Washing Away the Gluten

by | G+ Amy Leger

I’ve been knocked down with a head cold this week, cough, sinus stuff, the whole messy package.  Needless to say, I’ve been washing my hands a lot.  Whether it’s soap and water or antibacterial hand sanitizer, I try to keep my hands germ free after every time I blow my nose.  My cold and some other recent discussions got me wondering about how well hand sanitizer and other cleaners would work to eliminate gluten?

If you have a kitchen, as we do,  that does double duty as gluten-free and gluten”ee” you likely find yourself constantly washing your hands, counter tops and scrubbing pots and pans.  What really works?  Soap and water, sanitizing wipes, bleach??  What will eliminate the gluten?

No surprise — I couldn’t find any research on it.  Hint hint…..If there’s a soap company out there who wants to sponsor a study — this is a good one!  But there have been studies on peanut protein and cleaning that off your hands and off the counters to avoid a reaction from someone with a peanut allergy.  So while they’re not exactly the same, I think it will give us a good idea of what’s working and what’s not — and why.

Getting the residue off hands

A study out of Johns Hopkins University reported back in 2004 that non-allergic people put peanut residue on their hands “then washed their hands with various cleaning agents, plain water and an antibacterial hand sanitizer.”  The result — hand sanitizer doesn’t cut it. “Hand wipes, liquid soap and bar soap all removed the peanut allergen. Water left residual Ara h 1 [the most common peanut allergen] on 3 of 12 hands, and hand sanitizer left residual allergen on 6 of 12 hands.”  Wow..even plain water was better than hand sanitizer!

The findings, published in ScienceDaily.com goes on to explain why the hand sanitizer may actually create a false sense of security.

“[Pediatric allergist Robert A. Wood, M.D] says the bigger concern to emerge from the study was the failure of hand sanitizers, frequently seen by teachers as more convenient than sending children to the bathroom to wash up, to eliminate [peanut residue]. ‘Their use may not really remove the allergen, but just spread it around,’ he says.”

Getting residue off counters

So now to the kitchen.  What if you go to a guest’s house and they’ve got peanuts out and a quick scrub down is necessary — what  will work?  In this study researchers compared water, dish soap, Formula 409 cleaner and a Target brand cleaner with bleach when trying to remove peanut butter from the surface of a table.  “All cleaning techniques except dish washing soap removed the allergen; dish soap left [the peanut allergen] on 4 of 12 samples.”

How about washing dishes?

The Johns Hopkins study didn’t go into this…so now we’re on our own.  All this begs the question — what about washing dishes?  Have I been doing something wrong?  Emma’s never gotten sick from any hand washed dishes, but if what’s said above is true…maybe I need to rethink??  We have a dishwasher which I have to believe removes the gluten.  But when I’m hand-washing pots and pans — if dish soap isn’t working on counters will it work on pots and pans?   I went to the celiac.com forum to get their take.  One person posted, “I…have two different sponges to clean my dishes. One for gluten dishes, for gluten-free dishes. I change my gluten-free sponge frequently, and rinse it with soap and water everyday. I also rinse and scrub all my dishes before I put them in the dishwasher.”

Another person said the same thing, but she uses four dish brushes:

“1 for gluten-y dishes that are going in the dishwasher, 1 for gluten-y dishes that get handwashed (the idea of using a dirty brush to “handwash” something that isn’t going in the dishwasher irks me), 1 for gluten-free dishes that are going in the dishwasher and 1 for gluten-free dishes that are being handwashed. This is probably a little too much, but it seems to work for us.”

What can we learn from this?

Yes, I know, gluten is not the peanut protein, I know the study on which this post is based isn’t exactly apples to apples study.  However, since it appears no one has conducted this same study with gluten– this may be the best we’ve got.   I think it gives us pretty firm evidence that hand sanitizer likely won’t remove gluten if it doesn’t remove peanut residue.  But hand washing with soapy water does!  Likewise, cleaning the counters with hot soapy water doesn’t do as good of a job on the counters  as other household cleaning agents.  And Imight need to rethink how the dish washing is going in her house….

Thanks to all who answered my poll — you guys are so savvy!!  As of this posting, 90% use soap and water, 10% have a gluten-free house and 0 of you use hand sanitizer to “kill” gluten.  Great job!

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3 Responses to “Washing Away the Gluten”

  1. My 17 year old daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease a couple of months ago. She is concerned about mixing gluten and gluten-free dishes in the dishwasher and is afraid the dishwasher won’t fully remove the gluten, but will instead spread it all over her GF dishes. Is she right to be concerned? I think the dishwasher will thoroughly clean everything in there.

  2. I learned that the dishwasher does not kill gluten, so it is recommended that you rinse your dishes well before putting them into the dishwasher. It is recommended that you use separate kitchen items for porous surfaces, such as wood.? Separate pans and colanders would be helpful with roommates.? If you are not using separate pans or colanders, you want to make sure you use them first, as I am sure you know. You do not need separate plates, or silverware, but I think a separate sponge is a good idea. my daughter and I recieved this from a doctor at childrens hospital boston hope it helps

  3. I share a household with my son and husband who eat gluten. I have separate pots and pans for gluten and gluten free, use paper towels to wash pots and pans before putting them in the dishwasher, and I never put any food items directly on the counters. I use paper or regular plates.

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