Living with Food Allergies

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Food Allergy Awareness Kit

Avoiding Cross-Contact In Your Kitchen

Foods that cause allergic reactions are called allergens. Allergic reactions usually occur within a few minutes to hours after your child eats a food to which they are allergic.

Precautions You Can Take to Help Prevent Allergic Reactions

Cross-contact occurs when a food allergen comes in contact with food or an item not intended to contain that allergen. Small amounts of allergens may cause allergic reactions.

Sometimes cross-contact can occur when you are preparing food in your home. There are several steps you can take to help prevent food mix-ups and accidental cross-contact.

Label Foods in Your Home as “Safe” or “Not Safe”

To ensure everyone (including your children, visitors, babysitters, etc.) can easily find foods that are “safe” for your child with food allergies, label the food in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. One way to do this is to use red and green circle-shaped stickers. You can buy these types of stickers or make your own. The red stickers are for the foods your child cannot eat and the green stickers are for the foods they can eat (“red” means “stop” and “green” means “go”). Apply these stickers to every food item in your house.

Avoid Pantry Mix-Ups

If you have both “safe” and “unsafe” versions of similar items (like soy milk and cow’s milk) in your home, do not store these products next to each other. Designate particular shelves or cabinets for storing the “safe” foods. Avoid purchasing items that look similar to each other, or place one similar item in a special container.

Avoid Sippy Cup Mix-Ups

If your toddler is allergic to milk, buy a “special” sippy cup to use both at home and away from home. This cup is never used for anyone else. Put your child’s name on it. Having a special cup that is always used ensures that your child doesn’t grab the wrong cup by mistake.

Prevent Cross-Contact While Preparing Food

If you keep both “safe” and “unsafe” foods in your household, take steps prevent cross-contact:

  • washing handsTeach everyone to wash their hands with soap and water before touching safe foods. This is good hygiene and reduces that chance of cross-contact if they have food residue on their hands.
  • Do not allow allergen-covered utensils to touch your “safe” foods. For example, if a knife used on butter gets inserted into a jar of jam, the jam now has milk proteins from the butter in it. If you spread butter on wheat bread toast and then dip your knife into the butter again, the butter may now contain small amounts of wheat.
  • Teach everyone to clean all surfaces before and after preparing food. Countertops could have small amounts of allergens on them. Food prepared on an unclean countertop can result in cross-contact with allergens.
  • If you are preparing both “safe” and “unsafe” food for the same meal, prepare the safe meal first.
  • Do not use the same utensils to prepare food for your child with food allergies and for other people who eat foods with their allergens.
  • Place utensils, plates, and cutting boards directly into the sink or the dishwasher immediately after use. 
  • If you use a grill or griddle, be sure to fully clean them before cooking for your child. Consider using foil or a clean pan to prepare foods for your child.

Take Care to Wash Dishes

Wash pans, utensils, and dishes in hot, sudsy water before using them to prepare food for someone with food allergies. Rinse off dirty dishes and utensils before loading them into your dishwasher. 

Reduce the Chance of Allergens in Other Areas of Your Home

Teach all members of your household to always wash their hands with soap and water immediately after touching or eating allergens. Consider having all members of the household eat food only in the kitchen and dining areas. This can limit food to areas that are easier to clean.

Medical Review: July 2014.

Your Guide to Managing Your Child's Food Allergies
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