It won’t be the most wonderful time of the year if food allergies are accidentally triggered when friends come to call this holiday season. Party givers and goers need to manage food sensitivities throughout the year; but with the incredibly social nature of the holiday period, the danger increases.
An important first step is to be aware of what commonly causes a reaction. The United States Department of Agriculture identifies the eight most common food allergies in the U.S., which account for 90 percent of all food allergies. The eight are: wheat, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, soybeans, eggs, milk, fish, and tree nuts.
Another critical initial step is to communicate. A host or hostess cannot know what causes a problem if the guest never says anything. Allergic responses are not static, and not all people will encounter issues at the same level, which makes an open channel of discussion even more important. Here are 7 tips for an allergy-aware, perfect holiday party season.
1. For the host/hostess: At the store
Start by reading labels carefully. A product will list when it contains one of the eight most common allergens, but for people suffering from Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you will need to know what products you are looking for. Gluten can be hidden in the ingredient list — for example, as triticale. More products bear a “gluten-free” label, which is also helpful.
Another aspect to bear in mind is if a product was processed in a factory that also handles foods containing common allergens. For the highly sensitive, this is enough to trigger a reaction, and should be avoided. Take further precautions by keeping foods separate, whether by using two carts or placing problematic foods into a plastic bag.
2. For the host/hostess: In the home
Sequestering foods at the store won’t help unless you keep up the practice at home, too. If you are making allergy-friendly foods this holiday, prepare them first and store them before starting on the rest. Otherwise, make sure you thoroughly clean all surfaces and equipment used. Another option is using two sets of dishes, if possible.
When serving dishes, serve those with allergies first, again decreasing the likelihood of cross-contamination. This risk increases when introducing “serve yourself” or “make-your-own” options.
3. For the host/hostess: Spell it out (literally)
You don’t need to wait for someone to come forward on their own — use the invitation as a chance for guests to open up. If you plan on baking up a storm for holiday parties, ask guests to notify you of allergies when they RSVP.
Armed with the knowledge of what to avoid and how to keep everything kosher, make labels for dishes that sit out. By either telling guests what a dish does, or does not contain, you can help them enjoy the party, and not worry that someone will need to break out their EpiPen in the middle of evening.
4. For the guest: Don’t just raise awareness, be aware
Of course, the most important step is letting people know, but your awareness is just as important as theirs. If you are in doubt about a dish, don’t be afraid to ask or discuss how it was prepared.
You can always use the buddy system as well. Attending the party with a friend? Let them know what they need to look for incase you accidentally consume a dish you weren’t meant to. That way, they know what to do to help you stay healthy.
5. For the guest: Offer to bring a dish
When letting the host know about your allergy, offer to bring your own dish especially if you are concerned about their ability to accommodate your food sensitivity. This will also ensure you don’t miss out on your favorite holiday tradition. If you love eggnog but can’t handle the traditional, dairy-filled version, offer to make a dairy-free eggnog to bring along.
This can be helpful people who abstain from eating meat or animal products voluntarily as well. Going to a gathering where you don’t know if you eat the main dish is frustrating, so avoid hunger by bringing along food that you and everyone else can enjoy.
6. For the allergy sufferer, host the party
The best way to keep yourself reaction-free is to offer to be the host of the gathering. You know better than anyone what your body can and cannot process safely. Again, like with the host having people with allergies in their house, embrace the use of labels, and if guests plan on bringing something, ask them to label it as well.
If this is your first holiday with a food allergy, you can use the opportunity to help others understand the severity of your sensitivity. Obviously, no one wants to be lectured to on the holidays, but if you can help others understand why you can’t eat certain items, they’ll realize how they can help when you are invited to a shindig at their house.
7. Wherever you are, don’t underestimate an allergy
A lot of the same guidelines will apply for eating out as well. If your holiday get-together occurs outside the home, call the restaurant, or event center and get as much information ahead of time, in order to prepare. The kind of cuisine may provide helpful hints, as some methods of preparation will rely more heavily on certain ingredients than others.
It is rare, but a person can react to food through an airborne reaction. Symptoms can range from a minor skin rash or runny nose to the severe, life-threatening anaphylaxis. No one wants either to crash a holiday party or to have to worry that will occur. Being conscious and conscientious about food allergies will let every have a holiday season that is truly merry and bright.
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