Managing Food Allergies at Home
One of the easier places to manage a food allergy is in your home. Here, you are in control: You decide if, when and how different foods are introduced. Use the tips in this section to help make your home your “safe space” – the place where you and your family can be most relaxed, knowing that you’ve minimized the chances of ingesting harmful allergens.
Should You Ban Problem Foods?
Some families decide to allow problem foods in their home, but take precautions to keep the family member who has food allergies safe. Others find it easier to implement a total ban.
To decide which approach will work best for you, it’s important to take a look at your family’s needs and lifestyle. Asking yourself a few questions can help you decide:
- What has our experience been so far with reactions and accidental exposure?
- If we were to completely eliminate problem foods, how difficult would it be for other family members?
- How many children are at home, and how old are they?
- How will our decision affect the overall quality of our home life?
- If we do decide that it’s best to ban problem foods at home, how do we teach our child who has food allergies to manage outside, in the “real world”?
As you answer these questions, here are a few factors to consider:
- Some allergens are easier to ban than others. For example, making your home peanut-free isn’t likely to be a hardship for other family members. On the other hand, milk, egg, or wheat may be difficult to eliminate altogether. You can take strong precautions that create a safe environment, even if you allow these items in your home.
- Living around problem foods can help children and individuals with food allergies cope as they grow and begin to spend more time away from home. Learning how to avoid allergens at home, as well as how to handle a reaction, can calm fears and provide the skills needed to stay safe, no matter where they are.
- Looking at your family environment is critical. Do you usually sit down together for meals at set times? Or, does everyone come and go, treating the kitchen like an all-night take-out stand? If it’s the latter, it may be more difficult to avoid offending foods.
- How old is your child with food allergies? Age and maturity level can play a role in children's readiness to take on additional responsibilities to help keep themselves safe.
These are all important factors in how you decide to “allergy-proof” your home.
Tips for Keeping Safe at Home
- Learn how to read food labels and make sure everyone in the family can, too. Keep our How to Read a Label fact sheet pinned up on your refrigerator or on your pantry door.
- All family members should wash their hands before and after eating to avoid the transfer of food allergens.
- Scrub down counters and tables after food preparation and after meals. To effectively remove food protein from surfaces, wash the surfaces with soap and water.
- Practice proper food preparation to avoid cross-contact. Thoroughly clean counters, cutting boards, knives, slicers, spoons, measuring cups, mixing bowls and other food prep equipment between foods. Have separate sets of utensils for handling safe and unsafe foods. Some families use separate dishes (usually designated by different colors), too.
- Separate safe and unsafe food by designating specific shelves in the pantry and refrigerator and storing all foods in sealed containers.
- Label either the problem foods or the safe ones — whichever is easier.
- Create allergen-free zones in your home, or restrict eating to the kitchen and dining room only.
- Beware of airborne allergens when cooking; keep a safe distance from the cooking area and allow the air to clear for 30 minutes afterward before entering the room.
- For young children, fixed seating arrangements at the table may be helpful. This will discourage younger siblings from sharing “tastes.”
- Stock up on the essentials and have safe substitutes on hand.
- Assemble an emergency kit that includes your medications, auto-injector, and Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan. You might want to make two kits – one that stays in the house in a convenient, safe place that everyone knows, and one that travels with you.
Read more tips for managing food allergies at home:
Avoiding Cross-Contact >
Cooking and Baking Tips >
Communicating with Babysitters and Other Caregivers >