If you or your child live with a serious allergy, the festive period can be challenging. With much of the celebrations centred around food, allergens can find their way into a variety of products.
Here’s a list of festive food and non-food items which could pose an allergy risk and that you may see more of this time of year.
Always check foods labels or check with the person making foods to be sure it is free from your allergen.
Mincemeat treats – Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and mince pies can be made with a wide variety of ingredients including eggs, milk, tree nuts, wheat and sulphur dioxide/sulphites (used as a preservative).
Marzipan – is typically made from almonds and is used in lots of Christmas treats such as stollen and Christmas cake, both as decorations and fillings. Nut-free marzipan is available and you could also try making your own using substitute ingredients such as cornmeal or semolina.
Latkes – or potato pancakes, a Hanukkah food that can be sweet or savoury and can include varieties that have wheat flour, cheese, pesto, coconut or dried fruits as ingredients.
Festive sauces –such as cranberry sauce, bread sauce and gravy come in lots of variations which can include milk, egg, nuts and different kinds of fruit as ingredients.
Kugel – a traditional Hanukkah egg noodle casserole. Kugel can be sweet or savoury and can be made with spices, dried fruit, nuts, milk and other ingredients. There is also a potato variety of kugel.
Chocolate – selection packs, Christmas tree treats, and other chocolates can get separated from their original packaging. To avoid cross contamination, look for a free-from alternative to take with you or offer to guests. Free from advent calendars are available so your child doesn’t have to miss out on the fun. Christmas ‘specials’ such as mini versions of your favourite treats can be made on different production lines or use different recipes so always check labels for your allergens, even if you’ve eaten the sweet before.
If you have a milk allergy, be aware that plain (dark) chocolate often shares production lines with milk chocolate and cross-contamination is a possibility.
Doughnuts (Sufganiyah) -are traditional Hanukkah jam doughnuts fried in oil that are usually made with wheat flour and milk and can have a variety of different fillings and toppings including jam, custard, chocolate, cream, nuts and sprinkles.
Stuffing – typically contains onion, garlic, herbs, breadcrumbs and egg, but can also include chestnut, cranberry, gingerbread, pomegranate and all different kinds of nuts.
Brussels sprouts – these are often served with additional ingredients such as nuts, seeds, butter or cheeses.
Praline – these sweet treats usually contain a variety of nuts and are often made with milk or cream too.
If any of the 14 major food allergens are present in an alcoholic drink, this must be declared on the label. Milk in cream liquors, cereals containing gluten in beers and spirits, and sulphites in wine are common. Sometimes wines are produced using special clearing agents (finings) made from eggs, milk or fish – check the label as it must be noted if the amount still present in the finished wine exceeds the permitted thresholds.
Nuts, nut oils, herbs and spices are sometimes used to produce flavoured distilled spirits however, the methods used make it very unlikely that the proteins would be carried over into the final product. There are no known reported cases of anaphylaxis or serious allergic reactions to distilled spirits but if you are unsure, it may be best to avoid them.
We often drink a bit more during the festive season. Be aware that drinking alcohol may reduce your vigilance and could also make any allergic reaction more serious.
Christmas trees – evergreen spores from Christmas conifers can cause runny eyes, skin rashes, sneezing and wheezing. If a live tree is a must for you, let the tree dry in a garage or enclosed porch for a week and give it a good shake before bringing it inside. The tree should be removed if there are any signs of allergic symptoms.
Balloons – latex allergens may become airborne and inhaled which can mean party balloons can be a real concern for people living with Natural Rubber Latex (NRL) allergy. If you’re having an office party, having a quick chat with your employer about decorations may help provide some reassurance.
Poinsettias – these popular festive plants produce a milky ‘latex’ if their stems are broken that contains some allergen proteins in common with Natural Rubber Latex. Whilst unlikely to cause any problems for latex allergy sufferers just by being in the room, it may be best to avoid physical contact with the plant if you have a known allergy to latex.
Eating out or ordering in – Always check in advance if the business can cater for your allergy. Don’t be afraid to send food or drink back or leave if you do not feel safe. Under UK law, catering businesses are required to provide information on the presence of the top 14 major allergens. This information can be provided in writing and/or orally. If information is provided orally, the food business must display some sort of clearly visible written signage to show customers that allergen information is available from a member of staff. More information on eating out with an allergy can be found here.
Shopping – supermarkets often display nuts piled high on their shelves at this time of year, something we know can cause concern if you have a nut allergy. The risk of having a reaction from touching nuts while they are still inside their shells is very low. Nut proteins do not easily become airborne so any allergic reaction is very unlikely. If you notice any breakages or spillages that may cause a risk in the shops, report this to staff.
Most importantly, remember to check ingredients labels before eating any food and always carry two adrenaline auto-injectors at all times. For more information on specific allergens, please see our Factsheets.
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