Saturday, September 02, 2006

The hidden risks in your own kitchen

Once we’d confirmed that food was the main culprit in my health problems, the kitchen became a very important place. I could no longer eat out. It was too risky. There was no “Oh rats, I burned dinner. Lets order pizza.” A burnt dinner meant dinner was a little on the crunchy side. And maybe a little extra dessert.

We also learned the hard way how important it was to clean out the kitchen and start new.

At first, I thought it would be okay to slowly weed out the things I couldn’t use. I tried to foist oatmeal off on the kids, but kept getting “just a little” sick each time I made it. I made cookies for the bake sale, thinking it was fine as long as I didn’t taste any. And managed to drop them off at the bake sale before high tailing it home to be near my own bath room.

My husband made rice. He stirred it with a wooden spoon and served to me before seasoning his own. I spent the rest of the night hugging a heating pad.

What went wrong? The problem is simply a matter of *cross contamination*. When baking with flour, have you ever noticed those cute little white smudges that appear on nose and cheeks, or little flour hand prints where you wipe your hands? Well, a few flecks of flour never hurt anyone who can eat the end product. Even if the flecks end up on a clean glass, or in a water cup, or transferred back to your hands when you dry them off before grabbing an apple, they are harmless. But, if you have celiac disease…or are allergic to the wheat or the corn in the vitamins used to enrich the wheat, those flecks of flour are dangerous.

For the newly diagnosed, there are many dangers lurking in the kitchen. When baking, I used to often use the same measuring spoons in all of my dry ingredients. Flour and sugar get mixed in the bowl, why not use the same measuring cup? But when I went gluten free…my 5 lb bag of sugar attacked me. Last time I had made cookies, I’d measured out the flour, then dipped the cup into the sugar. Likewise…many spices contained traces of baking powder (which contains corn starch). All opened baking ingredients had to go.

Another potential hazard comes from seasoned non stick bakeware. The lovely flavor that cast iron skillets are prized for comes from the foods that have been previously cooked in them. And why can’t you scrub them with soap? Because if you do, the food prepared in them later will taste of soap. For the general public, it’s a matter of taste. For those with food allergies, it’s a health hazard.

Anything porous is dangerous. Ever look very closely at a wooden spoon? They have all sorts of lovely nooks and crannies. Perfect spots for grains of flour, particles of corn syrup, or a bit of baking powder to hide. And be released later into a big pot of soup or stew. Pre used wooden utensils must go.

A great guide to de-contaminating the kitchen (This was designed for people with celiacs, but works for other food allergies as well) is found here: How To De-Contaminate the Kitchen.

And a list of potential sources of cross contamination: (again, written with celiacs in mind, but a good basic guideline) : Cross-Contamination: Potential Issues.


Von said...

I never use wooden spoons, so I'd never have thought about it.

But I cleaned my kitchen of corn, the day I was making a brownie mix (with corn ingredients) for my husband and I unthinkingly licked my finger clean.

Sometimes you just have to make your kitchen "oops" proof. Besides it makes it safer for you, should you be unable to cook yourself and someone else has to take over. Least that way, you (and the cook) know that what's in your kitchen is safe for you and won't make you more ill.

Even if all they manage to feed you is peanut butter and crackers.

purple_kangaroo said...

I wish we could go completely allergy-free in my kitchen, but it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile, we're attempting to have separate butter and jam so no contaminated crumbs get into what Baby E and I are eating.

I frequently barely stop myself from licking a spoon or a finger, and I've had to make new batches of things because I accidentally put some salt from the salt shaker into them--that sort of thing. It's so frustrating. We had people over for dinner last week and they brought a main dish that I couldn't have, which I had said was fine--Baby E and I just ate something else. But then they were dishing it out across the food I had made that we could have, and dipping into it with spoons that had the non-safe sauce dripped on them, that sort of thing.

I don't know how to handle that sort of situation. We have a pot luck once a week with several other families and I don't want to try to make everyone cook everything corn-free.

Von said...

I fortunately have a very cooperative husband when it comes to my food allergies. He actually feels guilty for eating his corn-chocolates in front of me.

There are a few things that aren't corn-free that are his. Lunchmeat. He has his own mayo and ketchup as he eats a lot of sandwiches during the week (breakfast & lunch) that buying the cheaper mayo and ketchups just make financial sense.

However, those are the few things that are corn, but they are not used otherwise. All spices, salts, flours, baking mixes, baking powder, powdered sugars, oils, etc are corn-free.

As for the double dipping thing with contaminated spoons.. Well, I don't have a lot of tact. I try, but I don't. So anyone who would be invited over would be advised/educated in cross-contamination, or I'd have a separate plate made for myself pre-plated before dinner began. If I saw someone putting a dirty or contaminated spoon into something allergy-free, I would likely scold them (as tactfully as possible). And if someone attempted to dish across my allergy-free dish, they'd soon find me either moving the allergy-free dish out of their way, being told to "pass the dish", or me getting up and "serving" them the dish they wanted as if I was their mother.

But then, I am not known for my tact in such situations.

McRanchers said...

I was not aware that the vitamins in flour came from corn... Does anyone have any links or further information on avoiding things like this? It's just so hard to figure this all out!