Regardless of differences of beliefs and traditions, the one thing just about everyone can agree on during the holidays is food. Nothing else quite brings family and friends together for an evening of merriment than a table filled with finger foods, treats, and goodies. Considering the food sensitivities of your guests ahead of time and adapting your menu accordingly can help ensure that everyone is safe and has a good time at your next hosted event.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies. In children, food allergies have risen from 3.4% in 1997–1999 to 5.1% in 2009–2011, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adverse reactions to food can vary from an itchy roof of the mouth to anaphylaxis, a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that occurs rapidly when certain foods are ingested.
“Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department — that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year,” says FARE. Which begs the question: what can you do to prevent a 911 response team from attending your next holiday gathering?
- Ask your guests ahead of time what food allergies they have. Be sure to ask about their children too. This can help you design your menu to best suit your guests, and avoid, or at least limit danger.
- If you’re having a potluck, you can include a list of ingredients not to use on the invitations.
- Another approach is to make little cards for each item on the table that tells the name of the dish and lists all ingredients. That way guests can make an informed decision about what they are ingesting. This little effort can make your guests feel cared for and make your spread look a bit more chic.
- Young children should be instructed to let their parents dish up their food, so that they don’t accidentally ingest something they’re allergic to.
Common Food Allergies
Common food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, corn, dairy (especially milk), wheat, soy, eggs, and shellfish. Reactions from food allergies vary but can affect everything from your skin to your gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract and cardiovascular system. Symptoms can appear anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after consuming the offending food. They include runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, sneezing, stomach cramps, diarrhea, skin rash or hives, itching or tingling in and around the lips, mouth and throat, decreased blood pressure, tightening of the throat, vomiting, and shortness of breath.
According to FARE, teens and young adults with food allergies, as well as individuals who suffer from asthma, are most at risk of fatal anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is the primary treatment for anaphylaxis and should be administered (via autoinjector) within minutes of the reaction. If epinephrine is not given immediately, the risk of fatality increases. Note: a single dose of epinephrine is not always sufficient to resolve the issue. Emergency room medical attention should be sought immediately by calling 911. An observation period of four hours is recommended, as symptoms may reoccur.
For a complete list of food allergy symptoms and verbiage children use to describe that something is wrong in these instances see FARE.
Being aware that people suffer from food allergies and taking a few precautions should make your holiday party memorable for all the right reasons, and not for the wrong ones.