Managing Food Allergies at Work

Tips for eating and staying safe when food isn't always your friend

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Food plays a prominent role in connecting with others–especially in the business world, where social connections are often made over lunch or dinner. Unfortunately, this can be a big problem if you suffer from a severe food allergy like me. The last thing you want to do is insult an important client or put your own life in danger. Here are four potentially life-saving tips for dealing with a food allergy in the workplace.

Educate others. Let people know about your food allergies and the precautions they should take. For instance, if you have a severe nut allergy, where even its dust can affect you, let your co-workers know they should not eat nuts if they are around you.

Offer alternatives. If a lunch invitation is extended but you’re hesitant to eat out, suggest going for coffee or drinks instead. If you’re not 100% comfortable with a restaurant choice, don’t feel obligated to eat there. Also, if one of your co-workers or clients invites you to his or her home for a party, and the situation allows for it, offer to cook a dish so that you’ll have something to eat that you know is safe.

Protect yourself. Always carry your allergy medications with you. Don’t be embarrassed to put them on the table next to your plate if you have to. In an emergency, you won’t have time to dig through your personal belongings. And if your food allergy is as severe as mine, medication is essential because you won’t have time to wait for paramedics to treat you. Your medication will be the only thing that buys you enough time until you can get proper medical attention. I don’t leave home without my EpiPen auto-injectors and Benadryl.

Stand your ground. Some people  might make fun of you, tell you that your allergies are “in your head” and that you’re being paranoid, or insist you try a new food. Don’t give in to the peer pressure. Stand up for yourself and do whatever you have to do to stay safe. Now is not the time to try to fit in.

For more on this topic, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

Sheiresa Ngo is the multimedia content producer for consumer affairs at Black Enterprise.

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  • Thank you for the thoughtful approach to this topic. I am a vegan who is dangerously lactose intolerant. Eating out with friends and family is easier now because my circle is aware of my sensitivities. This article would benefit them tremendously. I hope many individuals read it and become enlightened. I’m glad you addressed this.

  • Good summary. Now that food allergy awareness is becoming more mainstream, more people now it seems are understanding/sympathetic. The question that I get is “So what can you eat?” The food court at my job has done a good job with trying to accommodate people with food allergies, but there’s still a ways to go. So I typically pack my own lunch or eat out a places with a nice salad bar like Whole Foods. I typically invite my friends to lunch where I can eat, but if that doesn’t happen, I just bring my lunch into the restuarant. My view is that it’s not my problem that they restaurant can’t accommodate my special needs!