Gluten-Free School Science Fair Experiments: Part 3!

Summer is a time to keep learning and prepare for your next school science fair!

Science is sometimes regarded as a just a required subject but it really is so much more! Problem-solving, critical thinking, logical reasoning, communication and project management are some of the most important skills students learn in school. The study of basic Science and involvement in Science Fair projects prepares students with critical thinking skills that not only assist in other school subjects, but also provide a strong foundation for thoughtful decision making. Through our experiment we will be exploring how science can detect cross-contamination in our foods to help individuals live a safe gluten-free lifestyle.

Science Fair Project, Gluten TestingWith over 15 million Americans (including 5.9 million children under 18 years old) suffering from food allergies and an additional 3 million diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, it has become more evident that consumers need to become more vigilant in how meals are prepared and the ingredients that they purchase. Even with quality control standards, cross contamination or accidental contamination of foods can still occur. These concerns provide our students the opportunity for analysis on a subject that truly affects members of their community, their peers, and in many cases the student running the experiment.

It is important as consumers to understand how manufacturers keep us safe from the threat of contamination. The FDA does have regulations in place that require manufacturers to follow strict guidelines for producing and labeling gluten-free foods. The FDA requires that packaged food must contain less than 20ppm and that any gluten present must be as a result of unavoidable cross-contact only (not knowingly included from a minor ingredient). These regulations are crucial for those living with Celiac disease to help identify possible threats to their health and safety.

The manufacturers can only take us so far, as cross-contamination can become a threat when preparing meals with their packaged items in homes and restaurants.  From this possibility of gluten contamination in food preparation, we have developed the idea for a Science Fair project! In this case we will create our own cross-contamination of a gluten-free product to prove that not following proper cleaning procedures can cause higher levels of gluten content.

Our Science Fair Project:

The Hypothesis: Preparing gluten-free foods on a surface previously used for foods containing gluten, without following proper cleaning guidelines, will cause cross-contamination that will place our gluten-free food at a possibly dangerous level of gluten content.

What you will need:

  • GlutenTox Home Test Kit (5 test kit)
  • Large Cutting Board
  • Sanitized Plastic Container
  • Package of Wheat Flour
  • A few Sanitized Knives (a pre-packaged plastic knife is a safe bet
  • Pre-Packaged Gluten Free Pizza Dough (or make your own dough from a gluten-free pizza dough mix)

What we are going to show is that a pizza shop that sells both traditional pizza containing wheat and also gluten-free pizza can easily cross contaminate if the proper cleaning procedures are not followed. A standard pizza shop will use flour containing wheat to knead in to the dough and also to place on the pizza paddle to allow easy sliding into the oven. These surfaces are continually contaminated: what happens when an order arrives for a gluten free pizza?

Step 1: Prepare our workspace

First start by washing your hands and sanitizing any and all surfaces that our experiment may have contact. Organize all of our needed items, keeping our Wheat Flour in a separate location until it is needed. 

Step 2: Testing our first sample

We first need to prove that our pre-packaged gluten-free dough directly from the package will test as gluten-free. This will show that our cross-contamination was the variable that increased the level of gluten in the dough. To collect a sample of our gluten-free dough, use the new plastic knife to scrape or cut a sample of our dough. You’ll need to weigh 1g of sample per test, or you can use the plastic spoons provided in the kit. Be sure to label your sample! Follow the instructions given with your  kit to run the full test. We recommend running the test at 5ppm as listed in the instruction manual, and keeping all tests at this level for consistency. Be sure to list all of the properties such as the gluten-free labeling, ingredients, etc. for your report.

At this point we are going to cut our dough in half and place one half in a clean and sealed container to ensure that it remains uncontaminated. The other half will be used in our next step.

Note:  If the first test is positive for gluten, we suggest running a second test to 20ppm. If the second test is still positive: your gluten-free dough is not gluten-free! However, because of FDA regulations this test should the desired negative result. If an adjustment is made, be sure to adjust your second test to 20ppm as well. 

Step 3: Testing our second sample

To begin we are going to assume that traditional pizza has been prepared on our surfaces. We are going to simulate this by sprinkling 1Tbsp of our wheat flour onto our cutting board, then using our hand to quickly brush that flour off into the sink. Then, knead the gluten-free dough on the contaminated surface ensuring the dough hits the surface repeatedly. After sufficient kneading and stretching on the surface to simulate pizza preparation, we are going to cut a sample from our contaminated dough. We are once again going to collect a sample of our dough by using clean hands and the provided spoon or a scale that can measure 1g. Be sure to label your sample again! Follow the instructions given with your  kit to run the full test. As we did above, we are going to test to 5ppm. This sample should produce a positive result. With this sample again, be sure to list all of the properties such as the gluten-free labeling, ingredients, etc. for your report.

You may wish to test how different degrees of cleaning impact gluten, for example wiping with a damp cloth, wiping with a sponge that has already been used to wipe down heavily floured surfaces, or using a dishwasher. You will need fresh dough for each new surface.

Step 4: Conclusion

After both samples have been tested with our desired result, we have successfully proved our hypothesis that without following proper cleaning and sanitation guidelines a cross contamination may occur that will place our gluten-free food out of the realm of truly gluten-free, with an unsafe level of gluten content.

Tips for successful testing!

  • We suggest you test for gluten at the lowest threshold of 5ppm. Most importantly, be consistent with all your tests.
  • Be sure to follow all instructions listed in the manual, especially in regards to quantities and timing.
  • It’s important to analyze the test strips promptly at 10 minutes. After that, results can appear to shift: faint positives can fade or appear, and strong positives will fade a bit over time. Take a photo for use in your Science Fair report.
  • If you want to repeat the experiment, you’ll need to plan for purchasing additional tests. 

Explore More Science Fair Projects!

Gluten-Free Science Fair Project Gluten-Free Science Fair Project: Part 2

, , ,

Comments are closed.