How to Have a Safe Cookout with Food Allergies

By Kristen Chandler

How to Have a Safe Cookout with Food Allergies

Summertime is right around the corner. With Memorial Day in May, Father’s Day in June, July fourth not far away and baseball season in full swing, there are plenty of reasons for friends and family to come together and have a cookout. Whether you are grilling for your own food-allergic child, for guests with food allergies, or you will be the food-allergic guest at someone else’s home, food allergies need to be taken into consideration beforehand. But do not worry – there are several ways to accommodate those with food allergies while grilling, to ensure that everyone involved has a safe and fun time.

If you are hosting someone with food allergies, or you or your allergic child will be a guest of someone else, the most important thing to do is have a conversation about allergies prior to the event. Discuss what allergens will need to be avoided, the steps that must be taken to avoid the allergens and what food options will be available. You or your guest might also decide that it would be best to bring your, or their, own food, and that is perfectly fine. I’ve taken my son’s food to cookouts many times. Sometimes it’s easier than having to go over everything with someone else, especially if this is the first time they will be hosting a guest with food allergies. But, if someone is willing to accommodate then it is worth working with them. That way, they’re getting educated as well.

General Tips to Avoid Cross-Contamination

When having a cookout there are many allergens to consider. Someone may not be able to eat the buns because of a wheat/milk/sesame allergy or gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Someone may not be able to eat ice cream because of a dairy allergy. Someone may not be able to eat potato salad because of an egg allergy, or someone may not be able to eat beef or other red meat. If there is going to be food served that contains allergens along with the allergy-friendly food, there are several steps you and the other attendees can take to prevent cross-contamination.

  • Store allergy-friendly food away from other foods. If you have food set up buffet-style outside or inside, make sure the allergy-friendly food is kept away from the food containing allergens. Also, always use separate utensils to serve the foods.
  • Label the foods. Someone with only one allergy may be able to eat everything but a couple of foods containing that allergen. Or, if it’s a child with food allergies who you’re hosting, they may be tempted to grab food first and ask questions second. Alert guests to allergens by labeling the food containers or making a cute little place card to put in front of the food item.
  • Label cups. Especially with children, a big concern is picking up someone else’s cup and ingesting an allergen. Use plastic cups and have a Sharpie available to write names on the cups to prevent that from happening.
  • Encourage everyone to wash their hands after eating and handling food. This will help cut down on cross-contamination, especially if you’ll be playing games after you eat.


Grilling Tips

Some people may be allergic to beef or can’t eat red meat. My son has a beef allergy and can’t eat beef hamburgers or hot dogs that contain beef. I use ground turkey to make burgers and buy hot dogs that do not contain beef, and he can also eat chicken.

Here are some other things to remember if you will be grilling food for allergic guests:

  • Use tin foil on the grill. This is your best bet if you don’t have time to thoroughly clean the grill. Cook the food for the person with the food allergy or intolerance first and place a layer (or two) of tin foil on the grill. When you’re done you can pull the foil up and cook the rest of the food.
  • Use clean utensils. Even if you do cook the allergy-friendly food first, make sure your utensils have been cleaned with soap and hot water or in the dishwasher. And just to be safe, don’t use those utensils again. Even if you don’t use them to pick up the food that contains allergens, just storing them near that food could risk cross-contamination.
  • When preparing the meat, skip the rubs and marinades. Rubs and marinades may contain milk, soy, nuts and other allergens. Also, a lot of people use vinegar-based dressings as marinade for chicken, and some people may be allergic to vinegar (my child is one of those people). Unless you check with your guests first, just skip the rubs and marinades. If you do use them, cook that food last and make sure it is displayed and labeled.
  • Stick to one person manning the grill. Someone may offer to help, or there may be someone there who wants to show off his or her grilling skills. But to ensure that allergy-safe procedures are followed precisely, it is best to just have one person do all the grilling.
  • Serve the hamburgers plain. Have the buns, toppings and condiments all set out so your guests can get what they want or can have. You may want to have a variety of buns. If you have cheese available, using the wrapped singles would be the best way to cut down on contamination. Using squeeze bottles for the ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise will help cut down on contamination as well.


Allergy-Friendly Food Ideas

As mentioned, if you’re dealing with a beef allergy, you can use ground turkey to make turkey burgers, or find hot dogs that don’t contain beef. You can also grill chicken pork ribs instead of beef.

Another thing to consider is to not buy the pre-formed burgers, even turkey burgers. Other things may be added to the pre-formed burgers, and there is more risk of cross-contamination. It is best to buy pure beef or turkey and make your own.

It gets a little trickier when it comes to hamburger and hot dog buns, because of multiple allergies. My son has a milk allergy as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so we often use wheat buns. However, you may have a guest with a gluten allergy or intolerance or celiac disease. Or there may be someone present who is allergic to sesame seeds. When using white buns, I purchase Bunny brand because they do not contain milk. For wheat buns, I use Nature’s Own brand. If you are looking for gluten-free options, consider the following brands: Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Katz and Udi’s Gluten Free. If you prefer to make your own, this is a good recipe to follow.

What about side dishes? There could be many allergens in side dishes, especially salads. And then there’s ice cream to think about if you’re hosting someone with a dairy allergy. Here are a few allergy friendly side dishes from our own Recipe Database:

Rainbow Pasta Salad

Potato and Apple Salad

Picnic-Perfect Tofu Salad

Dillicious Potato Salad

Dairy Free Strawberry Ice Cream

Beachy Keen Corn on the Cob

Please feel free to search our recipes for other ideas. Also, an alternative to ice cream to consider is Italian Ice. You can buy it in most grocery stores or easily make your own.

We hope these tips will help in providing a safe and fun time should you choose to grill out this summer. I know we will!

Did we miss any tips to help things run smoothly? What are some of your favorite allergy-friendly cookout dishes? Please share with us in the comments!




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