Making Food Allergy Manageable
Food allergies can be pretty scary. Reactions range in severity from mild rashes and lip swelling to wheeze, tightening of the airways, difficulty breathing and even anaphylaxis. The positive thing about food allergies is that they can be managed. Making sure you have the correct information on how to avoid the allergen, which foods are ‘safe’ and communicating this to those involved in the care of someone with an allergy, can really help to make allergies more manageable.
Here are some practical tips to help you navigate the food allergy journey…
Avoid all forms of the allergen
It is important to make sure that you are aware of how to avoid all forms in which an allergen can be found. For example, for a nut allergy: nuts whether in the form of chipped, flaked, ground, butters, oils and flavours, need to be excluded. If you have a cow’s milk allergy, then all sources of cow’s milk need to be excluded, including: milk, yoghurts, cheese and butter.
- Avoid all forms of allergen including the pure form and products where the allergen is one of ingredients.
Check for hidden sources of the allergen
Different terms may be used to indicate the presence of different allergens. For example, the presence of peanuts may be indicated by the terms earth nut and pinder. If a product says ‘praline’ it means that it contains hazelnut, and ‘hickory’ may indicate that it contains pecan nuts.
Many manufacturers and retailers are able to provide allergen free lists and some provide information on their websites.
- Obtain lists regarding allergen detail/names
- Contact retail outlets and manufacturers before you go shopping to make it easier when you are in the shop
- Avoid foods where the ingredients are not listed eg: buffets, bakeries and salad bars
Be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination
Cross contamination occurs when a food comes into contact with the protein of an allergen in the supply chain, during manufacturing or in the home environment whilst storing, preparing or serving food. Manufacturers may list products as ‘may contain’ and it is important not to ignore these warnings.
- Have separate shelves/cupboards for allergen free products
- Use containers with lids for storage
- Use separate utensils for preparation and serving
Plan & communicate
Planning and communicating can help to prevent many allergy accidents. When eating out, check with restaurants beforehand regarding which dishes are allergen free. Some foods are more risky than others, in particular: Indian, Thai and Chinese cooking are risky for peanut and nut allergy as they commonly use nuts and nut oils in cooking. Always ensure the restaurant is aware of cross contamination risks. If in doubt, it may be better to avoid the risk.
Speak with family, friends and caregivers about your or your child’s allergy and ensure that all involved in the care of a child with allergies are aware of the allergy, what suitable alternatives are and how to manage the reaction if an accident occurs
- Phone ahead to restaurants/airlines/hotels to see if they can help accommodate you
- Communicate with family, carers and schools regarding a child’s allergy and ensure that all involved in the care of a child are aware of the allergy management plan.
Check non-food items
It is also worthwhile to note that some non-food items like creams and soaps may contain allergens for example: nut oils. If applied, especially to inflamed or broken skin these may cause a reaction in sensitive individuals. It may be helpful to discuss your allergies with your pharmacist so that they can help you choose suitable product options.
- Check with pharmacist when purchasing medicines/cosmetics
Focus on the ‘safe allowed foods’
Because much of allergy is about ‘what to avoid’, it can sometimes be helpful to focus on what are safe and suitable food options. These days there are many more companies and products that cater for individual allergy needs including multiple allergies. With a little planning and preparation, individuals with allergies can also enjoy many different restaurant and food product options and not find the allergy journey quite so daunting.