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Communication key when hosting people with food allergies By Merritt Melancon

Almost 50 million Americans live with a food allergy, so there’s a good chance that a large Thanksgiving guest list might mean that you’re cooking for someone with dietary restrictions.

While it seems odd to ask about some one’s medical condition when you’re inviting them to a celebration, communication is the key to this modern dilemma for hosts and guests.

“People with food allergies must avoid whatever food or ingredient they are allergic to in order to be safe, so they will appreciate a host or hostess who is concerned,” said Judy Harrison, a food safety Extension specialist with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

The most common food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans and walnuts), milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. People who live with allergies on a daily basis will tell you that these allergens can be in many foods and sometimes in foods where one might not expect them.

Two-way communication is the key to keeping guests safe and hosts relaxed during holiday meals. Here are few tips that will allow guests to celebrate without having to worry.

  • It’s good policy to check with family and friends to see if they or their children have food allergies when you invite when them to dinner. No one expects you to rewrite your whole menu in light of their allergy, but making a few dishes without the offending ingredients will make your guests feel welcome.
  • If the party is going to include guests that you don’t know very well or unexpected guests, consider serving a variety of foods so that even those with food allergies will have some items they can eat.
  • The store-bought soups, sauces and stuffing and dip mixes that go into many holiday recipes may contain ingredients that some people are allergic to. Be sure to check the ingredient labels for allergens. Just a small amount of an allergen can cause life-threatening health problems for some.
  • If you make a dish that contains ingredients that are common allergens, make festive labels for each dish that lets people know it contains the ingredient. For instance, if a dish contains wheat and eggs, have a label that says, “This dish contains wheat and eggs!” If it contains almonds, have a label that says, “This dish contains almonds!” One easy way to do this is to print the messages on festive paper labels and tape them to toothpicks or wooden popsicle sticks that can be inserted into the dish.
  • Take extra precautions in the kitchen to separate foods containing allergens from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. Thoroughly clean equipment, utensils and work surfaces between uses to prevent allergens from being transferred from one dish into another.
  • If you know that one of your guests has a severe allergy to a particular food like nuts or peanuts, choose snacks that do not contain nuts.

Following these tips will make sure that everyone feels welcome and safe during this holiday entertaining season.

(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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