6 Ways to Be Allergy Aware During the Holidays


Jennifer Larson

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The holiday season is approaching and you’re already thinking ahead: not just about cleaning the house, finding the perfect holiday party outfit, or wrapping all the gifts, but about how you and your family can avoid any scary allergic incidents.

People with serious food allergies can’t be too careful, especially around the holidays, which tend to heavily feature food. Add these strategies to your holiday checklist so the “most wonderful time of the year” comes with no allergy-related surprises.

1. Let people know how serious food allergies are.

Lots of people throw around the word “allergic” when what they really mean is that they don’t react well to a particular food. For example, glucose intolerance and lactose intolerance  may produce some pretty uncomfortable symptoms—cramping and diarrhea, among others—in people who accidentally ingest foods containing those substances, but they’re not truly allergies. When a person with a true food allergy consumes something to which she’s allergic, it can be life-threatening. Remind everyone that you’re taking extra precautions for safety reasons, not to be difficult.

2. Volunteer to bring special treats to your child’s class.

The holiday party is a highly anticipated event for many schoolchildren. Take the worry out of the event for you and your child by offering to bring in a special “safe” treat for everyone to enjoy. Plus, it gives your child the chance to share a favorite food with friends.

3. Avoid cross-contact in the kitchen.

When you’re preparing a big holiday meal, it’s all too easy for chaos to descend in the kitchen—especially if it’s crowded with well-meaning family members who try to grab a spoon and help out. Let them know that it’s critical to avoid cross-contact, which occurs when the allergen in one food is transferred to another food. For example, cross-contact can occur when you wipe off a knife that was used to spread peanut butter but you don’t completely wash the knife before using it to spread jelly. You have to make absolutely sure that all cutting boards, knives and other food prep equipment are thoroughly cleaned between uses. As for those well-meaning folks, try assigning them a task in another room to reduce the chances of cross-contact occurring while you’re chopping, dicing, roasting and baking.

4. Check out the restaurant ahead of time.

Lots of families prefer to eat out during the holidays. The non-profit organization Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) suggests doing your homework before making reservations for a big holiday meal. Does the restaurant you’ve selected offer a buffet? That’s an opportunity for a lot of cross-contact between foods, which could lead to accidental exposure. Ask friends with allergies if they have recommendations, or call the restaurant ahead of time. You can also check out the SafeFARE database of restaurants to search by location or even cuisine type.

5. When in doubt, bring your own food.

Your family was invited to a holiday open house and everyone’s looking forward to socializing with friends. But you can’t ensure that the food on the buffet table will be completely safe; cross-contact may have happened somewhere along the way during preparation or an allergen may be lurking somewhere in a dish that seems benign. Let your host know about your situation in advance and offer to bring some meals with you, either to share or just for the person in your family with the food allergy. If your child is the one with the severe allergy, remind him not to accept food from anyone at the party who isn’t well acquainted with his particular situation.

6. Carry medication with you.

Before you leave for that trip to Grandma’s or even just drive across town to your friend’s holiday shindig, be sure to put your emergency medication in your purse or bag. It’s always possible that an allergen is hiding somewhere unexpected and you may need your epinephrine auto-injector.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 8, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Managing Food Allergies at Home. Food Allergy Research & Education. http://www.foodallergy.org/managing-food-allergies/at-home
  2. Cooking and Baking Tips. Food Allergy Research & Education. http://www.foodallergy.org/tools-and-resources/managing-food-allergies/cooking-and-baking
  3. Avoiding Cross Contact. Food Allergy Research & Education. http://www.foodallergy.org/tools-and-resources/managing-food-allergies/cross-contact
  4. Food Allergy: Holiday Tips. National Jewish Health. http://www.nationaljewish.org/healthinfo/conditions/allergy/allergens/food/allergy-tips
  5. What Is an Allergic Reaction to Food? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/understanding/Pages/allergicRxn.aspx
  6. Food Allergy: Holiday Tips. National Jewish HealthIs it Food Allergy or Food Intolerance? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/understanding/Pages/foodIntolerance.aspx

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