Tips to Make Holiday Meals Enjoyable and Safe for People with Food Allergies

November 13, 2018

Enjoying good times around the holiday table can sometimes be difficult for people with food allergies.

According to the National Institutes of Health, around five percent of children and four percent of adults in the United States have a food allergy.

“Most food allergies develop in the first or second year of life, although they can occur at any age,” said Russell S. Traister, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “It’s important for people to remember that even though the main ingredients in a dish may be fine, some ingredients can be hidden and cause allergic reactions.”

The most common allergens are milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

Traister offers these tips to help people manage food allergies and enjoy their time with family this holiday season:

  • If you’re attending a holiday gathering with a child or family member who has food allergies, bring at least one dish that can safely be eaten by the allergic person in case there aren’t any other options.
  • Be aware of cross-contamination. For example, peanut protein can stay on a bowl or work surface for up to five hours and still cause a severe reaction for someone who is allergic to peanuts.
  • People who know they have food allergies should always keep an EpiPen or the generic version of the epinephrine auto-injector with them. They should make sure it has not expired and friends and family members should also know how to use it.
  • If you’re hosting a social event, keep all prepared food packaging so guests can check the ingredients for any potential allergens.
  • Symptoms can range from rashes, coughing and vomiting to potentially life-threatening reactions such as swelling of the tongue and the inability to breathe.

“If you think you or a friend or family member is having an allergic reaction and you don’t have an epinephrine auto-injector with you, call 911 immediately or go to the closest emergency department,” Traister said. “Even if you use your epinephrine auto-injector, you should still seek medical attention to prevent a second reaction.”

Earlier this year, Traister was the lead author of a study suggesting that chigger bites may cause a relatively rare allergic reaction to red meat that develops several hours after eating meat such as beef, pork or venison. 

Media contacts: 

Eryn Johnson, eryjohns@wakehealth.edu336-713-8228
Joe McCloskey, jmcclosk@wakehealth.edu336-716-1273