Holiday meals can be a bear when it comes to potential cross-contamination. Even if you’ve planned ahead, you never know when someone might accidentally upset your best laid plans.
So, what can you do? Some suggestions:
1. Definitely do plan ahead: If you’re hosting, decide whether you’re going to avoid cross-contamination by simply making everything allergen friendly. When I’m entertaining in my own home, I usually just make foods which I can eat which everyone else will enjoy, too. Then I don’t need to worry.
If there are some foods, however, that you do want to make for your guests which you can’t eat or vice versa, then decide how many of those you’ll make and plan how you’ll separate them from the rest of the food. Some options:
a. Put allergen free food in similar dishes and the other food in different dishes so you can point out to folks which are which. I have round and rectangular dishes so it’s easy for folks to know which foods they should be careful to avoid contaminating.
b. Label the food. Put little index cards in front of the food which tells folks what the dish is free of or contains. The additional advantage to this is that if you have folks with a variety of allergies, they can see with a quick glance what they can and can’t eat.
c. Put the food on different tables. If you have available table space, put allergen free food on one table and the rest on another so folks can go to both tables separately to get their food.
2. Educate: Sometimes folks just don’t know how dangerous it can be for them to switch the serving spoons on you. Take a minute to just explain that folks need to be careful to put the same spoon back into each dish because it would be a great service to your health for them to do so. I’ve found that folks are understanding once they know the potential consequences and take better care about how they serve themselves.
3. If you’re going to someone else’s home for the holidays, be pro-active: Find out if the host is going to be making food you can eat, and if so, ask them if they could follow some of the above suggestions for your and the other guests’ benefit.
If you’re going to contribute a dish of your own, make sure to both label it and point out to folks at the dinner that it is a special dish made to be allergy friendly, and bring a serving utensil that is “different” to go with it. Maybe it’s an unusual color or a non-traditional size or one that matches the serving dish. Give folks a way to recognize that that particular serving utensil needs to be used with your particular dish only.
4. Watch the children: In most cases, as with my summer gathering, it’s the little ones who don’t realize, because they are after all just little. So be sure to keep an eye on them. Enlist the help of the other adults to help serve the children and to watch the children who can serve themselves. At a certain age, the children can be told, too, about being careful, because if the food allergy is explained, children tend to be rather caring about not wanting to hurt anyone.
5. Practice avoidance in the absence of information: Many times folks will bring a dish or purchase a dish and not know exactly what specific ingredients are, but they’ll tell you generally that it is something you can eat. Don’t. It’s as simple as that. I’ve had times when folks have actually fished out an ingredient label from the trash for me and discovered that, yes, five of the six ingredients are fine, but there was that last ingredient that was deadly.
6. Be prepared: Sometimes, because you’re in your own home or because you’re going to a trusted home which you’ve been to many times, you don’t necessarily think about keeping your Epi-Pen close by. You just never know. As with the little incident at my house over the summer, accidents happen. Always be prepared and keep whatever you need, whether it’s the Epi-Pen or benadryl or the emergency phone number, close by within easy reach. Better to be prepared than sorry.