I have said before that, as a family with food concerns, we love being included in the same social activities that every family enjoys. Sometimes, however, it can be intimidating to people who aren’t used to dealing with people who have food allergies. Including friends who have food allergies in your events is really not as difficult as it may seem. I’d like to share a few tips to help out people who may be new to thinking about others with food allergies or sensitivities.
Preparing for a visit:
1. Do a quick sweep of the area you are meeting up in and make sure there isn’t food hanging around where it shouldn’t be. If you are inviting friends to your house, make sure the living room and rooms where children will be playing are clear of food, for example.
2. Wash any tables and counters where food is usually prepared with a clean cloth (or paper towel). Pay special attention to grease and crumbs. These may seem innocuous to you, but they are like giant flashing danger signals to those of us with allergies.
3. Clean the floor in rooms where you prepare or eat food. Sweeping or vacuuming is sufficient. They do not need to be perfectly sanitized.
4. Talk to your children about containing food while guests are over. Just like any activity, children do best when they know what to expect ahead of time.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask the parents about any special preparations you can make! Most of the time, we don’t expect that you go completely overboard for us – we just want to keep our families safe.
6. Watch out for cross contamination. If you are preparing food to share with people who have allergies, please be aware of cross contamination. Do not use ingredients from containers that have been dipped into with a utensil, such as a knife used to spread jam on bread. The jam may be gluten free, but the bread crumbs picked up by the knife and dipped back into the jam could make someone sick. Also, make sure work surfaces are wiped down immediately before preparing the food. Grease spots on surfaces can be hard to see but easily transfer to foods that are being prepared.
7. If you would like to do a special treat for everyone, but don’t want to make an allergen friendly variation, please just let us know and we will usually be happy to bring our own version of the treat that we can have. Believe it or not, we have replacements for most foods that we enjoy just as much.
During the visit:
1. Keep food contained in certain areas. People carrying snacks all over the house with my allergic kids there scares me to no end! Keeping food in the kitchen or at a designated table makes it so much easier to feel safe.
2. We don’t expect you to buy special foods, but if there is a severe reaction to a food, we do expect to be safe from it. Everyone knows how dangerous peanut allergies can be. If you have a friend with a peanut allergy, just don’t have peanut butter when you are together. My egg allergy is along these lines. Inhaling crumbs that have egg in them makes me very physically ill for several days. Eating a meal without eggs in it is really not that difficult.
3. If you are eating something we are allergic to, please keep it contained to your area. Soy and gluten are great examples of this point. I cannot expect that when I go to someone else’s house, that it will be soy or gluten free. In fact, I assume the opposite. So, if sandwiches are on the menu for lunch, I’ll keep my kids and their gluten free bread at one end of the table, and I would really love it if the people eating wheat based breads could keep them at the other end of the table.
4. Be vigilant about cleaning up after eating foods that may have allergens. Everyone needs to wash their hands and faces. And dishes or containers that have held foods with allergens need to be cleared from the table as soon as possible to avoid the spread of allergens.
5. Always ask parents before offering foods to children with food allergies or sensitivities. People are often surprised to learn that there are allergens in unexpected foods. For example, most people don’t know that many spices have traces of dairy, soy, or other allergens in them.
6. Show us the labels! If there is a food that is planned to be shared, please let us see the labels from everything that goes into it. This is not a burden for us – we are used to reading labels constantly. And we are not assuming that you aren’t capable of reading, but there are sometimes ingredients that you may not realize are allergens. For example, modified food starch can be gluten.
We really, really understand that this can be intimidating. And we know that there is a lot to think about. But after a little while, this will all just seem like second nature when we are together, and it won’t seem nearly as intense. Thanks for including us! We really do appreciate it.