‘Tis almost the season for decking the halls, dashing through snow and dining on delectable food. Yet that festive feeling can vanish faster than grandma’s pecan pie when someone leaves the egg nog out too long. You want people to remember the fun time and good food they had at your holiday party, not the intestinal distress of food poisoning they suffered shortly after.
The other potential hazard to your otherwise happy holiday buffet? Food allergies.
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.
So how do you bask in the bounty of the holiday food fest while avoiding the perils? Knowing the signs and symptoms of food poisoning and food allergies, and what to do about them, is a good place to start.
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 and treatment
Symptoms of food poisoning may vary depending on the type of bacteria causing the illness and can occur immediately after consumption or hours later.
“Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps predominate when it comes to food poisoning,” explained Dr. Marcus Romanello, chief medical officer at Fort Hamilton Hospital. “The diarrhea is often watery, but can be bloody. Fever also can occur.”
Self-treat or seek help?
As far as treatment, Dr. Romanello says that, as long as clear liquids are tolerated to avoid dehydration and cramping is managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, then treating at home is fine.
Preventing food poisoning with four simple steps:
- 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. This rule doesn’t just apply to meat and poultry – eggs, seafood and even potatoes can cause illness if undercooked.
- Chill: illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours unless refrigerated.
Common holiday food ingredients like milk, eggs, soy, and nuts can cause potentially life-threatening allergic reactions if accidentally consumed by someone with food allergies. Even if food doesn’t appear to contain allergens, cross-contamination may have occurred if it was prepared alongside known allergens.
Symptoms and treatment
“Food allergies can present with a broad range of symptoms, ranging from annoyances like itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion or minor rash, to severe symptoms [known as anaphylaxis] such as difficulty swallowing, swollen lips or tongue, trouble breathing, fainting, low blood pressure, even cardiac arrest,” explained Dr. Romanello.
Individuals with severe food allergies should always carry an epinephrine rescue device and know how to use it. Anaphylactic food allergies are true emergencies that need prompt medical attention.
“Always go to the emergency room if there is severe swelling, difficulty swallowing, or trouble breathing,” said Dr. Romanello. “When in doubt, seek medical attention.”
In any emergency, time is of the essence. Fort Hamilton Hospital, part of the Kettering Health Network, has a 24/7 emergency center, with low wait and fast door-to-doctor times.