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Living with Food Allergy

The mainstay of management in someone with a food allergy is avoidance of the trigger food. This requires:

  • Reading and understanding labels on food products
  • Understanding how to avoid cross-contamination during cooking and meal-times
  • Strategies to communicate the nature of allergies to others, when eating out etc.

It is important to achieve the right balance towards appropriate avoidance and not over-excessive measures, which can impact negatively on a person’s life quality and in some cases, result in risk-taking – for example, there is some evidence that over-stringent avoidance in childhood can result in increased risk taking in allergic teenagers.

Tips for food allergen avoidance at home

Utensils, cookware, glassware, storage containers, and other food preparation equipment

  • Thoroughly clean before preparing or serving safe meals.
  • Prepare safe meal first to avoid inadvertent cross-contact
  • Be aware of the potential for cross-contact with utensils. For example, a knife used to prepare peanut butter and jam by a non-allergic child could introduce peanut into an otherwise safe jar of jam and subsequently cause a reaction in a peanut-allergic sibling eating the jam.
  • Designate specific containers for use by the allergic person only. For example, avoid sippy-cup mix-ups by using a specific cup for the allergic child or using an obvious label

Refrigerator/freezer and kitchen larder

  • Keep food containers covered/sealed to prevent spill contamination
  • Assign a specific shelf or cabinet for safe foods. Consider using colour codes or tags for easy identification

Good practices for the family

  • Wash hands before and after meals but particularly before serving allergen-free meals and after ingestion of allergens
  • Confine food consumption to specified dining areas or create allergen-free zones within the home
  • Wipe down surfaces after preparation and ingestion of meals. Cleaning surfaces with standard cleaners has been shown to be sufficient for removal of allergens such as peanut.
  • For young children, unsafe foods should be kept out of reach both at the dinner table and when storing foods

Tips for eating out

Before (prepare)

  • Check the menu (is it online?) to determine if there are suitable meal options
  • Call ahead to assess the restaurant’s ability and willingness to accommodate your needs
  • Consider carrying a print out of our help sheets with information about allergens and warnings about cross-contact
  • Take your emergency medications, especially any adrenaline auto-injector pens you have been prescribed

During (communicate)

  • Communicate clearly and directly about food allergy. It is best to speak directly to the person making the food, but don’t forget to speak to other staff including the waiter and/or manager.
  • Ask about ingredients and method of preparation. Do not trust ingredient lists on menus at face value

AVOID high-risk places for cross-contamination, such as:

  • Buffets
  • Ice cream parlors
  • Bakeries
  • Chinese and Asian restaurants (for peanut and tree nut allergies)
  • Seafood restaurants (for fish and shellfish allergies)
  • Deep fried foods, where the oil is reused for different foods and may therefore be contaminated by previously cooked foods
  • Potlucks and parties where homemade dishes come from a variety of sources

Amended from:
Living with Food Allergy: Allergen Avoidance by Jennifer Kim and Scott Sicherer.
Pediatric Clinics of North America Vol. 58 (2011), 459–470.


Last updated: March 2012