There’s a new industry standard of lingo, and we at MenuTrinfo like it. When it comes to cooking allergen-free, or gluten-free, words like “avoid cross-contamination” are usually bandied about. What if we were to tell you that’s not what we say anymore, and it isn’t what you should say either!
For both allergen-free and gluten-free food, the correct term is now “cross-contact”, and with very good reason.
The best way to explain why is to establish exactly what the difference between cross-contamination and cross-contact is, and that lies in about three distinct areas: semantics, perception, and accuracy.
Cross-contamination is what happens usually before the food is served. Whether this is at the processing plant, when it’s in the field, or on the cutting board, cross-contamination happens when bacteria from one food product transfers to another. So, generally, it happens when foods are raw.
Examples of this are the listeria outbreak with cantaloupes in Colorado (the knife customers would use to cut the cantaloupe would push the bacteria into the flesh, thus contaminating it), or more commonly, not cleaning a cutting board between cutting raw meat and uncooked vegetables.
More importantly, contamination implies that that one can easily avoid the problem altogether by heating it to a certain temperature. After all, that’s how you kill bacteria. When people with allergies and gluten-free express a concern about cross-contamination, the cooks or chefs’ first thought is that it will be fine if they just cook it off. So when some one with an allergy asks about cross-contamination, or warns of the danger of it, they are giving off the wrong impression entirely.
The problem being with that impression, of course, is that you can’t cook away an allergy, no matter how high the heat. If you could, life would be a whole lot easier for a whole lot of people. Unfortunately, it’s not the case.
Cross-contact can happen at any time in the course of preparation. From its initial harvest in the fields, to setting it on a serving plate, cross-contact is always a danger at anytime for anyone with any kind of food allergy. While cross-contamination refers to the transference of bacteria, cross-contact is the transference of proteins. Sadly, you can’t cook off a protein.
Proteins can transfer in any way. This can be with a fork that stirs a pot of boiling noodles that is used to check a gluten-free casserole, or using an uncleaned grill that once cooked a food with specific allergy. As allergies don’t burn off, even a food from a long time ago can cause cross-contact and a severe allergic reaction!
So, why the change in the naming convention if they almost mean the same thing? Well, this convention is more accurate, namely. But also, the term cross-contamination, as it is associated with things like the E. coli bacterial transfers, makes it sound like the kitchen in question is an uncleanly mess of disease. So, by and large, using the term cross-contact is a better PR term for the restaurant. On the customer side, using the term insinuates to cooks and chefs that any transference of foods, such a gluten-toxic food, can simply be cooked away if on a high enough heat, which could not be farther from the truth!
So, employing this naming convention, whether you are a customer, cook, or restaurant owner, can really avoid some potential disasters.
Do you have a favorite restaurant that needs help understanding this? We have some easy to print of sheets that you can give to your favorite restaurants about Gluten-free certification and Allergen Training.
Are you a restaurant that needs help making sure your cooks and chefs are properly trained? Contact us today and find out more about our highly recommended AllerTrain program.