Managing food allergies requires constant avoidance of allergens, emergency preparedness and effective communication. Going out to eat with food allergies can be challenging but is completely doable. When it comes to avoiding allergens while out to eat, the focus in the minds of patrons and eating establishments is often the food, but it is important to keep in mind that beverages can contain allergens as well. Outlined below are key points and tips to consider before you take your sips.
Avoid Cross Contact
Remember that allergens can remain in someone's saliva for several hours after eating and for some people even small amounts of an allergen can cause a severe allergic reaction. To prevent the chance of cross contact drink from your own cup and don't share with others around you. Also remember cross contact can occur with drink stirrers, shakers and other utensils used to mix drinks as with condiments like sprigs of mint or slices of fruit.
Be Aware of All Ingredients Added to the Beverage
This is especially true in the case of mixed drinks. For example if you are allergic to dairy and cream is added to your pina colada, then this can cause an allergic reaction. Some drinks contain raw egg whites - the white 'fuzz' of a Pisco sour, for example, is from beaten egg whites. Raw eggs are particularly dangerous in people with egg allergies.
Know What Ingredients Are in the Beverage
The drink itself may have an allergen in it (for example, wheat in beer). Things to consider here are that since alcohol is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), beverage companies that are bottling alcoholic products do not need to follow current labeling laws and do not need to disclose allergens. In fact, many alcoholic beverages do not list ingredients at all. This certainly becomes an issue for those allergic to wheat, rye, and barley as well as those with celiac disease who need to avoid wheat, rye and barley because of gluten. Similar concerns can arise with wine. If ingredients are unclear then consider calling the company for a list of ingredients. Distilled alcohol is a bit less of an issue but still worth discussing with your healthcare team.
Also, keep in mind that sulfites can exacerbate asthma and in rare cases can cause allergic reactions. Sulfites are commonly found in many alcoholic beverages including wine, beer, ciders and drink mixes added to the alcohol.
Know Alcohol’s Effects
Another issue to take into consideration is the effect of the alcohol itself. Alcohol can decrease our ability to make good decisions and communicate effectively. Other things to consider are that alcohol can decrease the threshold level to trigger an allergic reaction, can decrease the time to develop an allergic reaction, and increase severity. However, alcohol itself is an unlikely allergen.
If you have been prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector, remember to carry this with you at all times, even if you're just going out for a drink.
This article is for educational purposes only. Talk to your healthcare provider before any change in food allergy management.
Find out more about food allergies.
This article has been reviewed by Andrew Moore, MD, FAAAAI