How to avoid food allergy traps at holiday gatherings
If you suffer from food allergies, Christmas gatherings could be a matter of life or death.
After all, how can you convince Uncle not to buy his beloved nuts or persuade your Aunt to leave out the egg white the recipe calls for.
Dr. Kara Wada, an allergy and immunology physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says 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," Wada said.
Here are some tips Wada recommends 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," Wada said. "Also, suggest using colour-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 recognise
In general, it’s easier to eat foods you can recognise such as fresh fruit and vegetables, pasta or meats. But even when it comes to some of these foods, Wada says to read the labels to be on the safe side.
"Some pre-seasoned turkeys may have wheat, soy or milk in the brine or other flavourings. Some people may not realize pesto has nuts in it. There are even some cocktail mixes that are made with egg whites," she said.
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.
Wada says if you use your epinephrine, you should go to the emergency room because the reaction could last longer than the epinephrine lasts. You need to be monitored for some time afterwards and you could potentially need more treatment that they could provide there.