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Food Allergies and Holiday Parties: A Guide for Keeping Safe

Holiday parties can be a challenge when you’re managing food allergies. Here are some tips from our members, whether you are celebrating with family, friends or co-workers.

If You’re a Host

Be Allergy Aware. Ask your guests about food allergies in advance, because they may not volunteer that information (especially in a workplace setting). Being able to discuss it and plan ahead will make it possible for everyone to enjoy the party.Have it at your place. Consider offering to host family events at your own home, where you can have more control over the menu. Even though it’s more work, it can ultimately be more relaxing and a great opportunity to educate friends and family about all the healthy and delicious options that don’t include your allergens!Plan accordingly. Roger King, who has a peanut allergy, hosts a party for his clients each December. “We use a caterer, and I go through the menu ahead of time and tell the caterer ‘no nuts and no peanuts’,” he says. “We order appetizers and entrees, but we don’t order a dessert tray since so many Christmas desserts have nuts.”

“I used to think all this was just for me,” he adds. “But last year a longtime client told me she had a nut allergy. You never really know unless you ask.”

If You’re a Guest

Be prepared. Carry your auto-injector (e.g. EpiPen / Allerject) and wear your medical identification jewellery. Let your host know about your allergies well in advance and offer to help with the menu. If the event is in a public space (such as a pub), call ahead at off-peak hours and arrive early to speak to the manager about your allergies.

Strategize. Parents of young children face specific challenges — like keeping an eagle-eye on their toddlers while attempting to be social with other adults. “It’s a balancing act,” says Leah M., whose 3-year-old daughter has a milk allergy.

“My husband and I plan in advance to take ‘shifts’ at a party,” says Leah, “so we know that one of us is always close to her. That gives us each time to relax and have adult conversations. And we always know who’s in charge, so it keeps her safer, too.”Think when you drink. Your judgment can be impaired when alcohol is involved. Nick Tracy, who has multiple food allergies, says, “I usually try to eat before I go to a party since most of the snacks are verboten and I do want to drink but not on an empty stomach.””I’m pretty relaxed at holiday parties because I’ve taken steps to be safe,” notes Tracy. “I also make sure that no matter how much I pare down what’s in my purse I always bring my auto-injector.”

If You Have a Reaction
Take action. If you are having a reaction (or your child is having a reaction), use the auto-injector immediately – never try to wait or tough it out – and call 9-1-1. Get to hospital by ambulance. Don’t try to drive yourself especially if you’re the one having a reaction.Reach out. A person having a reaction should not be alone. Have someone ride along in the ambulance with you. Ask a friend to stay the night after you have been released from hospital.Follow up. Make an appointment to see your allergist if you have any concerns or questions following the reaction. When you have the time, follow up with your host as well.

A New Year

Whether you are a host or a guest, the post-holiday season is a great time for reflecting on the holidays: what went well and what could be done differently next year. Take stock of your allergy plan.And while you’re at it, check your auto-injector’s expiry date. If it is close to expiring, get a new one. It’s the best gift you could ever give yourself.