6 Tips for safely entertaining guests with food allergies

Here are a few tips to help reduce stress when hosting an event for people who live with food allergies.  

1- Plan ahead! 

When entertaining, it’s best not to leave things to the last minute. So, as soon as you’ve received RSVPs from your guests, find out about their food allergies. By doing so, you’ll be able to draw up a list of allergens to avoid in your menu. 

Canadian regulations now require manufacturers to clearly identify the priority allergens using their usual names as established by Health Canada.  

Note: For artisanal or homemade products, an allergen may not be as clearly identified. To help you identify them on a food label, we’ve compiled a list of key words for each allergen that can be used to designate priority allergens. See section 9 priority allergens. 

Pay particular attention to ingredients listed and even the presence of the words “may contain”. Foods with this statement should be excluded, along with those containing the allergen to be avoided. This means that the product may have come into contact with an allergen unintentionally. 

2- Inform your guests of the menu in advance 

This will give you time to make changes if certain ingredients are not safe for your allergic guests. You can also provide them with the list of ingredients used in the preparation of your dishes. Who knows, the presence of an allergen in a food may well have escaped you. And if you’re short of menu ideas, ask your allergic guests for suggestions for safe recipes. They’ll be happy to recommend a few, or even participate by bringing a safe dish.

3- If possible, opt for a single menu free of the allergen to be avoided. 

Enjoying the same foods adds to the pleasure of eating together and will facilitate preparations. What’s more, you’ll reduce the risk of a dish being accidentally contaminated during service or preparation.

4- Beware of cross-contamination

Whether it’s before, during or after the preparation of a dish, or when it’s being served, attention must be paid to cross-contamination if guests have food allergies. In some cases, the mere trace of an allergen can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction. So, leave nothing to chance! Make sure your dishwashing soap is completely dissolved in hot water before washing the dishes you’ll be using for cooking. To wash work surfaces, use a degreasing household detergent instead of dish soap. Wash your hands often and use clean cloths to wipe them. Don’t forget to change tea towels and sponges, as they them may have come into contact with allergens. If possible, use new packages for all ingredients. Before your guests arrive, take a few minutes to clean the tables and chairs where they will be seated.

5- If you opt for a buffet, more precautions are in order!

Buffets are a riskier option, especially the “potluck” formula. Inform all your guests that certain allergens should be avoided. They should pay particular attention to the nutritional labeling of products and to cross-contamination when preparing their dish. Ideally, everyone should list the ingredients used in their recipe on a small card. The allergic person will then be able to determine whether the dishes are safe. Make sure that each plate has its own serving utensil, and that they don’t come into contact with each other. Finally, ask the allergic person to serve themselves first. This will prevent accidental contamination! 

6- Know how to react in case of an emergency

Even with the best of intentions and every precaution in place, it’s still possible for an allergic reaction to occur. So it’s important to recognize the signs and react quickly. 

Symptoms could include hives, swelling of the lips and face, or difficulty breathing. 

Ask the allergic person to bring their auto-injector. They can show you how to use it, so you are able to intervene if ever they are unable to. 

With a little planning, communication and awareness, it’s possible to share the holiday spirit with everyone, despite food allergies. For more information see our full Entertaining Guide.