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10 Tips for Picnics with Food Allergies

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Updated June 18, 2008

Most people like eating outside. There's just something relaxing about being outdoors. But there are a few pitfalls to picnicking with food allergies: lack of access to hand-washing facilities, temptation to share food, and potentially being far from civilization in the event of a reaction. Luckily, advance planning can make picnicking safer. Read on for 10 ways to make safe picnicking with allergies a reality.

1. Pack a Full Basket

Make sure that, at a bare minimum, you bring enough food to satisfy any family members with allergies or other dietary restrictions. Even if you're picnicking with friends and the menu sounds safe, you're unlikely to have access to food labels to verify safety.

2. Cover That Table

If you're eating at a public picnic table, consider bringing along a plastic tablecloth. They're easier to clean than wood in the event of a spill and will cover any allergenic residue that may have been left by the last group to use the table.

3. Bring the Basics

Make sure you're well-stocked for picnic basics -- flatware, plates, cups, napkins -- so there's no temptation to share. You might consider using a separate color of these basic items for the family member with food allergies to prevent confusion, or buying a unique washable set if you picnic frequently. Marking names on cups with a permanent marker is another easy way to prevent accidental cross-contamination.

4. Washing Without Water

In many picnic spots, facilities won't be convenient (or even available) for hand- and face-washing, so be prepared with a generous supply of baby wipes, wet wipes, or wet washcloths stored in zippered bags (so they stay moist). Make sure everyone -- allergic or not -- washes up before kids run off to play.

5. Don't Feed My Kid!

At a small picnic, it's relatively easy to keep an eye on young children, but larger gatherings can be fraught with well-meaning friends and relatives offering food to toddlers and preschoolers. In addition to asking others to refrain from giving your child food, allergy alert clothing is one way to reinforce to adults that your child shouldn't be fed without your permission.

6. Take Care With Condiments

Be wary of cross-contamination from large containers of condiments (especially those that are spread with knives). Small packets of ketchup, mustard, relish, and mayonnaise are safer ways to dress burgers.

7. Second Helpings First

Large containers of food are also vectors of cross-contamination. You can prevent cross-contamination from serving spoons by feeding the guest with allergies first and setting aside a safe container (bring a couple of extras!) for second helpings at that time.

8. Resources for Emergency Help

If you're hiking or picnicking at a state park or along a trail at a larger municipal park, make sure you jot down the phone number for the ranger's station or visitor's center before you begin walking. In the event of a medical emergency, they'll be able to get you back to civilization more quickly.

9. Grilling Safety

Cooking on a shared grill? Be aware of the cross-contamination issues associated with grills. Foil packs or a cast-iron skillet are but two of the ways you can grill safely with food allergies.

10. Just in Case -- Rescue Medication

Finally, as always, bring along any medications -- epinephrine and/or antihistamines -- your doctor has prescribed in case of an allergic reaction.

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