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When guests have food allergy – Always ask

Plates of food

One of our members shares her story of hosting a party that included a teenager with food allergies and the lessons that were learned.

This is a helpful read for everyone to consider.

Read on for the story

Recently, I was planning an event at my place and my friend said she would bring food for her daughter.

“Phew”, I sighed.

I immediately felt guilty. Who was I to complain when my friend had to deal with the everyday challenges of feeding her teenage daughter with food allergies. There was the constant vigilance, the checking of ingredients (even of products she uses all the time) and having to explain food allergy management to people whenever they ate outside the home. She also had to teach her daughter these same skills to enable her to be independent and safe.

“Sorry,” I said, “that wasn’t fair.”

“It’s fine,” she replied, “I am used to bringing food for her. I wasn’t at first but now I am used to it.”

Still, as a friend, I could do better.

So, what can you do if you have friends or extended family members with food allergy and you are not used to making or serving meals for people with food allergies?

  • The biggest hint is always ask. Any food allergies? What do I need to do? How do I do it?
  • If you don’t think you can manage what is needed to reduce the risk to the person with food allergies, then tell them or their parent or carer. Don’t pretend you know if you don’t.
  • If you can’t prepare food for the person, suggest they bring their own food or something to share that they will feel comfortable eating.
  • Know your ingredients. If using packet food (for example, sauces, flavour sachet), keep the used packets or take photos of the ingredients list and precautionary allergen statements so your guest with food allergy (FA) can check it if they need to.
  • Be aware of cross-contamination – for example, products like butter or jam can be contaminated by a knife previously used with a nut spread. Use unopened packaged foods and wash cooking utensils thoroughly before cooking for a person with food allergy.
  • If other guests are bringing food to share, there are a couple of approaches, so discuss them with your guest with FA before rushing in:
  1. Tell the other guests about the food allergies and explain what the food allergen is – for example, what tree nuts include. Explain what is required to reduce risk. Ask them to know their ingredients and be aware of cross-contamination, but not to expect the guest with food allergies to eat their food, even if they are careful. Trust can be a big ask when people have food allergies.
  2. Your guest with FA may just prefer to eat the food they bring, or food from people they know well and trust.
  • Serve the person with allergies first. For example, let them be the first person to take from the dish with a clean spoon. Used spoons from different dishes may cause cross-contamination with the allergen.
  • If you are serving finger foods that contain allergens and others that do not, offer the person with food allergy a plate and encourage them to serve themselves the food they want before there is a risk of contamination through using wrong utensils or hands.
  • Educate yourself. Our blog, ‘Food allergies: what friends and family need to know ’, and the Food Allergy Awareness website are helpful resources.
  • Ask your guest with FA if they are comfortable with what you are doing to help prevent an allergic reaction to food. Ask them to help you with ideas to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction and try not to make the situation uncomfortable or too hard for anyone.

What ended up happening with my friend and her teenager when they came to my house?

There were two plates of pre-dinner snacks. One without allergens, the other with. Everyone who came to dinner was told the difference and instructed that utensils must remain with the same plate. The two plates were kept well apart.

My friend brought food for her daughter that needed to be heated and told me how I could do this safely.

A dessert that did not contain the food the teen was allergic to was cut with a clean knife and she was served her portion first. Just before adding the ice cream (brand new and unopened), the teen said she could not eat that type. Luckily, I had a tub of a different brand that was unopened. The teen checked the ingredients and said it was safe for her to use.

My friend’s daughter is at an age and stage where she is able to do a lot of allergy management herself. She knew to wash her hands, ask, and read ingredient labels. Younger children with less understanding will need more support.

Eating out can be a real challenge for people with food allergies and their families. As a friend, one of the best things you can do is always ask.

The theme for Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia Food Allergy Week 2024 is ‘When eating out – always ask, always tell’.

 
 
 
 

IN AN EMERGENCY

If you are having an allergic reaction follow advice on your ASCIA Action Plan.

If in doubt, give the Anapen® or EpiPen®.

Do not call us for emergency advice.

If you do not have an ASCIA Action Plan and/or an Anapen® or EpiPen® call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.