Food for Thought: Don’t let food allergies disrupt your celebration

Nancy Schuster, Frontier Extension Agent

Food for ThoughtBefore finalizing celebration buffets, snacks, or meals, learn if any of your guests have food allergies.   Knowing about guest food allergies can help you celebrate a safe birthday or holiday.  Do you understand the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

In very simple terms, a food allergy is a strong but misdirected immune system response. The allergic reaction can sometimes be mild, such as hives, itching, rashes, sneezing, gastrointestinal upsets, or severe – trouble breathing, swelling of lips and eyes, drop of blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death.

The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to have an allergy test done; either a skin prick or blood test called a radioallergosorbent test.  There is no cure; the only control is to avoid the reaction-causing food.

Top eight foods that cause 90 percent of the allergic reactions in the United States are:  1. eggs, 2. fish, 3. milk, 4. peanuts, 5. shellfish, 6. soy, 7, tree nuts (almonds, beechnut, brazil nut, bush nut, butternut, cashew, chestnut, coconut, filbert, ginko nut, hazelnut, hickory nut, lichee nut, macadamia nut, nangai nut, pecan, pine nut, pistachio, shea nut, and walnut), and 8. wheat.

Food intolerance does not involve the body’s immune system and is not life threatening.  Symptoms may appear several hours after eating the food or the following day, or even 48 hours later.  Often symptoms of food intolerance can be difficult to pinpoint.  Stress makes symptoms worse.  Symptoms range from canker sores, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, vomiting, stomach pain or cramps, diarrhea, constipation, internal gas, or irritable bowel symptoms.

Hosts should consider the following options:

Keep food labels for everything used to prepare the holiday meal so an allergic guest may double-check the ingredient list.

Request flowers or holiday-themed napkins and plates if guests want to contribute to the party and someone with a food allergy is attending.

Look for “natural” turkey. Some pre-basted turkeys contain soy, wheat, and dairy. Instead, look for turkeys labeled “natural,” which by law must be minimally processed. Some free-range, all-natural, fresh turkeys are free of antibiotics, hormones, and allergens.

Taking care with utensils and surfaces when preparing foods is a must. Rinsing a knife that chopped walnuts is insufficient – thoroughly scrub all utensils and surfaces with soap and water and wipe clean. Even trace amounts of a food can cause a reaction for highly allergic people.

How about trying color-coded cooking utensils? A bright red silicone spatula or a nifty lime green serving spoon is sure to alert food-allergic guests.

If you are a guest with allergies, always let hosts or restaurants know in advance – don’t assume they will remember.  Always carry your rescue medication, such as epinephrine or adrenaline, just in case of emergency.

This information is from a K-State Research & Extension publication, Food Allergy Facts of Life, written by Amy Lorenzen, 2013.


schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].


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