CLINICAL DIETITIAN AND NUTRITION CONSULTANT


Gut Bacteria

Dysbiosis is a word that keeps popping up in the media and is often associated with the words probiotics and prebiotics.  So what's the deal?

Research is rapidly building in demonstrating how important the natural gut bacteria are in maintaining general health and wellbeing. There are approximately 3,8x1013 bacteria that live in our gut, where there are over 1000 different species.  Each species plays a different role, which is a beneficial role.  If pathogens (the bad gut bacteria, viruses or fungi) enter this system in the gut, they can wipe out some colonies and change the whole gut environment, making it difficult for some beneficial bacteria to grow and function in the team. Think of these bacteria as a sports team or an orchestra, if you just have one member in the team, it cannot function efficiently, yet together they are highly productive - a symphony!

      Dysbiosis is simply an imbalance of gut microbes, which in turn causes a disruption to the

functionality of the gut, which in turn has a knock on effect to our health and wellbeing.

So, why all the fuss.  With our rapidly changing environment, we have greater demands on our mental health, foods are becoming more processed to cater for convenience (ie low fibre, high sugar, high fat and greater use of preservatives) and the availability and use of antibiotics is increasing.  Other associations such as alcohol misuse, reduced exercise, chemical dependency and living within a sterilised environment that are also thought to be contributors to our changing gut microflora and hence creating this dybiosis.

Probiotics are made up of beneficial bacteria known to colonise the gut.  They are being used in probiotic supplements to replace these destroyed or altered colonies, however they are also available as naturally occurring in fermented foods such yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha.  As previously stated, there are over 1000 different species known to exist in the gut, but some of these products provide only 2-4 different species each, hence the need for variety in the diet to obtain that varied exposure to different bacteria.

When selecting a probiotic the same applies, look for probiotics that have at least 10 or more different species in them. This will include those names such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacter, Sacchromyces and Bacteroides species. 


Hot Spots for Gluten Cross Contact (PART 2)


All utensils, pots, pans and crockery should be washed with hot soapy water.  The only items where it gets a little tricky for gluten cross contact is with colanders, sieves and bristle style basting brushes.  These items are incredibly hard to clean, where the allergen can stick to those hard to clean crevices. Therefore, it is not recommended to share these items, even if cleaned, rather have a dedicated option for GF use only.



It is demonstrated that wiping a piece of GC bread across a surface can leaves detectable gluten residues, even if you don’t see any crumbs.

If one cuts a GC item and then uses that same uncleaned knife to cut a GF item, the GF item will contain detectable gluten – again even if crumbs are not observed on the knife. In contrast if that knife used to cut GC foods were washed after use and then used on a GF item, that GF item is measured to have no detectable levels of gluten.

The same goes for the cutting boards, if one is going to share the board (at different times) between GC and GF, and it is washed between use, yes it is fine.  But, if used a the same time, this cannot be done and the GF will have gluten on it causing potential clinical issues if consumed.  If one needs to have GF and GC prepped or used at the same time, separate boards are recommended – and preferably colour coded to clearly demonstrate which item is which.



As the phrase cross contact suggests, the transfer of the allergen is based on touch and therefore one should consider the cleanliness of all surfaces in their kitchen if it is shared with GC foods.  Surfaces here include the bench top, but I need to highlight handles of the fridge, oven, microwave, doors, cupboard doors, drawers, down to the buttons on the toaster and light switches.  Residues can carry over. However, if you have a keen baker of GC items, the sticky residues of cake batter, dough or even the peanut butter residue from toast is left on your handles, just be aware and make your kitchen mates aware of this transfer.  The solution is to regularly clean these surfaces down in the kitchen and also wash your hands after touching them and before consuming GF food (if eating with your fingers).

Hot Spots for Gluten Cross Contact (PART 1)

The current guidelines for gluten cross contact in the kitchen, be it domestic or on a larger scale in industry are based on fundamental principles of chemistry and microbiology (ie cross contamination). There is some research available in this area, however, although thinly available, is rapidly underway to determine how cautious we need to be.

This is what we know

TOASTER (Roller or Pop-Up)


No – currently not recommended


The grids holding the bread touch the GC bread, where heat does not burn off or 'melt' off the gluten.  Additionally although crumbs fall down to the bottom, this is not a problem, the problem is that when removing the GC toast, crumbs fall around the top of the toaster and can fall in at any point when dislodges.


One can use toaster bags, but be careful of crumbs on the top of the toaster, so clean down the toaster regularly, including the button to press the lever down.






