I was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease 5 years ago and I believe that I have had the cross-contamination talk 1001 times. 95% of these conversations have been with my father-in-law, I love him, but he just still doesn’t get it.
I always have this conversation in late August-early September as our youngest son heads to school with his peanut allergy. Side note: his first grade teacher moved to second grade this year and he is in her class. BONUS!!!!! So this year, just a quick reminder about birthday treats and we are good to go!
But I have had the cross contamination conversation at least once a week at work since January. I have to give a few of my co-workers credit, they get it and they always apologize when they are eating donuts, cookies or Kit-Kats. They know why I always order online or just bring my lunch. However, I have explained the crumb concept so many times, I have gotten pretty good at it.
One day this summer, my manager wanted to grill over lunch and brought “Cowboy” burgers, a pre-made patty from the meat department. Fortunately he was considerate and got me a regular burger and was even thoughtful enough to cook mine first. Why? To avoid cross contamination on the grill and the utensils. One of my colleagues asked why was I fed first, because I was a girl? Because I was their favorite (maybe), but seriously, I told him “cross-contamination”. He didn’t get it, and wanted to know: “So what if they touch. Are you that sensitive?” Yep. A simple crumb or bit of seasoning that has MSG added to it can send me to the couch for a few days and to the bathroom more times than I would like to say.
The easiest cross contamination example is best when we think of what happens when we dump a new bag of flour into a container. Think about it, no matter how careful you are, no matter how slow you pour the flour from the bag to the container, it gets everywhere. I know you have that picture in your head of the thin layer of flour dust on the counter. It is on every possible surface and it sits in every crack. The thought makes my stomach turn. The true definition of cross contamination is a fancy name for bacteria on one thing getting onto another thing via direct contact. In the foodie world, one of the things usually tends to be a knife or a cutting board, and the other thing is food.
Consider what happens with a simple dinner roll. You know, those crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, sometimes warm rolls you get before your salad and meal. You rip them apart, sending crumbs every-which-way, so you can dip it in olive oil and parmesan cheese. Think of the shower of crumbs, they are everywhere. You know, you find them in your lap, down your shirt and in your purse. Cross contamination. Sadly, for me, one of those in my salad, can make me sick.
Think of the little boy down the street who has a peanut allergy. You made chocolate chip cookies, no nuts. You’re good, right? Except, you made peanut butter cookies the day before and you used the same cooling rack and oven mitt that may have gotten in the peanut butter batter or has crumbs on it still? No Bueno. For an allergy that produces an anaphylactic response, this can be deadly. That is why moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents, read labels always, ask if things are made on shared surfaces.
Here in Rochester, our local restaurants are very well versed with food allergies and medical conditions. You can even dine out in downtown Rochester the night before needing to fast for a procedure and avoid specific vitamins, minerals and nutrient because of blood work (Thank you Mayo Clinic) and still eat a great meal? Many have gluten free menus but you have to tell the server to tell the manager, who will then tell the chef to cook your meal on a new or separate surface. There is always risk, but at least there are options amidst growing awareness!
Hands down best place to eat in Rochester with a food allergy? Twig’s. It a great little place with a great patio that has it’s own Gluten Free kitchen! The menu is huge and my entire family loves to eat there. The best part- bread! Yes, I too get warm gluten free bread, that they serve to everyone at the table.
I hope this sheds light onto why all of us crazy food allergy people are so careful, ask the questions we ask, and bring our own food. Cross contamination is a real and potentially dangerous thing, but I might be a little bit crazy too!