I recently started noticing more symptoms and issues with meals at work again. I had no idea what was causing them. I didn’t know if it was a food-handling issue or possibly something else. I started to think about how I handle the napkins and utensils I pack in my lunchbox to carry to work. When I’ve finished preparing my meals for the next day, I grab a zipper bag and place two napkins along with the utensils I would need inside of it. I would grab two napkins from the holder on the dining room table. I’ve always wondered if residue somehow made it onto the napkins. Other people eat at the dining table, and I’m not sure of the care they take, if any, when handling the napkins. I always wipe down the table before I put clean place mats on it, and I always have to pick it up and move it to wipe underneath it. I’ve always tried to be careful when handling it, like not touching it in the areas that come into contact with the napkins, but I might have inadvertently touched a part of the napkin holder I shouldn’t have. I’ve run the napkin holder through the dishwasher a few times, but it’s not something I do often. Something could have happened to the napkins when I was removing them from their packaging also. Since I had no other ideas in mind, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to test out the idea.
In order to test out the idea that my napkins could possibly be causing issues, I decided to go online and order a box of individually-packaged fork/spoon/knife/napkin sets. I found what I thought was a reasonably-priced box of 250 packages and ordered that. While I was waiting for the box to arrive, I just packed utensils in my lunchbox, leaving out the napkins. After the box came, I just threw in one or two of the utensil packages, whatever I would need for that day. The first time, I tried removing one of the packages and washing them to remove any potential trace residue that might exist on the outside, but when that failed due to water getting inside the package, I just decided to write on the box “DO NOT TOUCH CONTENTS!” to let others know that they should not touch the contents of the box. I then just took out what I needed with clean hands. As for using the napkins in the dining room, I decided to use them by opening them and using the inside to wipe off my mouth. So far, this has worked wonderfully, and other than some isolated issues here and there, I’ve been able to avoid being hit by trace residue and have felt the best that I’ve felt in a long time, probably since I first started removing gluten-containing foods from my diet. The first six months were probably the best and easiest times for me because I felt fine just removing the foods from my diet and not really worrying about cross-contamination. After those first six months, I started fighting inadvertent contamination from all kinds of sources, and that fight is just now seeming to start to let up.
It’s hard to believe that this far into the gluten-free diet that I’d still be dealing with perpetual exposure to trace residue. Over the three-and-a-half years or so that I’ve been struggling with this fight, I’ve had to uncover some really insane ways that I was exposing myself to trace residue. This one is probably one of the craziest and one of the ones I would have least suspected. It’s amazing how much better I felt after making that one simple change, to switch to using packaged napkins and utensils. Others find relief after switching to a special diet or eliminating certain types of foods, but for me, other than having to remove a couple of other food items like vinegar and guar gum, dealing with trace wheat/gluten exposure has been the only way I’ve been able to resolve lingering symptoms and truly get better.
If you’re still dealing with lingering symptoms, be willing to consider any cause of potential exposure. Go over not just the foods you’re eating but how you’re handling them as well to make sure you’re not contaminating them with trace residue. Consider things that come into contact with your food or your dishes and utensils also, like napkins that you or others may not handle properly or any surface that you or others may touch. Anything that could potentially enter your mouth directly or indirectly should be investigated.
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