Dealing With Holiday Food Allergies

As we approach the holiday season with office and neighborhood parties and family gatherings, it is important for people with food allergy to be extra cautious. It often only takes a small amount of food, even a single bite, to trigger a potentially severe allergic reaction in a susceptible individual. During the holiday season, when we often eat foods that we may not eat at other times of the year, it is especially important to know what is in the food we are eating.

The most common food allergens are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc), soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. These ingredients are often found in many holiday recipes and baked goods. A recently recognized food allergy that is especially prominent in our area involves delayed allergic reactions to red meat. People with this allergy may develop hives or swelling or even more severe symptoms which occur 4-8 hours after eating red meat.

For patients who suffer from food allergy, the best treatment is avoidance of the foods which cause reactions. In case of accidental ingestions, antihistamines (eg, Benadryl) can be helpful for mild symptom but patients should carry epinephrine (eg, EpiPen) for use in case of severe symptoms such as throat swelling, trouble breathing or passing out.

Tips for food allergy sufferers:

1) Make sure you alert the host of your holiday party about your food allergy as soon as possible. Advanced warning can help with meal planning and make everyone more comfortable.

2) Offer to bring your own allergy free dish to take some of the load off the host. This will also allow you to ensure the dish is allergy free and you can be certain there is no risk of cross contamination by cooks not used to dealing with food allergy. Some recipes for allergy-free recipes can be found on the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website at

3) Inquire carefully about any ingredients before trying any foods, even ones that seem familiar.

4) Food allergens can often be hidden in lots of foods such as baked goods, sweets, dips, dressings and casseroles. Keep in mind the potentially life-threatening nature of food allergy and don't let your willingness to try something overwhelm your better judgment.