7 Tips For Allergy-Safe Summer BBQs

Sloane Miller Health Guide
  • It's officially summertime and grilling is on everyone's to-do list. Who doesn't love the flavor of grilled anything? Chicken, burgers, hot dogs, steaks, veggies, tofu, fruit? It's all delish when grilled.


    Here are 10 grilling do's and don'ts from Health Centrals' FoodFit site:

    1. Be organized.
    2. Gauge your fuel.
    3. Direct grilling is a high heat cooking method.
    4. Keep it clean.
    5. Keep it lubricated.
    6. Turn, don't stab.
    7. Know when to baste.
    8. Keep it covered.
    9. Give it a rest.
    10. Never desert your post.


    But if you have food allergies, food sensitivities, celiac disease or other dietary restrictions, there are additional danger zones that can be sidestepped by taking a few minor precautions. Along with being a good guest, if you are heading to a holiday BBQ, here are some suggestions for how to handle the heat:

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    Communicate. Contact your host ahead of time and explain what your needs are. Keep your tone light but clear on the do's and don'ts. While giving the list of what you can't eat, give a list of what you can: for example, plain grilled chicken no sauce or marinade or a burger without burger seasoning. This will help the host figure out how to guide you through the BBQ menu.


    Educate. Gently educate your host or hostess on what food allergies are, on how to help keep you safe and on the dangers of cross contamination. Cross contamination occurs when, for example cooking utensils like flatware, tongs, pots, pans, sponges or a cutting board is in contact with both an allergenic food (like the top 8:  peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk or dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, or wheat) and then in contact with any other food thus contaminating it. Not everyone will know the intricacies of your allergies and the dangers of cross contamination, so remember to be gentle when speaking to someone for whom this may be new information.


    Also, explain what an allergic reaction looks like (itchy mouth, throat, eyes or skin; hives; swelling, wheezing) and coach them through what to do if you get sick or need help in an emergency.


    Be prepared. Always have your up-to-date medications on hand. Make sure you have a safe person with you, someone who knows you and your allergies and what to do in case of an emergency. If you are traveling solo, have a card in your wallet that lists your allergies and their possible reactions or wear a medic alert bracelet.


    Go early. Go to the party early. Offer to help with prep and set-up. Help your host prepare your dish so you can ensure it's allergen-free.


    Ask to see the ingredients. Marinades (both commercially made or homemade) can be an allergenic minefield. Didn't know there was fish in Worchester sauce? Soy is the main ingredient in Hellmann's mayo and burger seasonings can have soy, dairy, and wheat as components. When in doubt, leave the marinade out. You can also ask to see the package and read the ingredient list carefully or call the manufacturer's toll-free number. Your host threw away the package of hot dogs or buns or cole slaw etc? Call toll free directory and ask for the brand name: 800-555-1212. When in any doubt, just ask for your dish to be plain.

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    Grill yours first. If you feel safe with what your host is preparing but still have concerns about the grill, gently ask your host to cook yours first before anything else has touched the grill. Alternatively your host could cook your food in a clean pan or on aluminum on top of the grill, which will minimize cross contamination.


    Eat first, party later. It's not only about the food. If you are very sensitive or nervous about this kind of outing remember: you are at a party to socialize, eating in only one part of the fun at a BBQ. So you may just want to eat a safe meal at home and go for the fun and games. Or bring your own meal and eat on site something safe and yummy that you've prepared. Never succumb to feeling pressured to eat food you don't feel 100% safe about; no one wants you to be sick. And always better safe than sorry.


    Above all remember you are there to have fun, to enjoy a lovely say in the sun and food is only one component, not the main event.

Published On: June 30, 2008