A Walk Through a Grocery Store with a Food Allergy

By Heather Legg

For most people, grocery shopping is just another errand to run. Maybe they have some food requirements or some favorites or some things that just don’t sit well with them that they stay away from. But for those with food allergies ourselves or in our families, grocery shopping takes on a whole new dimension. We can’t just toss things in the cart without careful scrutinization and a little deciphering. So let’s pick just one of the Top 8 allergies (remember, though that many people with food allergies suffer from more than one),..let’s go with tree nuts, for the sake of my daughter.

Upon entering, we go towards the produce, this one is pretty safe. But wait, if it’s autumn there is probably a big display of mixed nuts that look so tempting (just not to us). Who knows how many little hands have run through that and then touched other things in the store. But let’s move on with our safe fruits and vegetables. Mmmm, something smells good – it’s the chef cooking a demo meal of yummy things for dinner. She’s got it all spread out and what could it be? It’s almond crusted tilapia…

Skip to the bakery section and the big sign that states everything made in the bakery may have been processed on equipment that also processes tree nuts among other allergens. Oh, the brownies and cinnamon rolls smell so good, but are covered in pecans and walnuts. Let’s move on.

The rest of the outskirts of the store is pretty safe to us, but not those with dairy allergies, that’s where all the milk, ice cream and other dairy is. They sometimes have to search for the right refrigerated sections because though sometimes stores stock alternatives next to the traditional product, others stock them all in their own cozy corner. But back to us, now we have to make it through the inner aisles, the cereals, breads, crackers…

As we are trying to eat healthier and snack healthier, trail mix is a good alternative. It’s filling and healthy. But it seems it’s always full of nuts. Cashews are big in trail mix, and that’s my daughter’s biggest nut enemy. So we can make our own with different dried fruits and cereals. Let’s visit the cereal aisle. It’s not terribly hard to find cereal without nuts, plus just plain old oatmeal is popular in our house. And I’m very impressed to see all of the gluten free alternatives here, many of them are even marked not only on the box but by the store themselves. As I look more carefully, I see that on the store labels on the shelves is a big G for Gluten Free, right there with the price. Good for the store!

The frozen aisle to me is a mini store in itself. You’ve got your dairy products, produce, baked goods and proteins, along with ethnic and ready made foods. Again, produce is fairly easy to stay nut free in, unless of course, you accidently grab the green beans in an almond sauce or pecan rice pilaf. I also notice much more gluten free and sprouted grains which is nice (in their own section, of course). I think where you have to be extra careful is the ice cream and the ready made meals. Because so many ice cream manufacturers use all kinds of nuts in ice cream, we have to read the labels really carefully. It’s here we often read of recalls on food due to undeclared nuts. As for frozen entrees, nuts aren’t necessarily snuck in, but with so many ingredients, sometimes it’s hard to spot them – read carefully if buying, especially ethnic!

Well, now that we have our cart sort of full, it’s time to check out. For as difficult as it sounds, shopping for a food allergy has improved even in the years my daughter has been diagnosed. Though there are still lots of kinks and inconveniences we have to deal with it, it’s comforting to know it is getting easier!



For me grocery shopping is a nightmare, I am a university student and it means that I have a budget plus I am allergic to fruits, nuts, corn, pollens, seafood, fish and most of the vegetable. To be honest, I felt somehow relieved of not being alone in this process because when I tell people that I spend at least 2 hours reading every label and price in shop, their reaction is to take me as if I am crazy. The reality is that with all the allergies that I own I don’t know what to buy or eat so I am always so overwhelmingly stressed that I skip to do grocery or even eat because my eczema get worst. So I do understand how it is to deal the grocery shopping task which for me is one of the most difficult adventures I can ever have in my daily living including eating out.

October 7th, 2014 | 3:50 pm

Frankly, I’ve just given up trying to read labels and only buy stuff without labels. At least that way I know what I can and cannot get. I must say that I am glad I live in a country with regulated prices for fresh food and do not have to live on a shoestring budget (though we can´t go too crazy).

April 14th, 2015 | 1:53 pm
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