The challenge of sporting events for severe food allergies is obvious: crowds of people, vendors without ingredient lists, questionably clean seating areas. Does that make attending your favorite sport live impossible? For most people, no. Depending on your allergies, though, it may take some preparation. Here's how to prepare for a trip to a sporting event and some pitfalls to be aware of at the stadium.
1. Outside Food Policies
The first thing to do -- before you even buy tickets -- is to check the venue's outside food policy. These days, many major league baseball teams permit food to be brought from outside the stadium, NFL teams are split roughly 50-50, and NBA and NHL arenas generally do not allow it. College, minor leagues, and other sports vary, but a good rule of thumb is that outdoor events are more likely to allow you to bring your own food than indoor events.
Sporting venues generally make provisions for medical need (e.g., for diabetics, those on liquid diets, or babies drinking formula), but food allergies may or may not fall under this category, depending on the venue. Some also allow snacks for small children regardless of medical need.
2. Guest Relations: Know Them, Love Them
Check with the team or venue's guest relations, guest services, or customer relations department as early as possible before the game you'd like to attend. You'll want to do this if you would like a medical exemption from a restrictive outside food policy or if you have a food allergy that can be triggered by inhalation (for example, of fragments from peanut or nut shells, or by oil from popping corn) or by contact. They can let you know what precautions they've taken in the past for severe food allergies and how they can prepare for your visit.
3. What Not To Eat
Be wary of unbranded ballpark concessions because, like restaurants, they don't have to follow FALCPA rules for ingredient labeling. You may find it difficult to get complete information about ingredients or cross-contamination from ballpark food services, although you'll often find familiar packaged treats like candy and bottled drinks.
That said, if a local restaurant or a chain restaurant has a kiosk in the arena, they might be able to accommodate you. Contact them in advance for details about the menu, which may be different than full-service locations outside the venue.
4. Precautions for Peanut AllergiesPeanut allergies require special consideration at many sporting events because peanuts in the shell are such a traditional snack (especially at baseball games). A recent and welcome trend is to have special peanut-free ballgames, but for now this is still a local and limited phenomenon. If you or a family member has a peanut allergy and do decide to attend a sporting event where peanuts are sold, be sure to wipe down your seat and armrest, check for loose shells before sitting down, and politely ask those sitting nearby to eat different snacks during the game. Ushers may be able to reseat you if fans sitting close to you would prefer to eat peanuts.
5. Just In Case
Finally, as always, make sure you have any medication your doctor recommends or has prescribed on hand during the game -- antihistamines, epinephrine, and/or asthma medication. Most venues have a first aid room or tent as well, and you should find out where this area is -- and the easiest way to get there from your seats -- upon arriving at the ballpark.