How to avoid food allergy booby traps at holiday gatherings
An estimated 15 million people have one or more food allergies in the United States. For them, social gatherings with food can be an exercise in anxiety as they navigate the buffet table in search of foods that are safe to eat.
If you have a food allergy, you may not want to bother the host but it’s important to advocate for yourself to ensure your safety. It’s unfortunate that there’s been such an uptick in food allergy diagnoses but the good thing is people are talking about it and there’s not as much stigma as there was previously.
Here are some ways to safely enjoy social events with a food focus:
1. Educate the host about food allergies.
It’s helpful to let your host know well in advance about your food allergy. Make sure they know how to read food labels. The most common food allergens – milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat – should be listed. Ask the host to save the labels of packaged foods.
The other thing to ask them to keep in mind is cross contamination. If the host is baking cookies for instance, they should wash the cookie sheet that was used to make peanut butter cookies with hot soapy water before it’s used to bake something that is nut free. Also, suggest using color-coded utensils so guests know which utensils go with each particular dish.
2. Bring a dish or snacks.
Offer to bring a dish or two that you know you can eat so there’s at least one or two items on the menu that have been safely prepared. You can eat prior to the event and bring a snack to enjoy so you can still participate in the meal.
3. Be cautious about foods you recognize.
In general, it’s easier to eat foods you can recognize such as fresh fruit and vegetables, pasta or meats. But even when it comes to some of these foods, read the labels to be on the safe side. Some pre-seasoned turkeys may have wheat, soy or milk in the brine or other flavorings. Some people may not realize pesto has nuts in it. There are even some cocktail mixes that are made with egg whites.
4. Bring your epinephrine auto-injector.
If you have an epinephrine auto-injector, make sure you bring it with you. Review how and when to use it, just in case you need it.
Symptoms of an anaphylaxis reaction include throwing up, wheezing, heart racing, passing out, swelling and the sensation your throat is closing. If you use your epinephrine, it’s recommended that you go to the emergency room because the reaction could last longer than the epinephrine lasts. You need to be monitored for some time afterward and you could potentially need more treatment that they could provide there.
Kara Wada is an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.