The holiday season has arrived! As family gatherings and holiday parties fill the calendar, it can be a particularly challenging time for those dealing with food allergies. It also presents a worrisome task as the host of an event when family and friends have a food allergy. The following are some tips for guests and hosts to alleviate worry and enable everyone to enjoy the season:
Have a conversation. As a host, the first thing you need to know is whether any of your guests have a food allergy. It’s best to do this when extending the invitation before you start planning the menu. As a guest, go ahead and give your host a call when you receive the invitation to have a friendly conversation about your food allergy. Remember, your host wants all guests to feel comfortable and safe.
Become educated. As a host, once you know that your young nephew has an egg allergy, get to know what other ingredients contain eggs. Eggs can hide in foods under names such as albumin, lecithin, and words that begin with ova or ovo. Companies are now required to alert consumers on packages if the product contains a top-eight food allergen (milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, & shellfish). You still need to read the full ingredient list to make sure the allergen isn’t hiding in a product.
Avoid cross-contamination. Keeping food preparation areas clean is essential to prevent cross-contamination. Washing any baking dishes, bowls, pan, utensils, etc. after every new food prepared is also necessary to avoid cross-contamination. Use separate serving utensils for every dish. Don’t use the same knife to cut the pecan pie that you use to cut the nut-free apple pie. Wash hands with warm water and soap when handling different ingredients. Before guests arrive, wipe down eating surfaces with Clorox Wipes.
Label every dish. A great way to make your guests feel more comfortable is labeling every dish with potential allergens. Or, if setting up a buffet, keep dishes with potential allergens in one area. Keeping all ingredient labels on hand for any prepared foods for guests to read will help alleviate worries. Likewise, keep homemade recipes accessible. If other guests are bringing foods, ask them to bring an ingredient card.
Bring your own safe food. Offer to bring your own safe food so that you or your child knows there will be something that you can eat. As a host, broach this subject before the event, letting your guest know that it is ok if they would like to bring a safe dish or two. Sometimes people with food allergies feel uncomfortable asking this. Also, don’t be offended if a guest shows up with their own dish, or is reluctant to try a dish that you prepared. Food allergies can be life-threatening. Feelings should be respected and not taken personally.
Avoid it if you can. The best way to remain safe is to avoid it altogether. When planning the menu, avoid the allergen altogether, and inform other guests of the food allergy as well. However, this might be easier to do with some allergens than with others. But refraining from setting a bowl of mixed nuts out will be sincerely appreciated by that mom of a nut-allergic child!
Be prepared when traveling. If you will be flying over the holidays, check with the airline ahead of time to inquire about the food allergy policies. When traveling overseas, learn how to say your allergy in that country’s language and bring written cards in that language with your allergy information.
Always carry your epinephrine injector. Having your 2-pak of auto-injectable epinephrine with you at all times and knowing how and when to use it are critical keys to a worry-free holiday season, and always. Friends and family should all know about your food allergies and the signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Symptoms can range from hives and swelling to nausea and vomiting to trouble breathing and unconsciousness. The faster epinephrine is given, the better. When anaphylaxis is suspected, use the epinephrine auto-injector immediately, and then call 911.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about navigating the holiday season with food allergies, please contact us. We will be happy to assist.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Allergy & Clinical Immunology!!!