Safety Tips for Living With Food Allergies
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022
If you have food allergies, your doctor has probably talked to you about safety. Since there is no cure for food allergies, avoiding any trigger food is key. This is not always easy, since 9 common foods account for nearly 90 percent of all reactions, including:1,2
- Tree nuts
It is not always easy to completely avoid these foods. Accidental exposure can sometimes occur. For this reason, it is always important to have some safety precautions in place.
Carry epinephrine at all times
You can have a severe food allergy reaction with any exposure to the allergen, even if you have only experienced minor reactions in the past. This is why it is so important to carry 2 epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPen®, Adrenaclick®, Auvi-Q®, Symjepi®) at all times. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis because it helps to reverse the life-threatening symptoms.3
If you are having a severe anaphylactic reaction, no other treatment will be effective. In some cases, severe reactions can recur, and a second dose of epinephrine is needed.3
If you have a severe reaction and epinephrine is given, always call 9-1-1. Let them know 1 auto-injector was given and more may be necessary. This will let the responders know to have it on hand, just in case.3
Understanding food labels
It is important to learn how to read food labels. Being able to identify and avoid all foods that can cause a reaction can help you, a friend, or family member stay safe.4,5
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food labels to list any major food allergens. This applies to domestic and imported foods. It does not include fresh produce, fresh poultry and meats, some egg products, highly refined oils, and most alcoholic beverages. These products and some others are regulated by other federal agencies.5
The 9 major food allergens required to be listed by the FDA include:3-5
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
- Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
- Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
However, manufacturers do not have to include warnings about cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is when food allergens may accidentally be introduced during manufacturing or packaging.5
For example, a residue or trace amount of a certain food on machinery or in the air may get into another food not intended to contain it. Some packaging includes statements like "may contain" or "produced in a facility that also uses." These messages are voluntary.5
To be safe, always read food labels, even those for familiar foods. Companies may change the ingredients products over time.
Wear medical alert jewelry
Wear a medical alert bracelet or other jewelry, like a necklace, to tell others of your allergy if you cannot talk.4
Make sure your medical alert jewelry clearly states4
- Your food allergy
- Your date of birth
- Your name
- Emergency contact
- Any other allergies you have or necessary information like other medical conditions
It should clearly be a piece of medical alert jewelry with the medical alert symbol.
Avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen
Many times, people with food allergies do not allow a trigger food in the house at all. But if you do bring in a food that only 1 person is allergic to, take these steps to avoid cross-contamination:2,4-6
- Label foods clearly as safe or not safe using colored stickers, a marker, or different colored containers.
- Designate certain shelves or areas of your shelves, pantry refrigerator, and freezer for foods that contain the trigger.
- If a child is allergic to milk, have a special cup for only them to use.
- Wash hands with soap and water before touching safe foods.
- Thoroughly clean all surfaces, countertops, and utensils after preparing foods with allergens in them.
- After touching or eating allergenic foods, have everyone in the house wash their hands with soap and water. This prevents the allergen from spreading to other areas of the house.
- If safe and unsafe foods are served in the same meal, prepare the safe food first, and do not share cooking utensils.
- Always store foods in sealed containers to avoid any contamination.
Dining out safely
When dining out, there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of cross-contamination. These steps include:6,7
- Call ahead and talk to a manager or chef about your concerns and dietary needs. Ask what they can do to ensure your safety.
- When seated, use a cleaning wipe to wipe down the table, chairs, and menus.
- Ask that no pots, pans, utensils, or preparation surfaces that have touched an allergen will be used.
- Even if you are ordering something that does not seem like it has allergens in it, always ask your server to double-check the ingredients. Do not rely on the menu or a visual inspection to determine whether a dish contains an allergen.