Today’s blog post is a guide to the daunting: how to (safely) cook in an unfamiliar kitchen. (As a disclaimer, I’m not a doctor or an allergist I’m just a girl with allergies who tries to not have my day ruined). I’m going to try to keep it as simple as possible and summarize it in the following sections:
Protocols, Preparation, and Cooking
I’d also like to start off by acknowledging that everyone’s comfort levels are different, there are different severities to allergens, and that this should be an open conversation between you and whoever’s kitchen you are coming into. Sometimes bringing your own *whatever* is more doable than other times, and sometimes you may be in a situation where you just need to make things work.
That all being said, not all of my allergens are as severe as others, but I still do what I can to avoid any and all cross contamination because even if I won’t *literally die*, I don’t want to be uncomfortable for the rest of the day. Cooking in a kitchen that is unfamiliar probably means I’m going somewhere to do something, and a run-in with an allergen would just make that whole process harder.
Protocols & Guidelines
- Better safe than sorry! If a mistake is made, just start over. You can throw out what you were working on or save it for someone else in the future. It’s not worth the time, risk, or anxiety if something seems to have gone awry.
- I don’t know who came up with this analogy, but I saw it on instagram awhile ago and thought it fit. Treat EVERYTHING “poison” as though it is glittery. You and I both know that once glitter touches something, it doesn’t come off. So if your hands are unwashed think of them as glittery. Everything you’ve touched will have glitter on it too (and will also need a washing).
- Cook with (cleaned) utensils. People love to sprinkle stuff with their hands, grab and flip things with their hands, and touch every possible surface in between. Easiest answer here is to just… use clean utensils (and not hands).
- On that note, always have a clean spot for your clean utensils to rest. A clean plate dish should do the trick (or, if you typically use a spoon rest, just make sure it’s clean!)
- Make sure you know what is allergy-safe and what is not. I have different colored plates in my house for non-safe food.
- As a general rule, I like to have all poisonous foods put away/aside. Somewhere where no one will accidentally reach in and grab them.
- If you’re in a space where an allergen is used often, a new set of utensils/pans/cutlery may be preferred. Having a seperate set of these items (or disposable ones, if in a pinch) is extremely helpful. If you’re not able to get a new pan, opt for the oven and cover your baking sheet well with tin foil or parchment paper (NOT wax paper).
Step 1: Gather Supplies
Things you will need include:
The food you’re going to be cooking (includes safe cooking oils/spices), paper towels and/or clean dish towels, a new sponge (preferably a different color), cooking utensils, eating utensils, dishes to eat off of it (including cups), tin foil and/or parchment paper, and pots/pans.
Step 2: Clean Everything.
Plain water is not. Hand sanitizer is not.
Entering an unfamiliar kitchen, it’s easiest to assume that everything is “poison”. So: clean everywhere that you’re going to be using. It’s not worth cleaning a huge space if you’re not going to be using a huge space, so pick and choose where in the kitchen you’re going to actually be using. Also- remember that any previously used kitchen towels also count as “poison”, so either use a freshly laundered towel or paper towels. Things to wipe down with cleaner include:
- Kitchen sink
- Kitchen sink handle/knob
- Countertop space that will be in use
- Stovetop/stovetop knobs (if you’ll be using the stove)
- Microwave handle
- Oven handle
- Outside of seasonings/bottles
You will also need the cooking and eating utensils you gathered to be cleaned. Check with the allergic person you’re cleaning for on if they trust your dishwasher, and also make sure to have a brand-new sponge that is “allergy-person-safe” (I prefer it to be a different color). Don’t clean an unsafe item with the allergy-safe sponge off the bat. Clean it normally, and then once the poison is off of it re-clean the item with the allergy safe sponge.
(side note: when I lived in a communal situation almost all spoons got peanut-buttered daily, so I avoided spoons. Now when I travel to other people’s houses I tend to BYOS (bring your own spoon) or triple-clean them with a safe sponge.)
Now for the fun part! Prepare your food. Some tips:
- Make sure you read all of the ingredient labels for everything you’re going to be cooking with – especially if in a new place. Products change their ingredients all the time (literally all the time). If the allergic person has allergies outside of the top 8, run a brand by them. I know it seems like overkill – but not every brand is safe and manufacturing for a brand can differ between geographical locations. Ask if your food allergic person is comfortable using “may contain” and “made in a shared facility” products.
- If you’re baking something in the oven, line the baking sheet with parchment paper (NOT wax paper) or tin foil
- Make sure to check with the allergic person if your cooking oils are safe for them.
- Spice bottles (particularly well-loved ones) might have contaminants on the outside of the bottle. Wash your hands after touching/using them.
- Don’t touch the food with your hands.
- Rest clean utensils on clean spaces.
- As said above, if a mistake is made and something gets cross contaminated, just start over. You can throw out what you were working on or save it for someone else in the future. It’s not worth the time, risk, or anxiety if something seems to have gone awry.
- Cooking is…messy. Things splatter and spill easily. Don’t cook safe food next to a splatter-potential not-safe food.
- Don’t share a cutting board between safe and unsafe foods. Preferably a new one (since some of those old ones might get food stuck in the cuts that you aren’t able to fully clean out). If you *must* share a cutting board between safe and unsafe foods, always only use unsafe food after the safe food and make it well known that the cutting board is now dirty.
- If the kitchen you’re in is one that uses the big allergens for your allergic person often, opt for a new pan/new plates. A quick trip to target or the grocery store for some cheap reusable plates (or disposable) is worth the piece of mind. If a new pan is not obtainable, pick a recipe that can be cooked in the oven, and cover that baking sheet well!
- If you’re working with someone with a wheat allergy or celiac, don’t share a toaster. Don’t even try. That’s not gonna get clean. A good alternative is to set the oven to “broil” and toast on a baking sheet. Just keep an eye on it- it will go fast! Check it every minute or so to make sure that your toast isn’t burning.