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How to Reduce Cross Contamination at School

Cross contamination in the classroom can be tricky for teachers to manage, so I created a list of 5 Ways to Reduce Cross Contamination in the Classroom that have worked well for our family. Some of them are things you as parents can do to help, and some are for the teacher. The list helps my daughter’s teacher have something to refer back to, and gives the teacher some simple tools that make a big difference.

Cross contamination, or cross contact as it is also commonly referred to, occurs when a food allergen contaminates a food or surface that is naturally free of allergens (for example, gluten free foods that come in contact with foods that contain gluten during preparation, or classroom tables). It often comes as a surprise to teachers just how little gluten can actually make a child with celiac disease sick. But according to experts including Beyond Celiac, one crumb can be enough to start the autoimmune response in a person with celiac disease even if no symptoms are present.

While this list will not guarantee that your child will not be affected by cross contamination in the classroom, it can help reduce it and has worked well for our family. As always, it’s important to do what you think is best for your child and your family.

5 Ways to Reduce Cross Contamination in the Classroom

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1. Hand Washing. This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important that after snack and lunch times all kids wash their hands before returning to the classroom or going on to the next activity. In preschool classrooms for example, dirty hands that play with toys leads to toys that can have traces of gluten on them and we all know how often toddlers put toys and their hands in their mouths. It would be amazing if the teachers would also have children wash their hands when they get to school too, in case they were snacking in the car on the way to school.

**One thing to note here is that hand sanitizer is not sufficient. I have noticed that many schools use hand sanitizer as a speedier way to remove germs from students’ hands, and while it kills bacteria it is not effective for removing gluten. The only way to do that is by washing hands with soap and water.

2. Wash tables after in-class snack and art projects. Even if your child has a gluten free snack and doesn’t use art supplies that contain gluten like play doh, the crumbs from classmate’s food are likely still on the table. Cleaning the tables off with a wet wipe cleaning system will help reduce cross contamination from leftover food or art supplies. The wipes or paper towels with warm soapy water should be discarded when finished, and not a reusable sponge or rag. The reason for this is that they will have gluten residue on them from whatever was on the table, so it’s best to throw them away.

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3. Vacuum crumbs on the floor. This one is really meant for preschoolers. As a follow up to #2, toddlers are like crumb factories and what you might see on the tables is often an even bigger mess on the floors. In the case of preschoolers, a lot of time is spent on the floor so the crumbs can become an issue. When my daughter was in preschool, I gave her teacher a small handheld vacuum for big messes that needed immediate help, with the understanding that regular vacuuming of the floors was not realistic or something she would guarantee throughout the day.  Supplying her teacher with an inexpensive small vacuum made it much easier for her to clean up messes, so it was another way that I was able to help her keep my child safe.

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4. In-class cooking demonstrations. While this may not be a regular occurring activity, every year my daughter attended preschool there was at least one baking activity. Flour can stay airborne for 12-24 hours depending on ventilation and quantity of flour and inhalation can negatively affect a person with celiac disease. If an activity like that is coming up, ask your teacher if a gluten free flour can be used instead. If that is not an option, then it will be up to you to decide if you want to have your child attend class that day or wait 24 hours to have them come the next day.

5. Clearly label your child’s water bottle or sippy cup. Gluten residue will be on the straws or water bottle spouts of other children’s cups, so this will help your teacher know for sure that your child is drinking from the right container. Every year I see multiple kids that have the same water bottle or lunchbox in class, so it really is necessary.

Do you have other tips or questions? Please leave a comment below so we can all help each other.