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Don’t let food allergies and food poisoning take the happy out of your holidays

October 27, 2016

‘Tis almost the season for decking the halls, dashing through the snow, and dining on delectable food. Yet that festive feeling can vanish faster than grandma’s pecan pie when someone accidently puts the peanut butter cookies on the same plate with the snickerdoodles. You want people to remember the fun time and good food they had at your holiday get-together, not the anaphylactic episode that landed them in the emergency room.

With so many delicious homemade dips, casseroles and desserts gracing the holiday table – largely without ingredient labels – it’s like navigating a mine field through an amusement park for someone with food allergies.

The other potential hazard to your otherwise happy holiday buffet? Food poisoning.

So how do you bask in the bounty of the holiday food fest while avoiding the perils? Knowing the signs and symptoms of food allergies and food poisoning and what to do about them is a good place to start.

Food allergies

“Food allergies are a serious matter. Allergens may be hidden in a lengthy ingredient list, which is often not available in a group or family banquet environment,” said Dr. Nancy Pook, medical director at Kettering Medical Center emergency department. “In addition, there may be cross-contamination in food preparation and handling, allowing allergen exposure in an unexpected circumstance.”

Symptoms

Food allergies can present with a broad range of symptoms, from mild annoyances like itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion or minor rash, to severe symptoms [known as anaphylaxis] such as difficulty swallowing, swollen lips or tongue, and trouble breathing.

Treatment

Anaphylactic food allergies are true emergencies that need prompt medical attention. 

“In the event of swelling, severe rash or difficulty breathing, immediately call 911 for transport to the nearest emergency department,” said Dr. Pook.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning happens when viruses, parasites, bacteria or toxins contaminate food. Harmful bacteria from things like an unwashed cutting board or food left out too long are the cause of most outbreaks.

Symptoms

Symptoms of food poisoning may vary depending on the type of bacteria causing the illness and can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. The diarrhea is often watery, but can be bloody. Fever also can occur.

The onset of symptoms can happen immediately after consumption or hours later.

Treatment

As long as clear liquids are tolerated to avoid dehydration, and cramping can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, treating at home is fine. Otherwise, a trip to the emergency department may be necessary.

Preventing food allergy reactions and food poisoning

  • Clean: wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate: keep raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods
  • Cook: ensure that food is cooked to the right temperature. Eggs, seafood and even potatoes can cause illness if undercooked.
  • Chill: illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours unless refrigerated
  • Plan ahead: notify the host of any food allergies, call the venue to inquire about options for those with food allergies, or bring your own food

With any emergency, time is of the essence. Kettering Health Network is home to 10 emergency centers, and Kettering Medical Center is a Level II trauma center, with low wait and fast door-to-doctor times.