Thursday, 1 December 2016

Tis the Season of Parties, Buffets and Social Gatherings. Be Safer! Use Allergen Labels

The Christmas party season has arrived and for those of us who suffer with allergies and intolerances, so has a time of potential danger and lots and lots of feeling left out. Whether you are a party-goer or a party-pooper, you can pretty much guarantee that at some point over the Christmas period you will meet up with friends at a social event which will (almost without fail), include the offering of shared food.

If you are one of those lucky people who can eat anything without fear of being allergy or intolerance-ill, then I would like you to imagine for just a minute...........

You've spent hours getting ready for the party of the winter..... You look fantastic. You're really excited and ready to enjoy yourself with family and friends. You ran out of time though and didn't get a chance to eat anything before you left home and now you realise that you've forgotten to put the necessary snack in your bag in case there's nothing you can eat when you get there. That's ok..... your host knows that you can't eat gluten/dairy/eggs/nuts (etc) so they'll have made sure there is something for you right? Wrong!

You arrive at the party, stomach rumbling and make a bee-line for the buffet table to do a quick scan and to make sure you grab what you can before everyone else eats it...... but there's nothing safe. Nothing! Either the food is obviously made with stuff you can't consume, or it is sitting right next to a plate of something that is dangerous to you and you know that close proximity = risk of cross contamination.

Hey ho...... another evening of avoiding a tipple (because on an empty stomach you are likely to get inebriated and embarrassing within a sniff of the stuff). You could just nip out to get something edible...... but that would look rude! All that initial excitement about being there has evaporated and you start to feel miserable and increasingly empty as you watch everyone else mingling plate and glass in hand.....

UK statistics indicate that 1 in 5 (17%) of the UK population consider themselves to have either a food allergy or intolerance (YouGov 2015). 6 to 8% of children have a proven food allergy in both the UK and US (source : NICE and FARE*). Estimates indicate that overall, 15 million Americans and more than 17 million Europeans (sources : FARE* & European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology(EAACI)) have food allergies and the trend is going upwards! So it's pretty likely that someone will turn up to your party who needs to know what's in the buffet.

Whether we suffer from an allergy or intolerance, it's scary eating from a table where allergen exposure or cross-contamination might be a hazard. Most of us simply don't take the risk. It's not that there won't be anything we might eat..... it is that we simply don't know what ingredients have been used or how great the cross-contamination risk might actually be (......has the generic bread knife been used to slice gluten free rolls without being washed? for example). I recently went to a work event where someone offered me a chocolate biscuit. When I explained that I couldn't eat it because of the gluten, they looked bemused and suggested that I could lick the chocolate off...... really..... I'm not kidding. I'm obviously not the only one with this experience.....

It helps us to know what's in the food on the table and that is where you can help us...... by doing everything you can to keep the most risky foods separated and clearly labelling the allergens dishes contain. You might even (space permitting) have a separate table for specific allergen-friendly foods (those of us who need them are pretty careful to make sure we don't contaminate each other by slap-dash serving).

To make it a little easier for you, Consumer Safety .Org (a US-based website which aims to support consumer safety through information and research on products, recalls, medicines and food, including food hygiene, kitchen safety and information on allergies) has produced a quick set of holiday allergen labels that you can print off at home and use on your food table.

In the past I have hand-written labels when I have taken cakes, pies and other goodies to events, but these labels are so much more attractive and clear.... I love them!

For bring and share events, you might even put the word out for people to be ready when they arrive with their delicious offerings to fill in a label..... they are pretty simple to use.  You can download a handy printable template of allergy labels here.

It also helps us to know how things have been prepared (note the handy section on the label telling us who might have the answers), so don't be offended if we still need to ask more questions about ingredients and food prep. The presence of the label is a great indicator that people care and have thought about it and will make us feel a whole lot more comfortable about asking if we need to. Occasionally, we may still make a 'not sure I can risk eating this dish' decision, but that won't be because we don't appreciate your efforts..... I promise! We just know how complex the risks can be and they will vary from person to person.  Miss GF once got glutened by well-meaning kitchen staff who 'reliably' informed her that the flap-jacks were fine because they were just oats..... sadly they weren't certified 'gluten free'!

So thank you for thinking about us this holiday season and for your care, support and kindness, not only in inviting us to your fantastic Christmas - New Year bash, but for helping us to stay food-safe too.

I am sharing this post with the following linkies :

Brilliant Blog Posts with Honest Mum

Free From Fridays with Le Coin De Mel and the Free From Farmhouse 

Allergy Free Thursday with Tessa the Domestic Diva

Gluten Free Fridays with Vegetarian Mamma

Sources :
Allergy UK Stats
FARE  - Food Allergy Research & Education (US based)
NICE - National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence

Consumer Safety .Org contacted me to raise awareness in support of the use of allergy labels over the holiday season. All thoughts as written however are, as always, my own.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-16 unless otherwise indicated


  1. Very interesting! I hadn't thought about the closeness of dishes as obviously a lot of touching one food then another goes on. My DinL cannot have beef or beef products. DS loves beef so generally has it when they are out. He can't kiss or touch her face until he has cleaned his teeth. I have to be careful with food preparation when they visit.

    1. The cross-contamination issue is a biggie for Coeliacs and for anyone with an allergy. And it is a real bug-bear of mine. I am known for having a moan at stall holders who 'kindly' offer gluten free food at food fairs, but then cut it with the same knife the are using for everything else. They look bemused when I suggest that it is a problem..... It can be so tricky can't it?

  2. Brilliant! I love this...wouldn't it be fab if it happened! Your readers might like the challenge I am part of this Christmas...creating buffet dishes free of the top 14 allergens. Look for #FreeFromChristmas across social media for the recipes!

    1. Wouldn't it just be amazing Vicki?
      14 allergens is quite a challenge.... good luck with that! I will keep my eyes peeled for the #FreeFromChristmas xx

  3. Great post Kate. You are full of ideas x

  4. love this! So brilliant, that label is excellent

  5. This post made me so sad. How can people be so mean? I suppose it's not really mean but unthinking or uneducated, perhaps. I have no food allergies at all, but I have many friends who do. I always go out of my way to make sure I know everyone's dietary requirements before they come to my house for dinner and if anyone has an allergy I'm always scrupulous about food prep. It would make me so upset if I made anyone sick and the idea of a guest not being able to eat at my house would be unthinkable!! I often make gluten and or dairy free things for bring and share meals too because I know those with allergies are not usually very well catered for. I always think at least there will be one nice thing to eat, then. :-) Eb x

    1. Oh Eb..... I didn't mean to make you sad..... again!
      When we go to parties, we just assume that there won't be anything for us to eat and try to go prepared with our own party pockets! If people actually prepare anything we can eat, we are really chuffed and very grateful, but it is so easy for food to get cross-contaminated. I loved these labels though..... I just hope people use them xx

  6. These are such a great idea and makes it so easy for everyone - thanks for sharing! #freefromfridays

    1. You're welcome Emma. I loved the whole concept of them too. Great idea..... should make them compulsory! x

  7. These labels are really good! When we take cakes to the children's schools for cakes sales, everyone has to provide a list of ingredients. Game changer, I think (but at the same time, most people are not aware of cross contamination issues, but baby steps, hey!). Thanks for joining in with #FreeFromFridays.

    1. Wow! That's pretty forward thinking for a school! Definitely a step in the right direction, even if there is still education to be done xx


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