it will take to share a kitchen — once you see how they react, you can decide whether you think it's practical or not.

• Do you buy most of the food and do most of the cooking? If so, you'll probably be making gluten-free meals for everyone — it's too much work to cook two separate meals, and you raise your risk of cross-contamination if you handle lots of gluten foods. Some families take this approach: they eat all meals gluten-free, but allow a few gluten-based snacks in the house, which are kept in a separate cabinet (not always in the kitchen, either), and which don't need cooking. This can work, especially if the people involved are careful not to trail crumbs throughout the house.

• Are you having trouble controlling your symptoms, even though you're eating strictly gluten-free? Some people simply are more sensitive to gluten than others, and need to be in a gluten-free environment to heal and to achieve good health. I'm one of those people, and you may be, as well — it's not at all uncommon. If you continue to have bad symptoms and seemingly random glutenings while sharing a kitchen, your only alternative may be to live in a gluten-free house.

Family members sometimes resist giving up gluten foods at home. However, there's a good chance some of your relatives need to be gluten-free, along with you. At the very least, they should be tested (see: My close family member was diagnosed. Should I be tested? for more information). In addition, you're not asking them to give up gluten foods entirely — just to give them up at home, in order for you to get healthy again. It seems like a small price to pay.

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