Take Away Tips I Discovered for Surviving the Festive Season with an Allergy
The Build up
Christmas seems to start earlier each year. This year, 2019, I noticed the festivities started at the start of November, straight after Bonfire Night.
The first ‘festivity’ which I noticed was the loose nuts for sale on supermarket shelves. Not only is this seriously dangerous for airborne nut allergy sufferers, but it is negligent. The loose nuts’ positioning in the store are never marked out for allergy sufferers to know about. Instead, they are put right in the entrance to the store so you have no choice but to see them, smell them, and feel physically sick and resent your time at their store. I did make several complaints to my supermarket about this issue. Unfortunately, they were never moved and they are still there today, on the 28th December. Take home: stay clear of the loose nuts, remember where they were the year before and try your best to navigate around them. Keep complaining though, the more voices, the better!
It is not just the supermarkets which are guilty of this. This year I did not go to a Christmas market because of the loose nuts on sale. Although the majority of these markets take place in an outside space I still do not feel comfortable with my allergen being around me, pretty much at every stall. Not only this, but as they are being sold, I do not feel safe being around other people who may have eaten and touched nuts, and then they may come into contact with me, unintentionally. As I had the choice to go, I took the safer option and didn’t. However, you shouldn’t follow suit. If you do feel safe enough to go to a Christmas Market, knowing your food allergen is being sold and around, great! Just use your common sense. As an allergy sufferer though, your gut is probably a lot stronger than most!
Tastings within the supermarket also were a big feature this festive season. During the week, staff came and offered around certain cheeses for customers. I did say no thank you as soon as they approached me as it is a habit of refusing food I have not read the ingredients of. It did occur to me though, what if a customer had a dairy allergy and they’re contaminating the air with these cheeses? I did ask the supermarket whether there were any restrictions for them doing this as it could be deadly for some. However, there is no law currently which bans this. I would instead recommend as I did earlier, stay clear of the cheeseboard and if you can, keep mentioning it to your store to stop this experience for customers, if your dairy allergy is severe.
At the majority of Christmas parties there is food available. A lot of the food is more than likely to contain food allergens. I was shocked this year to find that almost every supermarket’s mince pies contained sulphites. I say almost because I did not look in every UK supermarket so some may not contain sulphites but the stores which I did go to had, and it was more than 4! If you are hosting a Christmas party please keep all packaging of the food if it was pre-prepared to check for allergens for your guest. Similarly, as a guest, always inform your host with as much notice as possible of your food allergy. I always take my own food. Let your host know you are bringing your own food because of your allergy so they are not offended. However, I am sure they will feel more than happy about your arrangement as it takes the weight off their shoulders.
I made a lot of my family’s own canapés. This was because although food labels did not say the foods contained allergens, there may still be traces. I find at this time of year, and on Christmas Day, you do not want to be a patient in A&E because of an allergic reaction. If you can make your own and prepare as much as possible yourself, the better! It needn’t take long. The blinis I made took no longer than 5 minutes to prepare and about 5 minutes to cook. It also put me right into the festive mood!
If you eat Turkey on Christmas Day be very careful. When I was a child we bought a turkey one year. It was already stuffed and just as we carved into it, we discovered the stuffing contained nuts. The label did say it contained nuts, but because we didn’t assume the turkey would contain nuts no one checked. This emphasises the point to always check and read every food label!
Supermarkets offer their own free from range of festive food. They offer so much from gluten free mince pies to Christmas pudding. Yet just because the product is ‘free from’ does not make it free of all allergens. Be extra careful when reading these labels as they could suck you into a false sense of security.
Back to the point about A&E on Christmas Day and the may contain label, I have always made our pudding from scratch. The majority of ready-made puddings do contain nuts because it’s a festive ingredient, and I am confident that the majority also contain dairy, egg and wheat. If you can I would recommend that you always make your own pudding. Even if you are eating at another house, bring the pudding, that way you know you are safe and you can relax and enjoy your Christmas Day, whilst also contributing!
I’m including this day in here as it is usually a day to carry on the festivities when you see extended family members and/or friends. If you are enjoying lunch elsewhere, inform your host of your allergies like you would do at other time of the year. If you have enough time prepare another pudding for the day.
Always read food labels, no matter how silly it may be, this includes all sauces and fruit! Remember fruit is usually stored next to loose nuts (this can be serious for nut allergy sufferers)
Prepare in advance
Cook as many foods as possible from scratch
Inform all guests and hosts of your food allergy because everyone needs to be aware
Do not throw away any food packaging as you never know when you will need to re-read it later
28th December 2019
by Octavia Fineman
Christmas Day was 3 days ago and I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to reflect on the aspects of the day which went well, including the preparation and build up towards the big day. I also wanted to reflect and summarise tips which I discovered for handling Boxing day and the day in between which can include going to another person’s home, or hosting for food allergy sufferers yourself. I also highlight on things I did do which didn’t go to plan so that I don’t make them next year and neither do you!