Editor’s Note: Stay Safe Socializing During The Holiday Season

in Food Allergy, Managing Allergies

Group of friends gathering for New Year's party at home.Photo: Getty
Ah, the annual visiting season. A time of seeing good friends you’ve been too busy to see all year, dressing up, giving gifts and general merriment.

However, if you are taking part in a visit or attending a small party as food-allergic adult, remember that there are special considerations. It’s a time when you’ve simply got to plan ahead – to avoid using that auto-injector and needing a trip to the emergency department.

For women, think of it as wearing your good dress and heels, along with invisible football gear. You need to stay protected – and you’re the one-person defense. As an adult with multiple food allergies, who has experienced anaphylaxis and definitely doesn’t recommend it, let me offer a few pointers on staying safe when you socialize.

The first considerations are: who is hosting and is it (or is it not) a situation where you will be able to trust the food that’s being served.

Good friends are hosting: If the party will be at the home of good friends, whom you know you can count on for safe food, then discuss the menu plan and remind them of your specific allergies. Be sure to do this well ahead of time, since no one appreciates having a wrench thrown into their menu at the last minute. Offer to bring a dish that fits with what they’ll be serving – with the plan that you’ll take the first portion, avoiding any cross-contact if an allergy issue does unexpectedly crop up.

Acquaintances are the hosts: If the gathering is being thrown by someone you don’t know as well, definitely make them aware of your allergies. However, when it’s a party with finger foods as opposed to a sit-down meal, sometimes it’s not worth the effort of trying to explain to the uninitiated how to read “may contain” warnings on food packages, take cross-contact kitchen precautions, etc. By sending an email that explains your severe allergies, in most cases you will at least significantly reduce the chances the hosts will serve up exposure risks, such as the bowls of nuts or cheese-based dips and skewers.

Gwen Smith. Photo: Geoff George
In the acquaintance situation, I “pre-eat” – in other words, I have a good meal at home, so that I’m really not hungry and not about to cave into temptation. As everyone raves about the finger food, I’ll be the one nursing a beverage (and perhaps sneaking a bite of a safe snack in my purse). I didn’t touch the food – especially not the dessert table and its many mystery ingredients. People are so busy eating themselves that they seldom notice if you aren’t. Holding a napkin can distract them from noticing, too.

But what a shame to miss out, you say? Nah, I’m over it. I came for the company and great conversation. I love food – and a good meal I can get any time at home or at a number of allergy-aware restaurants. But a party with people you find interesting and whom you seldom get to see? And with everyone dressed up and in great spirits? That’s worth far, far more than a few missed bites.

Drinking: It’s not advisable to drink too much, especially with food allergies. If you do, you may make a bad decision, such as eating something you shouldn’t or (looking at you single people) kissing someone who just ate your allergen. We get a lot of readers’ questions on allergens in alcohol and how to kiss safely. See our guide on how to socialize safely when there’s alcohol involved, Dr. Hemant Sharma’s advice on kissing with severe food allergies, and Dr. Scott Sicherer’s view of whether alcohol worsens reactions to food.

Be the Host: A last great suggestion – throw that gathering yourself! There’s no need to be daunted. Allergic Living’s recipe section is filled with delicious allergy-friendly appetizers, mains, sides and dessert ideas. For a last-minute get-together, look no farther than the Party Food list in our recipe section, including an allergy-friendly charcuterie board. Just so you can do simple, safe – and on-trend.

I wish you and your family low-stress, highly enjoyable holidays.