Education your loved ones and yourselves on your food allergies and safe practices is first and foremost key to keeping them safe. Families and friends dealing with food allergies get better at understanding what their allergies mean and how to avoid risks with more time, practice, and dialogue. Here are additional party tips to help keep your loved ones reaction-free and, hopefully, lower your anxiety level. Here's hoping we can all enjoy the big game and catch up with good friends a bit...instead of keeping a constant vigil over the buffet table.
- Bring your medication. Yes, this statement is a no-brainer but let me elaborate. If you have been prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector, always carry it in its correct form, as a two-pack. Sarah and I recently attended a food allergy blogger summit in which Ruchi Gupta, leading doctor and advocate on food allergies, shared with us that there is still a misconception that the EpiPen auto-injectors can be separated to cover more area -- to keep one at school and one at home, for example. Keeping the twin pack together is absolutely necessary. Sometimes one shot of epinephrine is not enough as Sarah discovered recently and there is always the chance that one auto-injector fails to function properly as with the case in the tragic anaphylaxis death of Tyler Davis. Know and keep a copy of your food allergy action plan with your life-saving medication so that you and fellow guests know what to do in case of a reaction and how to identify signs of anaphylaxis.
- Bring your own safe foods. Even if you know the hosts, have talked to them about the menu, have checked food labels and recipes, always have a collection of tried-and-true safe snacks for your food-allergic loved ones. Bring a variety and bring more than you need.
- Bring safe cups. At kid-friendly parties, there is often a sea of juice boxes that "decorate" the party venue almost as much as beer bottles at a frat party. On two occasions at such parties, I have seen kids accidentally taking sips from my kids' juiceboxes. (Yes, said boxes then went straight to the trash.) I like to bring reusable lidded cups with straws like these to stand out and to protect against the wrong-drinker. Besides being cheap and BPA-free, I can easily change out the straws if they get gross, I can write my kids' names on them with a Sharpie and easily wipe/scratch them off when I'm done. Feel free to pop a sticker on the lids, too, to further distinguish your family's cups.
- Keep those hands clean! If it hasn't become a family routine yet, make sure that you and your kids wash before and after each time you take a food break. Carry plenty of wet wipes, too, for those places where a sink isn't accessible. I am not shy about offering wet wipes to friends' kids also along with a friendly reminder that my kids can develop rashes or worse if they are touched by their food allergens.
- Bring a Sharpie. A Sharpie is also great for writing our names on our disposable plates (assuming we are not at a sit-down, fine china kind of gathering). You don't know how many friends, living with food allergies or not, have commented on the brilliance of marking our plates to avoid mix-ups.
- Tote your loved one's safe foods separately from the food you will share. Bringing something for a potluck? Pack your child's portions in their own containers. That way you can avoid the risk of cross contact from accidentally shared or mixed-up utensils or dropped-foods at a buffet table.
- Always honor the instinct and feelings of your food-allergic loved one. I was lucky enough to hear food allergy advocate Allergic Girl Sloane Miller speak about living a confident life with food allergies. She told us about a time when a meal was completely catered to her specific allergies. However, with so much going on, she did not get a chance to personally talk to the servers and food preparers ahead of time to double check about ingredients and food handling. Sloane felt uneasy about eating the meal and decided not to eat and take it back to her hotel room instead.
- Never eat for someone else. Even when a host has gone through great lengths to provide allergy-friendly foods for your child, if your child doesn't want to try something unfamiliar to them, be okay with that. Do not ever force your child to eat to "be polite" or because you are afraid of disappointing your well-meaning host. Again, this goes with honoring your loved one's gut feelings on how to keep themselves safe.