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  • Jefferson Adams

    Are Kids with Celiac Disease Being Exposed to Gluten During School Activities?

    Jefferson Adams
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Are school activities that use gluten safe for kids with celiac disease?

    A child plays with Play-Doh. Image: CC BY-SA 2.0--quinn.anya
    Caption: A child plays with Play-Doh. Image: CC BY-SA 2.0--quinn.anya

    Celiac.com 01/24/2020 - Kids with celiac disease need to follow a gluten-free diet, and generally need to avoid exposure to gluten that might trigger a reaction. However, wheat, flour and gluten ingredients are common in school activities, particularly in early childhood classes like art and home-economics. Is that a problem? 

    A team of researchers recently set out to measure gluten transfer from school supplies to gluten-free foods that a child with celiac disease may eat. Also, to measure efficacy of washing techniques to remove gluten from hands and tables. 

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    The research team included Vanessa M Weisbrod; Jocelyn A Silvester; Catherine Raber; William Suslovic; Shayna S Coburn; Blair Raber; Joyana McMahon; Amy Damast; Zachary Kramer; and Benny Kerzner. They are variously affiliated with the Children's National Health System, Washington, DC, USA; the Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA; and Temple Sinai Early Childhood Education Program, Summit, NJ, USA.

    The team conducted five experiments to check possible gluten contact in classrooms: They signed up 30 participants, ages 2 to 18. All participants completed the Play-Doh and the baking project tests. Participants then split into three groups of ten each to complete the tests using paper mâché, dry pasta in sensory table, and cooked pasta in a sensory table. 

    After the activities, the team measured gluten levels on separate slices of gluten-free bread rubbed on subjects' hands and on table surfaces. Participants were then randomly assigned to wash their hands using soap and water, water alone, or a wet wipe. The team made repeat gluten transfer measurements from hands and tables using the R-Biopharm R7001 R5-ELISA Sandwich assay.

    The researchers found that paper mâché, cooked pasta in sensory tables, and the baking project all resulted in gluten transfer significantly higher than the 20 ppm threshold set by Codex Alimentarius Commission. 

    However, Play-Doh and dry pasta resulted in few gluten transfers to gluten-free bread above 20 ppm. The data showed that soap and water was the best way to remove gluten from hands, though they note that other methods are as effective in certain cases.

    The team's study shows that the potential for gluten exposure during school activities is high for materials like paper mâché and wet pasta, and low for materials like Play-Doh and dry pasta. 

    The team advises that schools provide gluten-free supplies for activities that rely on high-risk materials, and that they also have in place a viable plan to prevent contact with gluten. Making sure that kids, especially kids with celiac disease, wash their hands well with soap and water after any activity with these materials is always a good idea. 

    Do you have a story about gluten exposure at school activities? Be sure to share it in our comments below.

    Read more at Journals.lww.com


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    I have celiac and work at an elementary school with a student who has celiac disease also. We just had a science lab done with pasta. I brought in gluten-free pasta for the student to use so she would not get sick. She has a major sensitivity and never shared snacks or drinks with even her closest friends. Having gluten-free options for school supplies is a must with celiac disease.

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    Highly recommend "Raising your Celiac Kids" by Danna Korn to anyone who has or works with children with Celiac Disease.  So informative and easy to understand (especially to non-parents too)!  Was an absolute Godsend when my daughter was diagnosed 18+ years ago!

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    My daughter was using dry erase markers on a white board and erasing the board with her hand.  She was also writing on her arm with the markers.  It took us a while to figure out that she was being exposed to gluten from the dry erase markers.  We ended up buying dry erase markers from Colorations and her numbers went back down.

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    11 hours ago, Guest Lynn said:

    My daughter was using dry erase markers on a white board and erasing the board with her hand... also writing on her arm with the markers... exposed to gluten from the dry erase markers.  

    DRY-ERASE MARKERS. Ooof. That's a new one. 

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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