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Avoid allergen triggers to keep guests safe when barbecuing this summer

05/23/2013 04:48 EDT | Updated 07/23/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - When it comes to summer barbecues, one allergy expert says it's wise to ask guests about food sensitivities long before you fire up the grill.

"Have that conversation with them before they come about what options would be good for them, what alternative choices might be good for them," says Marilyn Allen, a food allergy and anaphylaxis consultant.

"The goal would be to either avoid those allergens in your menu, in your recipes, or to make a separate plate or separate serving for the person who's allergic."

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can take place within seconds or minutes after exposure to an allergen.

Allen's daughter Robyn died at age 15 in 1990 when she ingested a microscopic amount of peanut butter that was transferred from a knife to the butter that Robyn later spread on bread.

Since then, Allen has lobbied Health Canada to change food labelling and helped author a new training manual called "Allergy Training Basics for the Foodservice and Food Retail Industry," published and distributed by Anaphylaxis Canada and TrainCan Inc.

Last August, new rules came into effect requiring manufacturers to clearly identify the presence of ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction. Health Canada lists 10 priority food allergens in the regulations, including peanuts, eggs, milk, mustard, tree nuts, wheat, soy, sesame, seafood (fish, crustaceans, shellfish) and sulphites (a food additive).

"There's complications in so many things, what I call the hidden trap, that really have to be looked at," Allen said from her home in Pefferlaw, Ont., south of Lake Simcoe.

Mustard seeds found in relish, spices, prepared mustard and marinades can be a problem for those with allergies, for example. Soy sauce can include wheat while ketchup may contain barley, which can affect those with a wheat allergy.

A traditional potato salad, meanwhile, could include eggs, mustard, mayonnaise (milk and eggs) or sour cream (milk) used by some to thin mayonnaise.

Desserts can contain tree nuts, peanuts, soy, milk and egg.

"I always make a full master ingredient list," Allen says. "Sometimes I just keep the labels of prepackaged foods, but I do keep those lists, and then I make little individual signs with the ingredients and I set it in front of each plate so that my allergic guests can make a safe choice and there's no fuss or bother."

Despite taking precautions, accidents can happen so be prepared for a quick response, she adds.

"I would say to the guest they should always carry their auto injector with them and they should make sure the host knows where it is and how to use it."

Epinephrine is easily administered with an auto injector. Then call 911. It might be necessary to inject a second time within five to 15 minutes because two doses may be needed if the reaction continues or worsens.

Here are her suggestions for an allergy-safe menu for a summer barbecue:

— A green salad can be dressed with balsamic vinaigrette or a little honey canola oil. Lay out cucumbers, red onions and cherry tomatoes and let guests choose their own ingredients.

— For potato salad, roast or boil fingerling or mini red potatoes and mix with cherry tomatoes tossed with canola oil, cider vinegar and chopped chives.

— Omit breadcrumbs and eggs from burgers. Use mini pita bread for sliders or larger pitas for hamburgers instead of buns that may be topped with sesame seeds.

— Put condiments in separate bowls or plastic cups with separate utensils to avoid dripping or spilling.

— Grill garlic shrimp on skewers but do not brush with butter if you're serving a milk-allergic person. Canola oil is ideal for grilling and sauteing because it doesn't break down at high heat. Olive oil can also be used.

— For dessert, serve fresh fruit kebabs with chocolate bark made with pure dark chocolate to which dried cranberries and blueberries have been added.

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