Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A primer on how to feed your food allergic friends

***this is the post I have submitted to purely elizabeth  for their monthly newsletter! As always, this should not be considered medical advice as I am not your medical provider. I am an ambassador for purely elizabeth and they provided the cookie mix mentioned in this article, but it's actually one I use on a regular basis that I purchase myself. ***

After the question, “what can you eat?”, the second most common thing my friends and acquaintances want to know is how to feed me when I come to their homes.  And after a recent poll, this is the question they wanted me to write about next. 

            Recently, I attended a two separate parties at two different friends homes. Both bought gluten free goodies just for me because they are such great friends but in one case I got “glutened” and in the other I didn’t.  What happened? Well, the first friend bought a fruit and veggie tray and the dressing was GF.  I brought GF pretzels and she also bought some GF cookies from a local bakery so I could join in the festivities. Isn’t she so sweet?? I had a little bit of all of the above and had no issues. 

            The second friend bought some packaged GF crackers and chips but the dip she bought was actually from a buffet style service area at the grocery store and the snack mix which consisted of theoretically GF ingredients was also from a self serve granola bar.  Again I had some of everything but this time I had a reaction.  What happened?

            Well, the problem is that when you are dealing with food allergies or a disease such as celiac disease, contamination can be just as much of an issue as actually eating something that contains the offending ingredient.  So things such as bulk dispensers, while sometimes cheaper, pose a significant risk of contamination.  Most people are not aware of this and tongs get used from one item to another without thought to possible contamination.  Even bulk containers that empty at the bottom may be dangerous as they may not always contain the same item and may not be cleaned thoroughly in between.

            Another area of cross contamination occurs in the kitchen. It is always very kind when someone offers me gluten free pasta.  However, if you are using the same colander to drain both GF and regular pasta, it is likely being contaminated. Colanders are notorious for all of their little nooks and crannies, which make great hiding places for remnants of pastas past.  Plastic colanders are the worst.  Plastic and wood utensils are also great hiding places for gluten.  And stoneware baking pans can also harbor leftover gluten.  It can’t be baked away.

            So how do you cook for your friend with out causing them to break out, rash up, run to the bathroom, or turn blue??  First, your best bet is very well scrubbed stainless steel pots and pans and utensils.  And use a clean sponge when washing them!! Sponges harbor all kinds of stuff, including little bits of old food! (kinda gross really…I like to use a clean cloth each day) Plates washed in the dishwasher are fine or plates washed with a clean sponge work too.  New disposable plates and utensils are great, especially for outdoor affairs.

            The next area to pay attention to is the prep area.  The general rule of thumb is to start with a clean surface and prepare the allergen free food first.  This can largely eliminate the possibility of contamination when preparing different foods.  Placing a piece of parchment paper or saran wrap down on the counter can also lessen the chance of contamination.
            My biggest surprise was the coffee pot!  I have one friend who is so highly allergic to hazelnuts that I can’t make her a pot of coffee because I’ve made hazelnut coffee in my coffee maker and any trace of it will cause her to have an anaphylactic reaction.  Prior to my celiac days, I never would have considered that!

            Please also note, if you typically grill your buns or use sauces that contain wheat, such as regular soy sauce, don’t use your grill to cook for someone with wheat sensitivities or celiac disease without first placing at least one layer of tin foil between their food and the grill. 

            So now, what to serve them?  If your friend has celiac disease like me, they can’t have wheat, rye, barley and most oats.  Easy right? Not really because it’s the gluten that is the issue and gluten lurks in all kinds of products you would never suspect!  Canned beef broth? Yep, it’s in there! (my dad got me at Christmas with this one…)  Soy sauce? There too.  Ice cream?  Yes, unfortunately many of them contain gluten.  Flavored coffee?  Very likely.  Amazing isn’t it?

            Now that I’ve scared you, here’s a safe list for those with gluten “issues”(this list is NOT all inclusive):
All fruit
All veggies, including corn
All natural meats that do not contain injected broth, i.e., chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish
Plain rice-white, brown, black, red, etc.
Quinoa (keen-wah)
Plain spices, such as salt and pepper
Fresh herbs and most plain dried herbs (avoid mixes)
Dairy (but some also have lactose intolerance)
Gluten free crackers (such as Crunch Master)
Gluten free cookie mixes (such as purely elizabeth oatmeal cherry chocolate chip – my favorite!) baked on parchment paper

            Your best resources will be your friend and Google!  Ask if they have a favorite recipe they’d like to share. Or, if they are coming to a party, ask if they can bring a GF dish.  Check out the recipes on this website or you can Google your friend’s food sensitivity for a recipe to try.  There are a zillion resources out there.  Most of us are so thrilled that someone would try to accommodate them that we are grateful for all of your efforts.  Ultimately, it’s up to the person with the sensitivity to ensure that what they are eating is safe.  And if it’s a child, it’s the parent’s responsibility.   It does make going out much more pleasant though if others are willing to change what they do so you can enjoy a meal together! So thank you so very much for caring and making the effort to include us at mealtime and celebrations!!