by Christie Chapman
Envision a mouth-watering picnic spread: Deviled eggs smooth and gleaming in the sunlight. Corn on the cob with melty sunshine-yellow butter dripping down your chin. PB&J sandwiches with gooey purple jelly and thick, clumpy peanut butter oozing out the sides. Plump peachy shrimp drizzled with garlic butter and sizzling on the grill. An ice-cold can of soda, glimmering with cool beads of condensation, that cracks open with a “pop!”
But if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients in this kind of smorgasbord—eggs, dairy (in butter), peanuts, shellfish or any other common picnic fare–or to pesky bees or that could be lurking in that refreshing can of soda—your idyllic picnic could turn sour.
Just be informed and cautious—you can still have a safe, fun, delectable picnic:
Pack your favorites to eat and share. Those homemade treats people bring to share at picnics don’t tend to come with ingredients labels you can check. Also, cross-contamination can occur in the buffet line as the same forks and spoons plunge into various dishes. Why not bring some of your own favorite allergen-free picnic foods? (Expect compliments—it’s up to you whether you divulge the recipe.)
Reach for allergen-free sauce. If you have a nut allergy, it’s a good idea to avoid barbecue sauces, salad dressings and even burger seasonings—these are all hiding places for tree nuts or peanuts.
Go early and ask for your meat to be cooked first, before the grill is used for sauce-covered meats or fish. Another option: bring aluminum foil with you—ask for your food to be cooked on the foil instead of directly on the grill.
Bees are fond of sweet drinks and brightly colored flowers, so stick to light-colored clothing, skip the heavy perfume and keep an eye on your drinks. You can also use insect repellent sprays and lotions.
Enjoy fresh, natural foods without the extras. Fruits and vegetables are delicious on their own, and a safer alternative to mixed salads that may contain nuts or other hidden ingredients.
Know the most common signs of food allergy:
- Itchy mouth
- Swollen tongue or lips
- Tightness in throat or difficulty breathing
- Nausea, abdominal cramps or vomiting
If you experience one of these symptoms, use your auto-injectable epinephrine and get to a hospital as soon as possible. It’s wise to carry two doses, in case another is needed before you can get medical help. Be aware: Many EMTs are not allowed to carry epinephrine.
Mesquite smoke. Smoke from the barbie is bad for everyone’s lungs, but people allergic to mesquite trees—which are common in Texas and the Southwest—may be extra sensitive to mesquite smoke.
Mustard. In Europe, mustard is the fourth most common food allergen among children. This spice is not only found in the familiar yellow condiment, but is often found in processed deli meats and hot dogs.
Sesame. In the U.S., according to the Food Allergy Initiative, sesame allergy is on the rise, and Canada and Europe have added it to the list of ingredients reported on food labels. Find it on hamburger buns, in hummus or tahini or foods cooked with sesame or vegetable oil.
First published: Allergy & Asthma Today
Medical Review by William Berger, MD
Reviewed and updated: March 2011