The holiday season has finally arrived! December and January are filled with celebrations of family, togetherness, and most prominently -- food!
For folks with food allergies, the holiday season is also a risky time of year, as many food allergens can very often hide in plain sight. With proper planning and the right tools, you can celebrate the holidays safely.
According to the Mayo Clinic, food allergies affect up to 8 percent of children under age 3 and an increasing number of adults. While there's no cure, some children outgrow their food allergy as they get older. Unfortunately for those with food allergies, many foods on holiday tables contain at least one of the ‘Big 8’ allergens – milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.
To help you avoid running into these culprits in unexpected places, consider the following tips before settling in at the family dinner table:
- Wash hands before and after eating or handling food.
- Prevent cross-contamination in preparation and serving.
- Read the labels of all food ingredients.
- Prepare and cook safe meals first. Seal them, and set aside. Then make unsafe foods.
- Keep unsafe foods away from safe foods when preparing, serving, and storing.
- Use separate serving utensils for each dish. Be careful not to mix them up.
- Wash all prep areas and eating areas with a paper towel and commercial cleaner. (Sponges and rags can be a source of allergens.)
- Make a plate for anyone who has food allergies before the meal is served to avoid cross contact.
- Keep unsafe foods out of reach of young children with allergies.
- If food will be served and eaten throughout the house, bring packages of wipes to keep near the food and encourage everyone to wipe hands after eating, though encouraging them to use soap and water is the best!
- Spread the word about guests’ allergies. That way if multiple people are contributing to the meal, they’ll know what ingredients to steer clear of.
- Don’t make food the only thing to get excited about. Offer board games, crafts, sports, and perhaps a fun family outing.
- Provide safe choices. You don’t have to strip every dish of food allergens, but make sure that there is a decent selection of foods that guests with allergies can enjoy worry-free.
- Let guests with allergies fill their plates first. This could prevent people from moving serving pieces from one dish to the next, facilitating cross-contamination.
- For severe allergies, make sure that you have an EpiPen ready just in case.
- If you’re allergic to pollen, you may get a break when the weather gets cold. But if you have indoor allergies such as mold and dust mites, you may notice winter allergy symptoms during times of the year when we spend more time inside. Winter allergies are often ‘perennial allergies’ in that they take effect at any time during the year, rather than being restricted to one season.
The allergists at ENT and Allergy Associates are always here to provide you and your families with life improving care for all your allergy and immunology needs.