“Knowledge” is key to keeping yourself and others safe from food allergens. It is necessary to think about allergen avoidance at every meal and social gathering. Accidents can happen, but being educated and prepared goes a long way in maintaining safety. Constant vigilance is needed to consider the safety of foods at each meal and snack whether at home or in a restaurant.
At home, you can start at the supermarket with reading ingredient labels. Except under unusual circumstances, the label should list all ingredients. Surprisingly enough, some products have hidden ingredients that are not fully disclosed. Ingredients can change, so vigilance is needed by reading the label each time to ensure that any new ingredients are not problematic. While reading the ingredient labels you may come across a “contains” statement, usually near the ingredients list that discloses any major food allergen in the product. But these labels are not “law” so read everything carefully. Be aware of “cross contamination” or “cross contact”, this is when an otherwise allergen-safe food contains an unintentional allergen because of an error during the preparation or cooking of the food. There has to be an ongoing consciousness about cross-contact in order to maintain a safe supply of allergen free ingredients for meals. This may be possible at home where family members are aware of someone’s food allergy and may not occur in restaurants or friends homes where there is not a constant need to maintain allergen free ingredients. Therefore, depending on the circumstances, there may be a need for ongoing vigilance (at home) or for education on how to make individual meals that are allergen-safe (restaurants and friends homes, etc). It is not usually necessary to remove a food allergen entirely from your home, but personal preferences and ages of and diets of household members may dictate your decision. If there are young children in the home, it may be easier to exclude the food allergen altogether to avoid the risk of unintentional sharing between siblings.
Overall, there are many different options as long as care is taken for food storage, preparation and supervision during meals.
Anxiety and controversy surrounds the worry that smelling or touching a food allergen could result in an allergic reaction. Although there are examples of food becoming airborne during cooking or when they are in a powdery form, the risks should be taken in context. A study that purposefully aerosolized foods to which a child was allergic, by cooking them, mostly found no reaction or a mild reaction at site of contact. There is reason to have concern, but the anxiety about these exposures is probably greater than the actual risks warrant.