If I have a food allergy, how can I avoid having a reaction?

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

It's so important if you are invited to a holiday dinner to speak with your host prior to them preparing food for the meal, if you or a family member has food allergies. Consider bringing safe snacks and foods, especially when ingredient lists are not known. The idea is to communicate, to be on the same playing field to avoid allergic reactions to foods, and these are preventable with proper planning and education. It is essential to have a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times if you have a history of food allergies.

To help Americans avoid the health risks due to food allergens, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in 2004. It identifies the eight most common allergenic foods accounting for 90 percent of reactions. These are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat. Therefore, reading labels closely should help you avoid the most common food allergens. Although this will work the majority of the time, some allergens are in products such as shampoo, lotion, pet food, paint and vitamins. If you find a product that you suspect causes a reaction, the best idea is to avoid it in the future.

Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Strict avoidance is the only true means of avoiding a food allergic reaction.

Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The best way to avoid a food allergy reaction sounds obvious: don't eat or touch the food that causes the allergy. But it's not always so simple. Avoiding a food allergy reaction requires some detective work but labeling laws in the United States have made the process a little easier. All packaged foods must list the most common allergens found in the product.

  • Avoid obvious foods that you are allergic to.
  • Do research to find out if the food you're allergic to might also include other foods. For example, many people who are allergic to bananas also have adverse reactions to mango and avocado.
  • Read labels for any packaged food. Look for all forms of the allergen. If you’re allergic to milk, check for code words including but not limited to casein, whey, lacto albumin and butter.
  • Be sure to check restaurant menus and let your server know about any allergies during ordering and when the food is served.
  • If you’re invited to a dinner party, be sure to let the host know about your allergy in advance so that he or she can plan for your special needs. This makes it more comfortable for both of you.

If you or a loved one has a food allergy, here are a few tips to prevent an allergic reaction:

  • Meet with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD can help you understand which foods are safe to eat and how best to avoid items that may cause a reaction without short-changing yourself on important vitamins and minerals. An RD can help ensure you get the nutrition you need for your health and lifestyle.
  • Learn about ingredients in foods. Eggs, wheat, milk and other allergy-causing foods often are called by other names. To help you avoid allergens, the Food and Drug Administration has mandated food companies specify on product labels if any of the eight major allergens is contained in the food.
  • Alert your day care, school and workplace. Make sure teachers, nurse and administrators are aware of your child's food allergies and that they know how to respond to adverse reactions your child may experience. Similarly, inform your coworkers of allergies you have. Some people are familiar with food allergies and know what to do if a person has a reaction; others may not and will need your help in keeping your risk for exposure low.
Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist
  • Avoid the food that’s causing your allergic symptoms.
  • Read ingredient labels.
  • Ask questions at restaurants.
  • Ask your healthcare providers what to do in case you are accidentally exposed to food allergens. (You may need to carry special medication in case of an exposure.)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.