If you or your child has serious food allergies, you never know when a serious allergic reaction can occur whenever you go out for something to eat. Without adequate precautions, you could expose yourself to allergens which can potentially prove fatal, which is why you must avoid cross-contact at all costs.
Cross-contact occurs when food containing a specific allergen comes into contact with food which doesn’t naturally contain the allergen, contaminating what’s supposed to be a “safe’ food and potentially cause a reaction. However, this is different from cross-contamination, when contaminants such as bacteria and mold get on food to make it unsafe to eat for all individuals.
From preparing the food to storing it, cross-contact between foods can commonly occur in three ways: food-to-food contact, food-to-object contact, and food-to-skin-to-saliva contact. The first one occurs when a food free of allergens come into direct contact with food containing allergens. The second occurs when same utensils are shared among different types of food, causing indirect cross-contact. Lastly, another form of indirect cross-contact happens when a person or animal which eats food containing allergens transmits the allergen to another individual through their saliva.
The following are several ways to avoid cross-contact:
- Safely prepare your food – If you are serving different types of food, prepare the food which is allergy-safe first. Cover allergen-free foods, mark them as “safe for allergies,” and keep them away from other foods. Ensure you use separate utensils, plates, and surfaces to avoid cross-contact. Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, cups, or plates. Politely encourage people to wash their hands after eating or handling food with allergens.
- Plan in advance – Whether you plan on eating out or at someone else’s home, you must make your needs known. Not all places understand how to properly handle food allergies; however, planning ahead can go a long way. Let your host or server know that you have food allergies, either ahead of time or when you arrive. Remind them of the importance of cross-contact. You can do your own research to see if the restaurant takes extra precautions and offers safe meal choices.
- Ask questions – Asking questions can help you avoid cross-contact. You may ask the following: Do you prepare food for those with special diets in a separate area of the kitchen? Does the kitchen use one fryer or grill for both allergen-free and regular foods? Can you use utensils and appliances for the allergy-safe dish? Will the server be preparing part of my meal? How is the allergy-safe food delivered (if ordering delivery)?