Allergens can find their way into a variety of unexpected products during the festive season, but if you or your child have allergies, you can still enjoy the food and decorations. Use this list of festive foods, drinks and decorations that might contain your allergen as a guide for what to look out for and, as always, remember to check the labels.
Mince pies and other 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 or other sulphites, which are used as preservatives.
Marzipan – is typically made from almonds and is used in lots of Christmas treats such as stollen and Christmas cake. Try using nut-free marzipan or make your own using substitute ingredients such as cornmeal or semolina.
Latkes – potato pancakes, a Hanukkah food that can be sweet or savoury. Different varieties can include wheat flour, cheese, pesto, coconut or dried fruits.
Festive sauces – cranberry sauce, bread sauce and gravy come in lots of variations which can include milk, egg, nuts and different kinds of fruit.
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.
Doughnuts (Sufganiyah) – traditional Hanukkah jam doughnuts fried in oil. These are usually made with wheat flour and milk and can have 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 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, they must be declared on the label.
Commons allergens in drinks are:
Less common allergens in drinks are:
Allergens in wines – as well as sulphites, LTPs and grapes, wine can contain other allergens.
Liqueurs – these are alcoholic drinks with added sugar and flavourings such as berries, chocolate, cream, coffee, nuts, fruits, herbs or honey. For example, hazelnut liqueur and Irish cream. Any added ingredients in the 14 common allergens must be declared on the label so check the label if you know you have an allergy.
Spirits – nuts, nut oils, herbs and spices are sometimes used to make flavoured distilled spirits but the methods used make it very unlikely that the proteins would be present in the final product. There are no known cases of anaphylaxis or serious allergic reactions to distilled spirits, but if you are unsure it may be best to avoid them.
Taking care to avoid your allergen – we often drink a bit more during the festive season. Remember that drinking alcohol can affect your decision making and could reduce your vigilance. It 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. Remove the tree if you have any signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Balloons – People with serious latex allergy might react if they are in an enclosed space near a balloon display. Latex balloons often contain powder to stop them sticking together and the proteins can become airborne when the balloons are inflated. If you’re having an office party, having a quick chat with your employer about decorations and asking if they can use an alternative may help give you some reassurance.
Poinsettias – these popular festive plants produce a milky ‘latex’ if their stems are broken that has some proteins in common with Natural Rubber Latex. This is unlikely to cause any problems for people with latex allergy just by being in the room, but it may be best to avoid touching the plant if you have a latex allergy.
Eating out or ordering in – always check in advance if a restaurant or takeaway can cater for your allergy. Don’t be afraid to send food or drink back or leave the restaurant if you don’t feel safe. Under UK law, catering businesses are required to provide information on the presence of the top 14 major allergens in the food they serve. How they provide allergen information to customers will depend on the type of food business. At a minimum, the business should display a clearly visible sign to tell customers how to get the allergen information. See our guide to eating out.
Shopping and nut allergies – supermarkets often display nuts piled high on their shelves at this time of year, which can cause concern if you have a nut allergy. The risk of having a reaction from touching nuts that are still inside their shells is very low. Nut proteins don’t easily become airborne so an 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 with you at all times.
For more information on specific allergens
See our Factsheets on common and lesser-known allergies.
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