Mind and Body

Holiday Season Dining Dangers

It's time for the old end-of-year office party or family holiday dinner. During the holiday season the likelihood that you will ingest high-risk foods that may cause allergic reactions is at an all-time high. So if you are one of the estimated 11 million people affected by food allergies, focus on being a label detective in order to avoid these potentially hazardous ordeals.

Watch our for these holiday culprits:

  • Eggnog (the word albumin on a label indicates the presence of eggs)

  • Fruitcakes (may contain nuts)

  • Glazed rolls and bread or other bakery items (containing egg)

  • Mixed nuts

  • Chocolate, candies and other confectionery items (many contain nuts, milk)

  • Dips, fondues and salsas (may contain diary cream and egg)

  • Quiches (often contain egg)

  • Fried foods - if you are seafood-allergic (as the same oil used in the fried fish may also be used in the preparation of other fried foods such as French fries)

  • At least some alcoholic beverages (if you are grain or wheat sensitive)

  • Soybean oil salad dressings - (if soy sensitive)

  • Caesar or Greek salad (may contain anchovies)

  • Marzipan (a paste made of ground almonds, egg and/or milk)

  • Worcestershire sauce (may contain fish)

  • Yams, sweet potato pie (may contain egg, pecans, walnuts or dairy)

  • Pumpkin pie (may contain peanut/nuts, nutmeg)

  • Gingerbread cookies (may contain egg, milk, soy, corn and wheat)

  • Potato pancakes served for a Chanukah celebration (may contain egg)

Here are some strategies for the holidays:

  • Use caution if you eat Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Mexican cuisine as many foods may contain nuts.

  • Keep a "restaurant food allergen ingredient card" with you to make the kitchen staff aware of your food allergy when dining out. Ask for a list of ingredients before ordering.

  • Be a label detective! Learn to read food labels as many ingredients can be misleading or confusing. Check out the recommendations on "How to Read a Label" at www.foodallergy.org.

  • When visiting with friends and family, let your host know if you need to avoid certain foods so they can prepare alternate choices.

  • Bring safe, homemade, allergy-free dishes when invited to someone's house.

  • Keep a spot in the food preparation area of the kitchen free of food allergens.

  • Be sure and know the earliest signs of an allergic reaction and how to give the emergency medication(s) prescribed by your allergist/physician.

  • Develop an emergency plan that includes ample medication, including epinephrine auto-injectors (be prepared for prolonged reactions).

  • Plan ahead if you need to travel during the holidays and have safe snacks and foods with you, especially if you have a food-allergic child.

  • Stay with "simple dishes" that avoid hidden ingredients.

  • Avoid salad bars where containers can have traces of allergens and cross contamination is common.

  • Use caution when ordering deli meats where the same equipment may be used to slice meat and milk-based cheeses.

Having an allergy to a food does not mean you cannot enjoy the many and varied holiday foods this time of the year. Many alternate foods can be substituted and still ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday season! For more tips on avoiding food allergens during the holidays, vitit www.aaaai.orgor www.acaai.org.

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett

is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital and on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine. He is the current vice chair for public education committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. No information in this blog is intended as medical advice to any reader or intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.

Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY and author of "The New Allergy Solution: Super-Charge Resistance, Slash Medication, Stop Suffering." Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center, and faculty at Cornell University Medical College. Follow him on Twitter.