Cross Contamination: Preventing It

website contamination

“Don’t kiss a boy with your mouth open.  Boys have germs.”

It was the summer before I was slated to begin my first year at college when my mother decided to have “the talk” with me.   What I was expecting, I really don’t know, but the statements above were not it.

I wisely refrained from telling my mother that I had already violated her late-coming mandate, and only later, with my friends, did I laugh about the “cooties” theory of relationships.  I knew my mother meant well, and having been raised in an entirely different time and culture, she had no way of knowing that my modern American teenage life was unlike her Korean childhood.

Contamination concerns

I realized, as well, that my mother simply wanted to protect me as I left home to begin my “independent” life.  She cared, and I was glad she did.

In the same way, people tend to care about and be protective of family members who have food allergies.  They worry about possible cross-contamination, and since cross-contamination can be a matter of life or death for some folks, it’s definitely worthy of thought and concern. The two concerns most people have are that they might accidentally contaminate food being served or that they think it’s difficult to prevent such a thing from occurring.

Some Tips

My personal tips, though, are:

1.  Don’t stress! Avoiding cross contamination is not difficult.  You just need to be pro-active.

2.  If the allergies in the family are severe, keeping two separate sets of cooking utensils and pots or pans is one way method to use.  Have different styles and colors of each so you can easily identify which ones you use for regular cooking and which ones you use for the allergy cooking.   So, for example when I make eggs for the rest of the family using a little bit of butter (which they prefer), I have a larger egg pan which I use to make their eggs.  On the burner next to theirs I use a smaller pan to make my egg which I usually cook with olive oil.

3.  Another thing you can do either in conjunction with or instead of having two separate utensils and pans for everything is simply to wash things in hot water and soap in between the uses. Whenever I’m cooking for someone with a peanut allergy which happens to be one of the few food allergies no one in our family currently has, I first wash everything I’m going to use for baking or cooking in hot, soapy water and dry them with a clean fresh towel even before I begin cooking. Numerous studies have shown that any contaminating residue from what you’ve cooked before is definitely washed away with a good scrubbing in hot, soapy water.

4. A third method you can utilize is to invest in parchment paper which I use all the time. It’s great because you can line your cookie sheet or insert it in your tube pan or put it on your casserole dish for any cooking or baking and then simply remove it, which keeps the food from contaminating your pans.  During the holidays when I have to bake all sorts of different items — gluten free, egg free, sugar free, nut free, etc… — along with traditional baked goods, the parchment paper comes in very handy as I simply remove and reline with each different goodie I’m baking.

Chocolate Chip Bars


2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour or 2 cups Authentic Foods gluten free blend

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup soy free Earth Balance “butter”

3/4 cup Agave

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line a 11 x 17 x 1 inch cookie sheet with parchment paper slightly larger than the pan, so the ends hang off.

3.  Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together.  Set aside.

4.  In a mixer, cream the butter until smooth.

5.  Slowly pour the Agave into the butter with the mixer mixing on low speed until the Agave is completely incorporated into the butter.

6.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each addition.

7.  Add the vanilla.

8.  Slowly add the flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing on low until all the flour is incorporated.

9.  Add the chocolate chips.

10.  Carefully spread the batter into the pan, using a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is evenly spread throughout the entire pan.

11.  Bake for about 20 minutes until the batter is golden and puffed.

12.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  (This stores well by simply covering it tightly with plastic wrap or foil.)


Making the Changes


Look how far I’ve come with my split, Mommy!”

My middle daughter is a dancer. Not only does she look exactly like a dancer with her natural rail thin length and long, muscular legs and arms, she walks and moves with the grace of a dancer, too. In addition, she acts like a dancer, always thinking in terms of music and dance moves. Since she also likes children as well, it’s no wonder that she wants to be a dance teacher when she grows up.

As such, at almost 13, she’s already begun taking the steps she deems necessary to accomplishing her career goal. She’s taking a variety of dance classes so she can be accomplished in different types of dance. She’s working on her splits and stretches so she can be as flexible as she needs to be to dance, and she’s making plans to be a student aide in the preschool dance classes when she begins her first year of high school.

Step by step, little by little, with achievable goals, my daughter is doing what she needs to follow the course she’s set out for herself.

Adapting to Dietary Changes

Learning how to cook, bake and eat healthier and/or within the confines of dietary restrictions or allergies is just as achievable in the same way through many little changes in habit along the way which lead ultimately to a different eating and cooking lifestyle.

