Avoiding Cross Contamination of Foods

Once when bringing cupcakes to one of my daughter’s classes, a friend whose daughter had a peanut allergy inquired about them. She asked, of course, if they were peanut free, then she asked if we used a lot peanut products in our home. She asked this for fear of cross contamination, the same reason some of us avoid foods that have been processed on shared equipment or in plants that process certain high allergy foods. With packaged foods, it may be a little easier due to labeling standards, but when dining in restaurants or with friends, it may be a little more difficult to be worry free.

Following are some guidelines to staying safe and what to look for in restaurants, at friend’s homes or in other similar situations.

• If you must have an allergic food in your home, keep it somewhere safe and away from other foods, even if that means sealing it in airtight bags. When using it, immediately wash the dishes and utensils and clean the surface.
• If you are at someone’s home who is serving an allergic food, ask for clean utensils for your food. Disposable utensils and plates are a good idea. You may ask to serve yourself instead of being served to decrease chances even more. Remember, the knife that cut a peanut butter sandwich cannot cut your turkey sandwich if you are allergic to peanuts!
• If you are dining out with someone who orders something with the allergen in it, make sure no food is shared, nor utensils or beverages. It’s better of course, if no one consumes the allergen, but you can’t censure everyone’s food. Also make sure they immediately wash their hands after eating and during the meal, and don’t handle anything going to the one with allergies (passing bread, salt, etc.).
• As you say your goodbyes to your dinner guests, be aware of handshakes, hugs and kisses. Oils can linger on hands and lips and spread to the one with the allergy.
• While eating at a nearby bread restaurant recently, I noticed all bagels go through the same slicer. Be aware of this, as well as meat cutters and fryers. A lot of different foods share these appliances.
• Salad bars, as Victoria Groce points out in How to Avoid Allergy Cross Contamination, are notorious for cross contaminations. Utensils can be switched; one food can fall into the area of another food, who knows with a salad bar! If they contain something you are allergic to, it’s best to stay away from them.
• Some restaurants (bakeries especially) post signs that if you are allergic to milk, nuts, eggs, wheat, you probably should refrain from any of their products. Be mindful of these warnings.

Be proactive, if you see a bowl of nuts sitting out during a party at a friend’s house, ask them to remove it. Ask your friend at dinner to order something besides the milkshake for dessert if you’re allergic to milk. The only way people know is if we tell them. And we are the ones who have to make sure we are safe.

– Heather Legg

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