It is preferable to not share at the same time, or if this is the case, rather separate out into 2 defined sections.  The bench top can be wiped down, but the procedure is to wipe off all residual crumbs first, wipe with a wet soapy sponge and followed with a light spray of cleaner with a paper towel.  The paper towel helps to remove any residual on the bench, plus that final wipe cloth is free from any remaining gluten from cleaning up.




Not recommended


If the items you are grilling do not contain gluten then, it is absolutely fine.  However, if you are grilling items with a marinade, crumbs (internally or externally), seasoning, sausages or patties that contain gluten, just be aware that these items can leave a gluten residual and especially with marinade it can leave a lot of residual that builds up.  Essentially as far as we know the protein does  not necessarily burn off or if being exposed to the higher temperature does is removed entirely.  If one is to wash down the grid, then yes it is good for GF use, however shared cooking can still include splatter that can take protein with it.  Therefore if one is to share a grill, rather do GF first and then GC and make sure the grid is washed well before use.  Alternatively one can do the GF option in a heavy duty foil, or on a surface that can withstand the grill (ie cast iron grill plate, heavy duty frying pan or heat resistant Teflon sheet).






This has been well researched and is conclusive that one cannot share the same water for GF and GC foods.  This is in specific reference to pasta.  It has been demonstrated how the gluten free pasta cooked in water used to cook gluten containing pasta prior, carries a significant amount of gluten into the GF option (up to 120ppm).  However, it was demonstrated how if that same pot were washed with hot soapy water and fresh water added the GF pasta remained GF when cooked therefore demonstrating that shared equipment, provided it is cleaned, may be shared between GF and GC.

Gluten Cross Contamination vs Gluten Cross Contact

There is a lot of commentary with regard to cross contamination and what the right practices are to avoid having unwanted gluten sneak into gluten free foods.  Before I provide a brief overview on what the current guidelines are I need to establish one thing on the correct terminology. 

Cross contamination is in reference to bacteria, viruses and any foodbourne illness that is present in unsafe foods and transferred to safe foods. This transfer is through the simple process of touch, however is carefully managed through temperature, alcohol and pH control, hence why we store food in a fridge or freezer, why most foods are cooked and the origins of preserves, using salts and vinegar – all to reduce cross contamination from bacteria in order to avoid getting ill from eating rotten/contaminated food.

In contrast, cross contact is the more appropriate terminology to use in reference to allergen management. Unlike bacteria, allergens, which are protiens, not microscopic lifeforms,  can withstand greater temperatures, alcohol and different pH environments.  An increase in temperature can denature the protein, but does not always inactivate it – ie the allergen is still active and can cause a reaction, as their activity is from part of the protein, not the full protein, making its activity and management more complex.

Although 'cross contamination' rolls off the tongue so easily, the correct term to use is cross contact when referring to allergen management.

In my next post, I will explore the various hot spots in the kitchen for gluten cross contact.

Why Gluten Free?

Recently the gluten free diet has been given the limelight through celebrity endorsement and as a result it has a following with the impression the diet is a healthy alternative lifestyle with the promises of enhanced athletic performance and sustainable weight loss.  This is only true if one is medically sensitive to gluten, and this sensitivity is real!  

Gluten is a simple protein present in 4 grains - wheat, rye, barley and oats (this also includes the hybrids, such as spelt).  The most defined medical condition that requires a strict gluten free diet is coeliac disease.  Coeliac disease is an auto-immune condition, when gluten passes through the digestive system, it causes the body to attack itself at the level of the gut lining.  So you can't see this damage, but if the damage persists it can lead to cancer, osteoporosis, malnutrition (absorption of nutrients), fatigue, diarrhoea, vomiting.....and the list continues as every individual reacts differently.   Other conditions shown to benefit from being on a gluten free diet include NCGS (non-coeliac gluten sensitivity), DH (dermatitis herpetiformis) and ASD (autism spectrum disorder).

Research has shown that the gluten free diet in these cases must strictly have no gluten.  It is not a case of a little bit won't hurt - yes it will!  If there is going to be a crumb of gluten, you may as well have a kilo, as they will both yield the same result and the same amount of damage.

If catering gluten free one must consider various aspects to ensure the final product served is going to be safe for the affected individual to consume.  It is essential for caterers to:

  • know and understand the regulations for gluten free
  • source appropriate and reliable gluten free ingredients
  • avoid cross contamination during every stage of preparation from transport, storage, preparation to delivery
  • cleaning of surfaces, utensils, hands and uniform
  • effective communication from individual to the kitchen and delivery of the final product
  • effective staff training
  • product testing
  • documentation of processes, menu, ingredients and complaints







 Reader Tally