Every year, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) plans an educational conference for families and professionals managing food allergies. That means planning meals for hundreds of attendees with dietary restrictions that include not only the Top 8 allergens and gluten, but everything from chicken to rosemary to food dyes.
So where do we start? Here are our top tips for planning a safe and satisfying meal for attendees with dietary restrictions.
Tip #1: Know the allergens. You can’t begin to plan until you know what allergies your attendees have. Ideally, you collect attendees’ dietary restrictions when they RSVP or register for the event.
Tip #2: Plan an allergy-friendly menu. Depending on the food allergies you’re accommodating, you may be able to plan a menu that is completely free of your attendees’ allergens. And though that may seem like a large task, it can save time and stress for everyone, including you. If this isn’t possible, create a menu that has safe options for everyone.
Tip #3: Choose fresh, simple ingredients. If you avoid packaged foods, you’ll limit the number of ingredients, and it will be easier to provide an allergy-friendly meal. As a bonus, fresh foods are often tastier and healthier.
Tip #4: Don’t forget cross-contact. For people with food allergies and celiac disease, it’s not just about avoiding allergens. Cross-contact, where tiny bits of food are transferred from one food to another, can cause a life-threatening reaction. Cross-contact can be caused by foods directly touching, shared utensils, shared cooking and preparation surfaces, hands, and even steam from cooking.
Tip #5: Communicate. After if you’ve taken proper care with the menu and educating the catering staff about cross-contact, you still need to communicate ingredients to attendees. Providing a full listing of ingredients helps attendees determine what they can eat. If you send it out in advance, that’s even better.
Tip #6: For information about food allergies, check out foodallergy.org.
And always remember, for someone with a food allergy, eating out is an act of trust. They are putting their health in the hands of those that planned and prepared their food. Knowing that you took the extra care needed to provide them with an allergy-friendly meal will make all the difference.
FARE’s 2018 event is FARECon Featuring Teen Summit. To learn more, visit www.foodallergy.org/farecon.