Don't Let Food Allergies Keep You Away From Summer Cookouts

In many parts of the country, the weather is finally getting warmer, and we're thinking about barbecues, picnics and eating outdoors. That makes it a good time for some safety reminders.


All of us need to be aware of the basics of food safety: not eating foods that sit out in the heat for too long or are stored or handled improperly. Click here to learn more about outdoor food safety.

For people with food allergies and sensitivities, there is added anxiety when attending a barbecue, potluck dinner or buffet-style party. Many common warm-weather party foods, such as hot dogs, buns, potato salads, pasta salads, cookies and barbecue sauces, contain gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts or other common allergens.

Alicia Woodward, editor-in-chief at Living Without magazine, the nation's leading magazine for people with food allergies, offers these tips:

  • Communicate. Call well before the party to alert your host to your food sensitivities. Be specific about your food "triggers," clearly explaining what you can (and can't) eat.
  • Politely "grill" your host about the grill. The grill can be a huge source of cross-contamination, so explain your food allergies and politely ask if your host could accommodate your needs. Ideally, they'll use a clean grill to avoid cross-contamination and will cook plain food (like a hamburger) before grilling foods containing your food allergens (like the dairy in a cheeseburger).  When in doubt, feast on the side dishes instead. Just double-check the ingredients before you indulge.
  • Bring food with you. Bring a favorite dish (that you can safely eat!) to the party.  Going to a cookout featuring burgers or hot dogs? Consider bringing your own gluten-free buns. Or make one of these side dishes created from recipes designed to be free of common allergy triggers: potato salad, bean dip and Asian slaw.
  • Eat beforehand. Don't arrive hungry. If you're hungry, you're more likely to eat "risky" foods.
  • Keep it simple. Stick to simple, whole foods, such as plain fruit, vegetables and meats that haven't been processed, coated or mixed. Avoid sauces, dips, marinated items, casseroles and desserts unless you know for sure what's in them. 
  • Eat seasonally. 'Tis the season of juicy watermelon, ripe tomatoes and other delicious fruits and veggies. Forgo the decadent sides and desserts in favor of sweet produce.
  • Share something celebratory. Celebrate the beautiful weather and fresh produce by bringing homemade salsa or guacamole with veggies for dipping.  Make a big panzanella salad, using gluten-free bread or share a batch of chilly sherbet pops.
  • Go first. If the party is buffet-style, be the first in line to avoid any potential cross-contamination, such as scattered ingredients or mixed-up serving spoons. You may want to ask your host if you can prepare a plate before the buffet starts.
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(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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