If you've just been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may feel overwhelmed with the gluten-free diet and its implications for your life. One of the first things you'll need to do is to make your kitchen gluten-free by cleaning out gluten-containing products and segregating or eliminating gluten-contaminated foods and equipment. The gluten lurking in your kitchen can keep you sick even if you're eating gluten-free, so this is important to ensure your future health. Here are six steps you can take to make your kitchen gluten-free.
1. Throw Away or Give Away Baking Supplies
If you have gluten-containing flour or baking mixes in your kitchen, throw them away or give them away. Handle packages of flour especially carefully to make certain you don't allow any to escape into the air – if you breathe it in and then swallow a tiny bit, you'll be surprised at how sick you can get.
You also should get rid of any opened packages of baking supplies, such as sugar and baking soda. Although these might be fine in their unopened state, opened containers probably have some gluten cross-contamination from your previous baking activities (did you ever share a spoon between flour and sugar?). Even if you decide to share a kitchen with some gluten products (more on making that decision in Is A Shared Kitchen For You?), you should keep gluten flours out of the kitchen from now on. Airborne gluten can make you ill, and flour also can settle on clean surfaces, just waiting to gluten you.
2. Get Rid of Gluten Products or Segregate Them
If you're planning to make your entire kitchen gluten-free, bundle up all of your gluten-containing products, including cereals, crackers, cookies, cakes, breads and anything else that includes wheat, barley or rye in the ingredients list. (See my article on What Foods Contain Gluten? for more information on what to eliminate.) You can give away anything that's unopened – I donated several large grocery bags of products to a local food bank. Throw the rest away (and don't look back!).
If, on the other hand, you're planning to have a shared kitchen, you should choose a cabinet (ideally, one that's far from your own preferred work area) in which to store gluten-containing products. Keep those products segregated at all times so there's no chance of mixing them up or using them by mistake. Read more on this in How To Set Up A Shared Kitchen on the Gluten-Free Diet
3. Buy a New Toaster for Gluten-Free Bread
If you like toast, you'll need a new toaster, since it's impossible to clean an already-used toaster well enough to make it safe for someone who needs gluten-free bread. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can designate one side of an existing toaster for gluten-free bread and remain uncontaminated – trust me, I've tried this, and it doesn't work.
Several companies make heavy-duty, reusable bags that can allow you to toast your gluten-free bread safely in a toaster also used for gluten bread. These work well when you're traveling and don't have access to a dedicated gluten-free toaster, but buying a new toaster (and making sure your family members know never to use it for gluten bread) remains your best bet long-term. There's more on toasters in Do I REALLY Need A New Toaster?
4. Purchase New Jars of Condiments
Any opened condiments in your refrigerator or cabinets most likely contain some cross-contamination in the form of gluten crumbs, so purchase a full supply of new gluten-free jars, including jam and jellies, mustard, ketchup, peanut butter, margarine and mayonnaise, and anything else you enjoy using.
If you're planning on having a shared kitchen, you'll need to label your jars so that a friend or family member doesn't cross contaminate something inadvertently. Many celiac disease patients report that squeeze bottles work well to avoid cross contamination, but you'll need to train everyone not to touch the tip of the bottle to gluten bread – yes, even something as minor as that potentially can make you sick.
5. Replace Plastic Utensils and Nonstick Pans
Plastic bowls and utensils scratch easily, and these scratches can harbor minute amounts of gluten, no matter how carefully you scrub. The same holds true for nonstick pots and pans. You'll need to replace these or avoid using the ones in your kitchen for gluten-free cooking. If your kitchen has limited space, it can be safe to use stainless steel pans and stainless or glass bowls for both gluten and gluten-free foods as long as you wash them carefully.
Whatever you do, though, buy a new colander – a colander's tiny holes are impossible to clean properly. If in doubt about what to keep and what to discard, check out this guide to gluten-free cookware and utensils.
6. Clean Your Oven to Remove Gluten Residue
Many people don't clean their ovens all that frequently. If you use your oven to bake or toast bread, it likely has plenty of gluten-containing crumbs on the bottom. And if you use your oven to roast meat or cook anything that splatters, the oven walls and racks may have gluten-containing residue on them.
To finish the job of making your kitchen gluten-free, you should clean your oven – that way, you can feel confident placing your new gluten-free pizza directly on the oven rack to cook. Self-cleaning ovens clean at a temperature that should destroy the gluten protein, but if you have a non-self-cleaning oven, you'll have to make sure you scrub everything especially the racks really, really well. Also, make sure to clean the drawer under the oven, since that frequently harbors crumbs.