Sometimes a health issue leads to a radical change in diet – a heart attack, a diagnosis of diabetes, a severe allergic reaction to a type of food – which can be a source of frustration, especially if you’ve been eating a certain way for a large part of your life. The instinct is to simply change everything all at once, which can just set you up for disaster.

What’s key to remember is that changing your eating and cooking habits should be viewed as another lesson you’re learning in life. Being able to balance and ride your first bicycle as a child didn’t happen overnight. Neither did you jump into a lake and swim its length your first time out. So, if you’re learning to eat gluten free or with less meat and fat in your diet or without sugar and you’re finding yourself struggling with the recipes, the tips, and desire, cut yourself some slack.

Tips for Changing Your Diet

Some tips to help you on your journey:

1. Make one change at a time. Maybe it’s swapping out olive oil for butter this week and waiting until next week to make a turkey burger instead of hamburger with the goal that by the end of the month you’ll try a salmon burger. Or maybe you’ll try one new gluten free recipe every week or two, learning this week how to make pancakes you can actually eat but waiting until you’ve made those successfully a couple of times before you try to revamp your favorite birthday cake recipe.

2. Seek help. There are so many online blogs and websites, paper cookbooks, and cooking shows these days to turn to for aid for just about every type of cooking that exists. Use them to learn tips and to find tested recipes. Ask a friend who’s a few steps ahead of you what he or she has gleaned from his or her culinary experience. There’s nothing that says you need to go the road alone. Maybe you’ll even find a friend or family member who wants to practice revamping recipes with you or is willing to be your guinea pig for taste testing.

3. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. Unfortunately, there’s a myth out there that you need to just deal sometimes when it comes to eating food that is healthier for you or which fits into your allergy or dietary restrictions. It’s simply not true. If the texture or taste of the first gluten free brownies you try to make doesn’t appeal to you, don’t settle. Find another recipe to try. If you don’t really like the taste of olive oil in a recipe that calls for butter, try another healthy oil. If really and truly hate ground turkey, don’t use it. If you don’t like the foods you’re eating, you’ll never stick to eating healthier or within your dietary restrictions. Or you’ll force yourself to bear it, but you’ll be sad, craving the foods you’re really rather be eating. Neither is best, so make sure you actually like what you eat.

4. Practice, practice, practice. We all have those memories of failing at something and being riled when someone told us, “If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again,” but honestly, everything in life takes practices. Not just school lessons, sports and musical instruments, but relationships, exercise and cooking, as well. When my son was first diagnosed with an egg allergy, it took months for me to perfect a chocolate cake that the entire family liked. The practice batches weren’t bad. They just weren’t to the standard we wanted in terms of texture and taste. Now, though, I have a recipe that I go back to time and time again and which we all enjoy.

5. Start slowly. Unless you have a food allergy, you can begin a healthy diet by halves and work your way up, so to speak. If your goal is to eat 100% whole grains instead of white flour, but you’re unsure of the taste and texture appeal, try swamping out just half of the white flour in a recipe. If you aren’t quite ready to completely get rid of butter, don’t. Just limit yourself to a certain amount a week on something where the taste really matters to you while you swap it out in everything else. If you don’t think you can go from whole milk to skim, drink 2% for a few weeks, before drinking 1% for another few weeks until you’re drinking the skim and wondering why you were ever concerned in the first place about making the switch.

And if you do have a food allergy, you can still start slowly.  If you’re suddenly allergic to milk, just try one type of a different “milk” this week and wait to try vegan cheeses.  Though we often want to find substitutes for all our usual eating patterns, there’s no need to “fill” every niche of your diet in a short span of time.   It may take months for you to discover which substitute products for milk or wheat or egg or whatever that you like the best.

6. Be willing to experiment. If you come across a recipe or an idea that you think sounds interesting, but you’re unsure, just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t really like what you tried or made? Big deal. Now you know that there’s something you won’t do again. That’s a good learned lesson. More likely, you’ll discover something that you really do like and want to try to make or eat again. Or you may be inspired to figure out how to make the recipe better or to try the item again, just made by another company.

Fruit Smoothie


1 cup frozen strawberries (or peaches or blueberries or mixed berries or mangos or bananas, whatever you like)

4 ounce silken tofu (this is 1/2 cup)

1/2 to 1 cup soy milk, depending on how thick you like your smoothie (you can also use another type of “milk” you’d prefer or a 100% juice of your choice)

2 tablespoons Agave

Preparation Instructions:

1. Blend all ingredients using whatever method you prefer or have:  blender, hand blender, food processor, etc….

2.  Scoop into individual cups and enjoy!

NOTE:  You can also add yogurt to this if you’d like, 4 0unces of a dairy or nondairy type.