Ask the Expert: Keeping food allergies in check at picnics

Q: How might eating at a picnic or barbecue trigger an allergic reaction in children with food allergies?

A: “Avoiding food allergens can be difficult at picnics because problem ingredients often turn up in unexpected places,” says Janet Kramer, RD, a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. She offers a few examples:

  • Peanuts – chili sauce, pesto, salad dressing and pudding
  • Tree nuts – salad dressing, barbecue sauce, breading for fried chicken, meat-free burgers, pasta, pie crust, cereals, crackers and candy
  • Soy – canned tuna, low-fat peanut butter, veggie burgers, nonmeat hot dogs and deli meats, cookies, crackers and energy bars
  • Milk – canned tuna, nonkosher hot dogs and deli meat that has been sliced on the same machine as cheese
  • Wheat – hot dogs, ice cream and imitation crab meat
  • Eggs – plain pasta, potato or pasta salads, prepared tuna salad, any battered or breaded food, ice cream and marshmallows

Kramer advises that reading food labels carefully is the best way to avoid specific allergens. Depending on the severity of the allergy, it is best to avoid foods that are processed in facilities or on equipment shared by the allergy-causing food.

Q: What are some safeguards for preventing allergic reactions to foods at picnics?

A: Kramer offers the following tips:

  • Use condiment packs. Kramer says, “Providing individual-sized servings of condiments can prevent cross-contamination that happens when large containers are used.”
  • Pack foods separately. When preparing foods for transport, pack allergenic and non-allergenic foods in separate containers.
  • Bring a clean tablecloth. “That can prevent contact with any allergy-causing food particles left on the table from previous picnics,” explains Kramer.
  • Use separate serving utensils for each food. That helps reduce the risk for cross-contamination between foods.
  • Let allergic guests serve themselves first. This can lower their risk of eating cross-contaminated foods.
  • Carry medications if you or your guests have allergies. You will need these emergency medications in case a reaction occurs.

Care for children with special dietary needs

Pediatric outpatient nutrition services are available at these convenient locations:

W.O. Walker Center
Cleveland, Ohio

UH Chagrin Highlands Health Center
Orange Village, Ohio

UH Medina Health Center
Medina, Ohio

UH Westlake Health Center
Westlake, Ohio

Schedule an appointment today. Call 216-UH4-KIDS (216-844-5437) or visit

Janet Kramer

Janet Kramer, RD
Clinical Dietitian, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital

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