7. November 2016
How Can I Safely Manage Allergens in the Kitchen?

When a member of the family becomes allergic to a certain food, the focus of the kitchen suddenly shifts from preparing delicious food to ensuring food safety. The overriding concern is to keep the allergen in question out of the kitchen. By doing so, a kind of safety zone can be created so that people with allergies can have peace of mind.

Some families need to completely eliminate the allergen from the household. This is especially true if the slightest trace of a substance can trigger reactions if it comes into contact with the skin or is breathed in. Or, for instance, if there is an individual with a severe peanut allergy living in the household. If there is a high risk of anaphylactic reactions, no peanuts should be eaten or used for cooking in the house, not even while the allergic individual is not at home. Grandparents of children with severe peanut allergies should also have a peanut-free home.

Some families at a lower risk of severe reactions make the decision to allow allergens in the home, perhaps because other family members cannot or do not want to exclude certain ingredients from their diet. Or because a new, non-allergic sibling has joined the family and needs to be fed as wide a range of foods as possible, according to the current recommendations on allergy prevention (more information here).

So what can you do to keep the kitchen allergen free? Certainly no system is foolproof. And it takes quite a bit of time and effort to sort through all the allergenic foods in your house. We’ve found this great article at Allergic Living about how to manage allergens in your kitchen and showed to to our experts and added a few extras. We think that the following tips can help significantly lower the risk of allergic reactions.

Organise and label

    • Specifically define the locations, shelves and containers where you will store allergen-containing foods.
    • You can find label templates on the Internet. Use labels with pictures if there are family members in your household who cannot yet read.
    • If there are young children in the house, allergens should be kept on the highest kitchen shelves.
    • Make sure the containers have an airtight seal.

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Develop a routine

Develop a consistent routine for unpacking and organising allergen-containing foods. It is important that you go through all the steps in your mind, from the supermarket to your table. By repeating them over and over, you will get accustomed to your routine and gain more confidence.

  • Step 1: Check the label while you are in the shop. If you have time, reserve a corner of your shopping trolley for allergen-containing foods and bag them separately before taking them home.
  • Step 2: Check all labels again while unpacking your items at home and organise the allergenic foods according to your system.
  • Step 3: Check the label again before using the product for the first time. If you are uncertain whether the food contains allergens or traces of allergens, contact the company directly. You can find more Information on companies that voluntarily provide information on allergen traces and manufacturing conditions from Nuss-/Anaphylaxienetzwerk e.V. [nut/anaphylaxis network in Germany].

Once you have established your system, you should follow it consistently.

Rules for kitchen utensils

In some cases it can be useful to have two sets of kitchen utensils in order to avoid cross contamination. If a family member has a wheat allergy, it makes sense to have two toasters. The allergic individual should also have his or her own can opener.

Allergenic proteins in food can easily adhere to porous plastic and wooden utensils. For this reason, you should use utensils with smooth surfaces, such as glass or stainless steel. A colour coding system is useful for keeping kitchen utensils separate. According to the system, utensils and cutting boards of a certain colour should only be used for allergen-free foods.

Keep everything in the right place

Do not take allergen-containing foods around the house, including in front of the television. Allergen-containing foods must only be eaten at the table. Stick to a fixed seating plan. Allergen-containing foods should always be placed at the same spot on the table or kitchen worktop. If one family member loves sesame sauce and another is allergic to it, the allergic individual can have his or her food placed at the far end of the table where it will not come into contact with the sesame sauce at the near end of the table – just as he or she can be certain that it was prepared with separate kitchen utensils.

Clean-Up

Allergens are good at hiding. Kitchen and table surfaces should be cleaned before and after eating. Use a household cleaner and warm water. Do not use hand sanitizers, as these do not effectively remove food allergens.

Be prepared for emergencies

Choose a place in the kitchen to store an emergency kit, a list of emergency telephone numbers, health insurance information, health insurance card and the emergency instructions provided by the doctor describing what to do in the event of an allergic reaction. Make sure that all family members know what to do in an emergency.

If in doubt, seek advice

If you are uncertain as to whether your family can allow allergens into the home, consult your allergy specialist. Having allergens in the home means that you must be capable of assessing your allergy risk, and it can only be done under the right conditions. It is more difficult in a household with many people to keep all allergens under control and establish a consistent system for organising them.