It’s hard to believe it but the festive period is upon us! We know the Christmas season for some of us is a time for indulging in eating, drinking and partying. However for those living with a severe allergy we understand that the festive period can be challenging, with allergens finding their way into a variety of products. Our helpline team have put together some tips and advice on all things Christmas related.
Under European law, the ingredient lists of pre-packed foods must declare any of the 14 major allergens whenever they appear. Extra care should be taken with catered food. The obvious foods to watch for include stuffing, sauces, mince pies and cakes. Others products to be aware of include:
Brussels sprouts: They’re not everyone’s favourite, but a Christmas classic nonetheless. When ordering in a restaurant double check for garnishes such as flaked almonds which may not be indicated on the menu.
Christmas cake, pudding and mince pies: These Christmas classics tend to be made with a whole host of ingredients that are unsuitable for a range of different allergies, including, gluten, eggs, milk, tree nuts and sulphur dioxide/sulphites used as a preservative. To help you find a recipe that is safe to eat use reliable app; Food Maestro to source products that are free from your known allergen.
Marzipan and praline: These are common ingredients in crafted figures on top of cakes or gooey centres in sweet treats at Christmas. Both products contain various types of nuts and therefore should be avoided by those allergic to nuts.
Cranberry sauce: If you like a dollop of Cranberry Sauce on your Christmas dinner be aware that some recipes include ingredients other than cranberries including slivered almonds or different types of fruit. This may also be the case for other sauces, our advice would be always check the label!
Bread rolls: Is it a straightforward bread roll that you can see on a plate of assorted rolls that the waiter has brought— or could it be one containing nuts or seeds?
Nutmeg: This spice is used to flavour certain festive foods and drinks, including mulled wine and eggnog. Because of its name, many people with nut allergy believe that nutmeg must be avoided. Nutmeg is the kernel of an apricot-like fruit and there is a possibility of some cross-reactivity with almonds. If you are allergic to nuts but have never had a reaction to nutmeg it is likely to pose no greater risk than other foods, though it would be sensible to be cautious especially if you are allergic to almonds or other fruit kernels.
Unlabelled chocolate products: If you have a food allergy, we’d recommend looking for boxes where chocolate treats are individually wrapped. However, bear in mind as selection packs, Christmas tree chocolates and treats for children get passed around from person to person, they often get separated from the the packaging containing key allergy information; something to be aware of when visiting friends and relatives. To be on the safe side from cross-contamination you could look for a free-from alternative to take with you or offer to guests.
Special care is also needed with chocolate made on the Continent. Even if there is no nut warning, there may be a risk of nut cross-contamination.
Dark chocolate: If you’re allergic to milk, be aware that some brands of plain (dark) chocolate pose a risk even though there is no milk deliberately added. Many plain chocolate products share production lines with milk chocolate and therefore cross-contamination is a real possibility. There have been a number of product withdrawals where milk was detected in plain chocolate.
As well as foods, alcoholic drinks can also contain allergens. If 14 major allergens are present in an alcoholic drink this has to be made visible on the label. If you like a tipple at Christmas and you’re tempted to try something new, always check the allergen information on the label as you may be surprised to find what ingredients are included. Some alcoholic drinks, for example Bombay Sapphire Gin, are infused through a mix of ingredients including almond oil. Other alcoholic drinks containing nuts include Frangelico, Nocello and Crème de Noix.
Examine drink labels carefully, looking for any mention of allergens and when out and about stick to ‘safe’ options. We also tend to 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 severe.
The Christmas tree: Evergreen spores from Christmas conifers can cause runny eyes, skin rashes, sneezing and wheezing. For families living with general mould allergies an artificial tree is a good option. 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. This advice comes from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. However, the tree should be removed altogether 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 allergy. If you’re having an office party having a quick chat with your employer about decorations may help provide some reassurance.
Food: The greatest risk is from catered food where there is usually no ingredient list, so you need to ask direct questions at parties, in restaurants, at buffets and at other social events. Under European law, catering businesses are required to provide information on the presence of allergenic ingredients. This information can be provided in writing and/or orally. If information is provided orally, the food business has to display some sort of clearly-visible written signage to show customers that allergen information is available from a member of staff. This rule covers 14 major allergens.
Kissing under the mistletoe: With mistletoe popping up all over the place it’s important to remember that allergens can remain in saliva for several hours, with expert estimates ranging from 2-24 hours. To avoid a reaction, make sure before you kiss that the other person is aware of your allergy and can ensure they have not consumed your allergen.
We know Christmas is a busy time but make sure you don’t enter the holidays with adrenaline injectors that are out of date. If you have been prescribed treatments for your allergy, such as adrenaline auto-injectors make sure you carry two with you where ever you go. This also applies to asthma inhalers. Good daily control of asthma is the single most important factor for lowering the risk from allergy.
Supermarkets often display nuts piled high on their shelves at Christmas, something we know can cause concern to many of our members as nuts can be displayed loose and within easy reach of children.
Our leading medical advisors provide reassurance that though handling nuts when they have been removed from their shells could cause a reaction, such as a skin rash, the risk from touching nuts while still inside while they are still inside their shells is minimal. If you notice any breakages or spillages that may cause a risk in the shops, report this to the staff.
From everyone at the Anaphylaxis Campaign we hope you have a lovely Christmas, and remember if you need any support or advice please call 01252 542029 or email [email protected].