Living with a food allergy impacts how we spend time together for meals and snacks. The only way to manage a food allergy is to completely avoid the food. If you’d like to serve food to a person with a food allergy, here are some things to consider:

Check the ingredient list every time. When you buy it AND before you open it… EVEN IF you have purchased the 

Graphic that provides detailed information on how to avoid a food allergy reaction.

 product before. 

  • By law, food labels must clearly list the 9 most common food allergens, even if the ingredient has a different name. For example, a product may contain flour from wheat and casein from milk, so they need to have the words “wheat” and “milk” clearly labeled in the ingredient lists. For more information, visit: Have Food Allergies? Read the Label.
  • Don’t rely on the front of the packaging. Only the ingredients list is regulated. For example, you may find a product labeled “cheese alternative” at the supermarket and think it is milk-free. But if you look at the ingredients list, you will see that it contains casein, which comes from milk. Even foods labeled as “non-dairy: may contain an ingredient that comes from milk.
  • If an allergy is to a food that is not one of the top 9, you may have to look for a list of possible ingredient names for that food. Or stick to buying products with simple ingredients that you are very familiar with.
  • Download these tips to avoid food allergens.

Keep preparation and serving utensils separate from other foods that are prepared with the food allergen

  • Anything that comes in contact with the food must be thoroughly cleaned before being used to serve or prepare allergen-free food, including counters and tabletops. 
  • You can run dishes and utensils through a regular dishwasher cycle or wash by hand with hot, soapy water.  Use a new sponge or other cleaning utensil when hand-washing items to prepare and serve food and dry the items with a clean towel. 
  • Tables, counters, etc, can be cleared with sanitizing wipes or a spray-on detergent. 
  • And don’t forget your hands. Wash them well, use gloves if you can, and dry your hands with a clean towel.
  • It’s safer to use unopened ingredients. For example, if you usually use the same knife when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the jelly could contain peanut butter or wheat allergens. Even if you can’t see it, there could be enough of an allergen to cause a reaction.
  • Download this resource:  Prevent Cross-Contact

Keep it real when considering ingredient substitutes

  • Simplify. If possible, avoid mixed-ingredient dishes. For example, serve baked chicken breasts with potatoes and carrots (with safe seasonings) instead of a chicken pot pie. The chicken pot pie has similar ingredients AND milk and wheat in it. 
  • Be aware of your expectations. If you want to adapt a recipe to make it allergen-free, accept that not all substitutions will taste the same. Sometimes it will be acceptable, better, or a major disappointment. 
  • Consider your time and budget. It may take a few tries until you’re satisfied with the adjustments to your recipe. Some ingredient substitutions can cost more than the original ingredient, or it’s an ingredient you are not used to preparing. 
  • Visit this substitutions page for common cooking and baking ingredients.

Remember: It’s about the person, not the food

  • The reason you want to serve food to your friend or family member is so that you can enjoy time with them and make them feel special. If you are not able to take all these steps to keep them safe, find another fun activity to do together. 
  • Respect your friend or family member’s decision to bring their own food to eat in your home. A severe allergic reaction can be scary, and milder reactions are still not pleasant. It’s only natural that they want to feel safe and enjoy your company without being concerned about a possible allergic reaction. Also, they may not want to burden you with the additional steps to make the food safe for them to eat. 

Learn more about Living with Food Allergies on the Food Allergy Research and Education website.

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