Managing Food Allergies at Work

If you’re fortunate enough to work in an environment where food is shared, you come to relish the fun times and cheers when someone brings in treats.

But if you’re one of the 15 million Americans who suffer from a food allergy, it can be difficult to turn down such a wonderful treat on an otherwise boring afternoon. The hardest thing and likely the best thing is to just say no.

I’ve been diagnosed with a crustacean shellfish allergy—I can’t eat shrimp, crab or lobster.  No biggie as I’ve never had the hankering for shellfish.  However, a few of my co-workers continue to order crustacean shellfish at the drop of a hat or bring in leftovers for lunch. Over the years, I’ve learned there are several precautions I have to take to be safe.

May 8 – 14 is Food Allergy Awareness week and, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education organization, is a chance “to shine a spotlight on the seriousness of food allergies and to improve public understanding of this potentially life-threatening medical condition.”  If you or someone you know suffers from a food allergy, there are some simple steps to help keep you and them safe from having a reaction at work.

Here are a few that I’ve found helpful whenever someone at work has shellfish for lunch:

  • Do not share utensils.  Proteins can linger on forks, knives and plates if they are not thoroughly washed and cleaned.  When in doubt, bring your own utensils so you know that they are safe to use.
     
  • Use clean sponges and towels to clean your utensils.  I would never want to use a towel or sponge that had been used to clean my colleague’s leftover shrimp fried rice bowl.  That would be a recipe for a reaction that I don’t want to risk.
     
  • Always keep your epipen or autoinjector close by.  When you know or have an idea that someone in your office is offering up an offending protein, be certain to keep your medication handy in case of an accidental contamination with your food.
     
  • Bring an alternative dish.  This will help reduce the risk of a possible contamination. 
     
  • Always be courteous to your colleagues by reminding them that you have a food allergy, no matter how mild or severe.  If they’re anything like my co-workers, they will respect you for speaking up.