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Summer BBQ’s with Food Allergies


Eisner Camp 2014

Summer BBQ at it’s best!

Summer BBQ’s are a time to relax and enjoy being outside. They are much more informal yet can put those of us managing food allergies on high alert. The great thing about summer BBQ’s is that the main event is typically themed as a non-food activity such as a sport or beach event. It’s always preferable to focus on themes involving fresh air because it takes away from the focus on food.

As with every gathering, the comfort level of the people we visit varies. There are those whom we are around often and feel most comfortable with, and others whom we are not used to communicating the special nuances necessary to accommodate food allergies.

Either way food allergies need to be attended to with utmost seriousness.

What do we need to watch out for?

Marinades can contain mustard, wheat, dairy, shellfish and many other allergens. The last three memories I have of being at BBQ’s are of reading labels of the marinade ingredients or calling the butcher to ask what was in them. I encourage you to try Wildtree products which are certified organic and made in a nut free facility.

Buns can contain sesame seeds, eggs, dairy, wheat, etc… You can call your hostess in advance to find out if your child can eat the buns, you can bring your own bun, or you can simply offer to bring buns for everyone as your contribution to the BBQ in order to keep safe.

Corn can be prepared in various ways. I’ve seen it boiled, cooked on the grill, and steamed in the oven or microwave. What about butter? Depending on the severity of your child’s allergy, be sure to find out how the corn is cooked and what type of cross contact it may have with other allergens.

Condiments and side dishes can easily be a breeding ground for cross contact with allergens. Be sure to find out with which knife the pickle was cut. After you’ve read ingredients, ask your hostess if you can serve your child first or put some aside to make a safe plate for your child before it goes to the larger crowd.

Something new and unexpected…

Foil can break down while cooking. I would normally recommend that you bring some heavy duty foil to cook your child’s burger or dog; along with a clean spatula to avoid cross contact with other allergens that may be on the grill. However, we recently had an issue where we cooked salmon on our own backyard grill and the foil broke down which caused a slight sensitivity. We subsequently cooked a frozen burger directly on the grill to solve that particular incident, but who knew? If the aluminum reaction bothers you, there are alternatives. You can put parchment paper between the food and the foil or use a glass bakeware product.

Most often to avoid some of these issues you can feed your child before s/he arrives at the party or you can bring a snack. Another idea is to cook your own food and then stick it in the microwave once you get to the party to heat it up.

Being outside has it’s advantages…

As previously mentioned, the summer lends itself to fresh air themes such as July 4th, softball tournaments, and soccer games. The focus is much less on food and BBQ attendees are much more scattered. The host(ess) may not even notice if you feed your child from the cooler you brought . Even so, the cooler has much more of a place in the overall cookout theme than it does inside the house on Thanksgiving Day.

And it’s disadvantages…

Ice cream is much more likely to melt on hot days and sticky hands can cause a cross contact issue. Depending on the age of your child, he may put something in his mouth that he shouldn’t and the backyard or field may be far away from you. You can give an older child some responsibility to keep a watch on your child or to retrieve you if there is cause for concern. It gives everyone a little more autonomy and adds to the sense of community. You might just be able to give your friend’s older daughter a job as mother’s helper. Try it!

Here is an example of a recent experience that we’ve had at a cook out. It may help you think about how to handle your next one!

Who’s the cook?

BBQ means someone is turning burgers on the grill, but someone else may be managing the other details. The hostess may be a different person than the chef. In this particular situation the communication details fell through the cracks. Be sure to communicate with both the party organizer and the chef!

Prior to our outing, I explained to the hostess that our daughter has severe food allergies to eggs, dairy, and mustard and that she could eat a burger so long as it didn’t have cheese on it. Our hostess reassured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.

I asked if we could bring allergy free cupcakes from Treat Cupcake Bar for everyone and our hostess was delighted. Once we arrived, we discovered the steak was marinated in an unknown sauce, and didn’t feel comfortable asking details about the ingredients in the marinade. Normally I would just ask, but there were a lot of people at the BBQ and we didn’t want to be a nuisance. We figured we would stick with our old standby a.k.a. a plain burger, but before we could say anything the grill was smothered with cheese.

In resolution, we waited until everything was cooked, helped the chef clean the grill, then determined the steak marinade was safe. Our daughter safely ate some steak, fruit, and a large allergy free cupcake.

Get-togethers do not have to be about food. Summer BBQ’s can be about watching fireworks, swimming, bubble blowing, or hula hooping. Summer cookouts are a time to enjoy being with others without the necessary focus on food. Communication is still a key element to keeping safe from food allergens. I hope you continue to enjoy your allergy free summer and stay safe!

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