Food is a source of nutrition and enjoyment. For most people, the major nutritional challenge is to eat the right amount of healthy foods and to limit intake of junk foods. Many people, however, are allergic to some nutritious foods and must avoid them.
A food-allergic reaction involves the digestive, skin, and/or respiratory systems. In highly allergic people, anaphylaxis - sudden, severe and life-threatening symptoms that include swelling, difficulty in breathing, heart failure, circulatory collapse, and sometimes death - can occur within minutes of exposure. Immediate administration of life-saving epinephrine, a liquid antihistamine (like Benadryl), and Emergency Medical Services ("911") are required. 90% of food-allergic reactions are caused by peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pecans and almonds), fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat.
There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance is critical. Information concerning food allergies is available from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (www.foodallergy.org), the Food Allergy Initiative (www.foodallergyinitiative.org), and the Food Allergy and Asthma Support Group of North Jersey (contact PalKidz@aol.com).
The following tips can help to minimize food allergy risks:
- Ask friends what they are allergic to and help them avoid it. Even trace amounts of a forbidden food can cause a reaction. People can be allergic to more than one food.
- Read the label for all foods every time. If something doesn't have a label or you don't know all of the ingredients, the food-allergic person should not eat it.
- Minimize the risk of cross contact with a food allergen. Be sure to wash hands before and after eating, and before and after visiting public places.
- Be informed and prepared. Discuss in advance the handling of a possible reaction with a food-allergic friend or the parents of a food-allergic child. Know the symptoms of any allergic reaction, and help immediately if your food-allergic friend becomes ill.
For the host or hostess planning a meal for a food allergic guest:
- Inquire about the guest's food allergy in advance.
- Discuss ideas for allergen-free dishes with the guest.
- Be receptive to the food-allergic person bringing a safe dish.
- Keep ingredient labels of products used to prepare the meal, in case questions arise about a particular dish.
- Be cautious about cross contact in preparing and serving holiday foods for guests with food allergies. It only takes a particle of an allergen to cause an allergic reaction. For example, do not mix plain cookies with nut-containing cookies on a baking sheet or dish.
- Never serve a food allergic person anything with unknown ingredients or known to contain any allergen!
- No food sharing or swapping!
- Wash hands before and after eating!