Safely Cooking With Allergies: Preventing Food Cross Contamination

food cross contamination

When you or someone in your family develops food allergies- or even when you’re hosting guests- a couple of questions tend to pop into your head. I hope that one of them is “how do I prevent food cross contamination?” or “how do I prevent exposing him/her/myself/them to the allergen?” The most obvious answer is “don’t serve it”. Sometimes, however, that isn’t a viable answer. For one, I really love cheese and couldn’t 100% give it up when my son developed a dairy allergy.

More importantly, my children have conflicting food allergies: my son is allergic to dairy and my daughter is allergic to legumes, including soy. If you’ve looked into dairy substitutes, the majority are soy-based. It’s quite the predicament, feeding the family and keeping everyone safe. Read on for my methodology and recommendations to prevent cross contamination, or cross-contact. This happens when an allergen is accidentally transferred from one food to another.

One caveat, however: if there is only one allergen in your house, and especially if contact with the skin will cause anaphylaxis, just don’t bring it into the house- the risk isn’t worth it.

My Approach to Preventing Food Cross Contamination

When I began developing a plan for how to safely cook with all of our allergies, a kosher kitchen was the first idea that came to mind. In my early twenties a boyfriend brought me to his orthodox Aunt Karen’s house on Long Island to celebrate her 50th birthday…. a house that had a proper kosher kitchen. This isn’t a tutorial on kosher kitchens, because there’s a lot that goes into it and I’m no expert. (you can learn more here if you’re interested). But, I do know that, among other things, a tenant of a kosher kitchen is that all meat and dairy are separate… I mean everything.

2 sinks, 2 refrigerators, 2 ovens, 2 sets of utensils and plates- you get the picture. So when my children developed their conflicting allergies, I immediately thought of Aunt Karen. Do I have a proper kosher kitchen- heavens no. However, I borrowed a fundamental tenant: separate as much as possible. I call it my Allergy Kosher Kitchen.

Implementing the Allergy Kosher Kitchen: Supplies for Smart Cooking

To implement the allergy kosher kitchen, the tenants remain the same: have separate plates, utensils and pots/ pans for use on allergen foods. This concept works if you have multiple food allergies in your life, or just one. When you have multiple, conflicting allergies in the house, extrapolate the same principles and apply a third set of utensils. In our house, we have 3 categories:

  1. Safe for everyone
  2. Contains/ Used with Dairy
  3. Contains/ Used with Nuts and Legumes

Lets start with the act of cooking. I have three sets of cooking spoons/ spatulas/ serving spoons, one for each category. The different categories are color coded: red is used with dairy, grey is used with nuts and legumes, wooden spoons are safe for all. There’s a method to not only the color coding (easy to remember, obviously), but also to the designation. The red and grey spoons are both dishwasher safe, to ensure that they’re properly cleaned since I do use the same drawer. Wooden spoons are hand-washed, and therefore need to touch only safe food. I fell in love with these Williams Sonoma spoons when my son was a baby. I found similar ones on Amazon when I had to accommodate my daughter’s conflicting allergies.

As for serving, I’ve simply assigned each child a color. These Target plates are the best I’ve found: they are cheap, BPA free, microwave and dishwasher safe, come in colors that kids like, and even have matching bowls. It’s very boring and traditional of me, but I just assigned gender-based colors, because 7 years ago, they didn’t have all of the options that they do now…. so my son gets blue and my daughter gets pink. The older kids selected purple for the baby. Same premise goes for cups and silverware.

food cross contamination

Implementing the Allergy Kosher Kitchen: Practical Considerations & Effective Cleaning

When it comes to cooking, I try to leverage cutting boards and mixing bowls that can go in the dishwasher to ensure proper washing. However, when I was in my twenties, I broke out in hives because I cooked in a pan that the last “chef” had cooked scallops in (oh yeah, did I fail to mention that I also have a food allergy?). Where possible, stick to using designated pans for each allergy. The only time I use nuts or legumes is as an add-on for those that are not allergic (beans on the side), so I don’t need designated pans for that. We do have a designated pot and baking dish for dairy products- and those can go into the dishwasher if needed.

But what about if you can’t have a designated item and you can’t put things into the dishwasher? Let’s be honest, multiple sets of pots and pans are expensive, and take up too much space- it’s just not realistic. What about small electronics, like the air fryer? For certain small electronics, I’ve lined with parchment or foil to avoid the allergen physically touching the bottom of the pan. Again- that’s not always possible. This is where it comes down to a little extra work, and being smart about things.

Here are the tips that we’ve implemented: Wash the items. Wash them well, and then wash them a second time. Then toss the sponge. It doesn’t do you any good if you then wash the next item with a potentially contaminated sponge. Effective cleaning is the simplest way to keep your family safe. The kitchen table is the same concept: designated seats and anti-bacterial spray after every meal.

Preventing Food Cross Contamination: The Cliff Notes Version

  • Color-code cooking items, like spoons and spatulas
  • Color-code dishes, cups and utensils for eating. Designate a color per person
  • Try to use prep bowl, utensils and cutting boards that can go in the dishwasher for effective cleaning
  • Where possible, designate “allergy free” or “allergy use” pots and pans
  • Practice effective cleaning techniques, including: re-washing items, discarding contaminated sponges and using anti bacterial spray on tables after every meal

*** The recommendations provided here are based on my experience and not intended to serve as medical advise. Always discuss with your medical provider.

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