Is It Safe to Cook with Gluten Ingredients If You're Gluten-Free?

baking bread
Is this safe if you're gluten-free?. Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

Lots of people — particularly parents who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity but whose children are not gluten-free — want to know if they can use gluten ingredients in food they aren't planning to eat themselves.

I've also heard from newly-diagnosed people who work in restaurants or even in bakeries, and who want to know if they can keep their jobs now that they can't eat the food they're preparing.

So is it safe to cook with gluten ingredients when you need to be gluten-free yourself? In some cases, yes, it is safe (although it depends pretty heavily on how careful you are). In many other cases, though, no, it's not safe at all.

More on where you'll find gluten in food products:

So What Is Safe for Me to Use?

Let's start with what you shouldn't do, and work down to what might be okay:

  • Gluten-based flour: unsafe under any circumstances. The flour inevitably will get in the air and ultimately into your nose, throat and digestive tract, leading to a nasty glutening. It doesn't matter if you're making homemade bread with multiple cups of flour or just using a tablespoon of the stuff to thicken gravy — any exposure to flour is extremely likely to make you sick. Mixes for gluten-based baked goods are unsafe, too, for the same reasons. (Sadly, this also means that if you work in a bakery, you'll need to find another job.) Learn more: Can I get symptoms by inhaling airborne gluten?
  • Boiling gluten-based pasta: sometimes safe but sometimes unsafe. Some people find they don't have a problem boiling up a pot of conventional spaghetti alongside a pot of gluten-free spaghetti, while others (like me) report that it gets them every time. If you do decide to cook gluten-based pasta for other people, make sure you carefully segregate your cooking utensils (otherwise, it's just too easy to stick the wrong spoon into your pot). Also, position the gluten-y pot so that it cannot possibly splatter into anything you plan to eat. And whatever you do, don't taste the conventional pasta to see if it's done. Learn more: How To Set Up A Shared Kitchen
  • Making sandwiches with regular bread: usually safe, so long as you wash your hands carefully afterwards. Although some people find the smell of bread makes them feel sick or even nauseated, the odor itself can't actually gluten you. The crumbs can make you sick, however, so be particularly careful to keep them corralled — and remember not to stick a cross-contaminated knife into your gluten-free condiment jars. I'd also avoid any "artisan-style" breads with flour coatings on the crust, since it doesn't take much airborne flour to get you. Learn more: Can you get glutened just by smelling bread?
  • Sauces or other ingredients that have just a little bit of gluten in them: safe. You don't need to worry about using a splash of conventional wheat-based soy sauce or a dollop of gluten-containing mustard in something you're preparing for other people. As with the other situations above, just make sure not to taste it accidentally or to let it splatter into something you're cooking for yourself. Learn more: Is A Shared Kitchen for You?

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