Michael here. As I’m not the one with the (major) allergies here, I figured I’d pitch in to give my 2 cents about living and interacting with loved ones that have food allergies. When I married my wife, Christine, I had no idea about this alternate universe of food allergies. Getting sent to the hospital because of something you ate was a foreign concept to me.
Christine has several food allergies and intolerances and it took me a while to learn how best to approach this. In the beginning I made several rookie mistakes that, fortunately, did not end up causing serious harm to her. I attribute this to the fact that she has learned her whole life to question how the food was prepared and I was under constant interrogation when preparing food around her allergens. I’ve even made recent mistakes when dealing with her more recently diagnosed intolerances. (Gluten, I’m looking at you).
I have had my mental lapses in the past and had some close calls, but these mistakes just help me remember to be extra aware and careful when preparing food. And, FYI, I am exaggerating in my meme above. Christine has never Batman-slapped me over a food incident. I hope it stays that way. 😉
Preparing food with our allergy-ridden extended family is often more tricky as there are a few more allergies and intolerances to add to the mix. Just read any of the other posts on the blog and you’ll get the idea. 🙂 Extended family meals are always challenging, but we’ve managed to keep everyone safe and sound. I feel like “Constant Vigilance” is our motto, and it’s not a bad one to live by.
All this said, I felt like I could share a few insider tips on how to best avoid sending your loved ones to the hospital (or at the very least, causing them several hours of pain and discomfort). I’m probably not the leading expert on this (as far as this family goes), but I can’t say I never learned anything.
#1 Don’t Use The Allergy Foods
This one is a big “duh, but the best option.
Christine is very allergic to poultry. When we were first married I thought I needed chicken often in my diet and so she graciously bought it and I prepared it on the side during dinner prep. Turns out it was harder than I thought to keep things from cross contaminating. So, I decided just to not eat chicken at home. Turns out I didn’t need this stuff anyway and everything turned out fine.
There are things I definitely do NOT eat as Christine is severely allergic to them and we are both afraid that it could spell a literal kiss of death for her. So, I do not eat any shellfish or walnuts. Ever. Accounts about this are enough for us to decide to be better safe than sorry.
For all the others (i.e. foods you can’t live without), you’ll need to be careful and make sure as if the food never even existed in the vicinity of the person you love (if that’s even possible).
#2 Keep a healthy distance
Keep the food as far away as you can from the rest of the stuff they are going to eat. This can prevent food from flying or spilling nearby and cross contaminating. If needed, create barriers. For example, when we put things in the oven we often use the same pan for efficiency with both my non-safe food and Christine’s food on it. When we do this, we create an actual tin foil “wall” between the two.
#3 Use dedicated utensils
This concept took my poor brain a while to wrap itself around and one that you just have to learn to be aware of. I’ve gotten better about this as time has passed. It just boils down to this: use dedicated allergy utensils (mixing spoons, pots, pans,etc.) for the entirety of the food preparation.
This is also very important in food containers. For example, with spreading peanut butter (peanuts being one of the few common allergies that Christine isn’t allergic to) and not getting gluten in it, I use two utensils: a spoon and a knife. I use the gluten-free spoon to get the peanut butter out and then using my (clean) finger I plop the peanut butter on the bread and use the knife to spread.
Many times, you have to get creative. Be prepared for your dishwasher to fill at 2x normal speed.
Also, for those accosted by gluten, a gluten-free dedicated toaster is a great idea. Just keep it safe.
#4 Wash, wash, wash
I learned about this when I was still preparing chicken around Christine. There never is too much washing you can do. Use soap! But most important of all: THINK ABOUT THE DISH RAGS. Don’t go wiping up your allergy mess with the rag or sponge that your loved one will touch soon. Or worse, use to wipe down the entire counter, or some other dish. Bad bad bad. Use a dedicated rag. Or, even better, use paper towels. This is because all those allergens will just go in the trash and not bother anyone again (hopefully). Use Clorox wipes for those especially sensitive allergens as well.
Another “duh” tip regarding this: Wash your hands. Often. Before, during, and after meals.
#5 Check ingredients
If your loved one is an adult, they will check ingredients on things for themselves. However, it’s always good to have 4 eyes on an ingredient label to make sure you’re not going to buy something that you’ll have no use for and end up trying to give to the neighbors…provided it isn’t already too “weird” of an item (e.g. gluten-free veggie pot pie). Be sure to double, or even triple check that pesky ant-sized print. We often check when buying stuff at the store, then again before we eat it.
Most of my so-called expertise comes with daily practice. You’ll eventually get in the right mindset and be very aware of all the stuff you’re touching. However, brain flatulence is a real thing you’ll make mistakes. I’m sure I will again. It’s important to apologize and try your best. I’ll echo Sarah’s earlier post from a couple weeks ago where she said that just by trying, you’re making good progress and the allergy-afflicted will appreciate it. Even if they do want to Batman-slap you sometimes.