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Beware Food Allergies At July 4 Barbecues, Croton

CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. – The Fourth of July is arguably the most popular day of the year to host or attend a barbecue. Hosting a barbecue for many people can be stressful, and adding to that stress can be guests who may have dietary restrictions, food allergies or sensitivities.  

In the spirit of culinary inclusion, Jeanine Giordano, a clinical nutrition manager from Hudson Valley Hospital Center's food and nutrition department, has provided some insight for ensuring that all guests, including those with clinical dietary restrictions, have a full plate.

"Just like nutrition in general, everyone's wanting all this new information about it," Giordano said about food allergies, and how to ensure everyone has something to eat at the barbecue. "It's definitely a growing population of people," she said.

Eight food allergens account for about 90 percent of allergic reactions to food, according to the Mayo Clinic's Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Those allergens – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat – should be listed on food labels even when included in very small quantities.

Avoiding cross-contamination of food is important as a host, says Giordano. If hosts are aware a guest has a food allergy – shellfish, for example – it's important these items are not cooked on the same part of the grill as other items, or that they're wrapped in foil, says Giordano.

Also, Giordano says, people's growing awareness of food allergies has encouraged tastier allergen-free products, like gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns.

For guests with food allergies, Giordano says she always recommends advising the host.

"Speaking from experience, I'm a vegetarian, and, especially with barbecues, I have to tell the host that I'm a vegetarian. And I say to the host, 'Is it alright if I bring some veggie burgers?' That way it doesn't make them feel responsible for dealing with that," Giordano said.

She said it is important to do the same for children. "I think that in the same way you would as an adult, notify the host. Tell the host, 'Hey, my child has an allergy,'" she said.

Foods that people rarely develop allergies to are specific fruits and vegetables. Grilling corn, asparagus, eggplant or even pineapple can be a healthy choice for everyone at a party.

"I would advise people to really experiment with different fruits and vegetables," Giordano said.

 Despite many manufacturers self-labelling for cross contamination – think barbecue sauce that "may contain" peanuts, or salad dressing "processed in the same facility" as eggs – the Food and Drug Administration does not require this labelling, according to the Mayo Clinic. When in doubt, says the Mayo Clinic, call the manufacturer and use caution.

"(The) take-home message is really to understand how to read a nutrition label, because everything is going to be on that nutrition label," she said.

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