5 High-Risk Spots for Food Allergies

Here are five common settings where food allergies and other allergens can put you at risk. Use these tips to help you navigate through each situation safely:

1. Picnic in the Park

Your family picnic at the local park can quickly take a turn for the worst if you have food allergies. It's especially challenging to control your exposure to allergies to food in outdoor spaces. Picnic food is often carried in reusable plastic containers without any ingredient list. Sharing serving utensils and condiments can put you at risk for cross-contamination. In addition, eating on the ground or on a public picnic table could expose you to food allergens left by previous visitors. There's also limited access to running water in the park, making it difficult to clean up safely.

How to Protect Yourself: Pack own food and utensils and keep them separated from everyone else's. If you must share, take your helping first to avoid exposure to your food allergy triggers. Also bring a plastic tablecloth to create a safe eating space, and carry sanitizing wipes to clean down surfaces before you touch.

2. Professional Sports Arenas

Before you strike out at your next ballgame, pay attention to the risks that exist-from vendors selling food, to an array of restaurant booths, to people bringing in food from home. The widespread availability of peanuts also poses a particularly serious problem for people with peanut and other nut allergies. Many of these food allergens can linger on the railings and seats of the arena.

How to Protect Yourself: Do some research before the game so that you'll know what food is served at the stadium to determine what you need to avoid. Guest relations in the facility can be a good resource for managing food allergies. They may be able to seat you in a special allergy-free location. If not, at least plan to wipe down your area before you sit, and let other patrons seated in your section know about your allergy to food. The ushers or security guards can help you with this.

3. Airplanes

The tight quarters of an airplane can be sky high with risks for food allergy sufferers. You have to worry about being exposed to allergens in your foods and drinks, and also about coming in contact with allergens contained in the air and on the seats.

How to Protect Yourself: Pack some allergy-free snacks in your carry-on (as long as they meet TSA requirements) and say no to anything else that you're offered. This will go a long way toward managing food allergies. Also alert the airline staff about your allergies to food and ask the fight crew to make an announcement to the rest of the passengers. Consider booking your flight on the first plane of the day when it's likely to be freshly cleaned and allergy-free, thus minimizing your exposure to other people's food remains. Or, consider flying off-hours when the plane won't be packed. This will allow more room in between passengers and can limit your exposure to allergens. Finally, explore the airline's allergy policy before you fly, since not all are created equal. When you find an airline that's very accommodating, it's a good idea to stick with them for future travel.

4. Ice Cream Parlors

An ice cream cone is no treat if it leads to a serious food allergy reaction. That's why many food allergy suffers need to worry about what ingredients are contained in the ice cream and in other items sold on location. Remember, if an ice cream flavor or baked good contain nuts, there's always the danger of cross-contamination even in other allergy-free flavors. You may also come in contact with nut dust lingering in the restaurant air, which can trigger inhalant allergies.

How to Protect Yourself: Your best bet for avoiding allergies to food is to skip the local creamery and scoop up a dish of store-bought ice cream in the safety of your own at home instead. Just be sure to do some research to find brands that are allergy-free.

5. Dental Offices

A teeth cleaning should be something to smile about, but not if it leads to an anaphylactic response. While foods aren't a big allergy culprit at the dentist, for some people with dental allergies, the problem stems from latex gloves, which can trigger an immune system reaction. For others, the anesthesia and other pain medications can be to blame for causing a serious allergic response.

How to Protect Yourself: If you can't tolerate latex, ask your dental staff to use safer alternatives. And if any medications commonly used may trigger a problem, talk to your allergist about taking an antihistamine first or find a more tolerable option. If food allergens left by other patients are a major concern, ask for the seat to be cleaned extra well before you start your visit. When in doubt, undergo allergy testing so you will know for sure what you can handle safely and when you need to go without.

Remember This

It's also critical to remember that no matter where you go or what you're doing, you'll need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. This means always carrying an EpiPen® or any other medication your allergist prescribes, and always be ready to seek medical care in an emergency.



American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). "Food Allergy." N.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2012.

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. (ACAAI). "Managing Food Allergies." N.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2012.

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. "Tips for Managing Food Allergies." N.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2012.

Puliti, Beth. "Traveling With Food Allergies." Kids With Food Allergies Foundation. June 2008. Web. 5 Aug. 2012.

Reed, Kenneth L. "Allergy & Anaphylaxis." Inside Dentistry 7 (3) (March 2011). Web. 5 Aug. 2012.