Hosting Holiday Guests With Celiac Disease, Food Allergies, Or Sensitivities?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers these food safety tips
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Food allergies are on the rise, and so is the likelihood that one or more of your holiday guests may have a food allergy, food intolerance, or celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that reacts to gluten. Keep guests safe this holiday season with tips from the Home Food Safety program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods.

“Because reactions may be severe, even life-threatening, food allergies can’t be taken lightly,” said registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Angela Lemond. “But with planning you can offer a meal with foods that are suitable for those with dietary concerns.”

While you may not be familiar with food allergies or gluten-free eating, guests that have these special dietary needs most likely will, Lemond said. “One of the first and most important steps hosts can take to help keep guests safe is to ask them directly about their specific needs, and ask more questions if you are still unclear.”

It is important to separate foods as you shop, cook, and eat to avoid cross-contact (when the food allergen or gluten is transferred to a food meant to be allergen- or gluten-free). Even a small amount can make guests ill. “Separation is key to avoiding cross-contact,” Lemond said.

The Home Food Safety program offers the following tips for those preparing food for guests with food allergies, food intolerances, or celiac disease:

Safety Starts at the Store 

  •   *Learn which ingredients are problematic and read ingredient labels on foods.
  •   *When shopping, keep problematic foods in plastic bags or place them in a second cart, and keep them separate at checkout and in the car.
  •   *Avoid foods from bulk bins, hot/cold salad bars, and the deli counter, as these are common sites for cross-contact.
     

Set Up a Storage System
If you can’t keep the entire house free from the problematic food, label allergen and/or gluten-free foods to avoid confusion and place gluten- and allergen-containing foods on shelves below allergen/gluten-free foods.

Conscious Cooking is Key

  •   *Use separate sets of utensils, cookware, and cooking tools. Also use separate small appliances (toasters and blenders).
  •   *Prepare and cook allergen/gluten-free dishes first and in/on cleaned equipment and surfaces.
  •   *If possible, dedicate a kitchen space to allergen/gluten-free preparation.
     

Wash and Sterilize

  •   *Wash and sterilize everything coming into contact with the allergen/gluten-free food being prepared.
  •   *Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds.
  •   *Change gloves and aprons.
  •   *To clean surfaces and larger appliances, use a dry towel to wipe down crumbs first, then wash or sterilize.
     

Avoid Cross-Contact while Serving

  •   *Serve allergen/gluten-free guests first and carry their dishes separate from others.
  •   *Cross-contact with an allergen or gluten through condiments is common due to double-dipping with a utensil. Choose squeeze bottles when possible to eliminate double dipping, and clearly label the option that is free from the allergen or gluten.
  •   *Avoid “make-your-own” dishes with high risk for cross-contact, including sundaes, salads, and topping bars.

Learn more about the differences between food allergies, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, as well as how to prevent cross-contact at home. And as you’re preparing for the holidays, download our Holiday Helper tip sheet and the Kitchen Safety Checklist to ensure you’re equipped for a happy and healthy holiday.

“With a bit of preparation and communication, your guests can focus on appreciating the meal and time spent with family and friends, rather than their food allergy or celiac disease,” Lemond said. “And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?”

To learn more about the award-winning Home Food Safety program, visit HomeFoodSafety.org, or download the free Is My Food Safe? app for Apple and Android mobile devices.