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How to Keep Your Workplace Safe for People with Food Allergies

How to Keep Your Workplace Safe for People with Food Allergies
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If you work in an office with a few hundred people, chances are there’s at least one person with a food allergy or intolerance among them. It can be tricky staying healthy and safe in a kitchen or break room frequented by dozens of people, but there are a few things coworkers and the allergic person can both do to keep the workplace a pleasant and safe environment.

If you know one of your coworkers has a food allergy or intolerance:

Keep things clean. When preparing food or eating in the office, wipe up any spills or crumbs. Not only is it good manners, you’ll cut down on the chance of cross contamination. The cleaning staff will thank you, too.

Wash your hands after meals. If you’ve been directly touching a food, chances are there’s a bit of it still left on your hands. Avoid smearing allergens around the office by washing your hands thoroughly with soap — and remember, hand sanitizer won’t remove the allergen from your skin. It’s a simple step that has the bonus of cutting down on your chances of catching whatever bug is going around the office.

Don’t be offended if someone turns down offered food, even if you think it’s probably “safe.” The problem is, cross contamination can and does happen in both home and professional kitchens. It isn’t always disclosed on the packaging, and there are many “hidden” allergens which can go under a variety of names, and depending on the allergen, they may not need to be spelled out on the label. People with food allergies usually stick to specific brands they know are safe, so don’t second-guess them if they tell you they don’t want to take the risk on a treat you brought in from home.

Be understanding. There’s nothing worse than confiding to a colleague about your medical condition and then being told it’s “weird” or making insensitive remarks like “I would rather be dead than go without gluten.” Asking for more details is fine, but if they seem uncomfortable, don’t push the subject unless absolutely necessary. Many people with food allergies have experienced bullying and it may be a sensitive subject. Whatever you do, don’t use the opportunity to tell them about a fad diet you recently discovered or speculate if their problem is psychological (both responses I’ve actually gotten when disclosing my gluten intolerance!).

If you’re planning an event, try to book a restaurant or venue that is able to provide alternate dishes for your allergic colleague. Ask to speak to the chef and find out if they take measures to prevent cross-contamination in their dishes. Ask if they’re able to accommodate the specific allergies your colleague suffers from — not all restaurants are set up to deal with certain allergens, and it’s better to find that out ahead of time than when you’re sitting down to order.

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Photo credit: Victor1558 via Flickr

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10:12AM PDT on Aug 28, 2013

I'm lucky enough not to have any serious allergy, but I've recently developed an intolerance to alcohol... Not a huge problem for me, as I already drank very little, but I already know some people will tease me for this, as if not drinking (even if it's for health issues) automatically makes someone a "loser".

@Ruby, have you ever told your colleague? I can't believe he deliberately did this, can he be that stupid?

7:29AM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

Common sense.

12:02AM PDT on Aug 15, 2013


2:30PM PDT on Aug 14, 2013

makes good sense

11:23AM PDT on Aug 14, 2013

People should not be bullied or made to feel uncomfortable if they have an allergy- thanks for the article.

9:38AM PDT on Aug 14, 2013

Good article, good facts, helpful, thanks.

4:46PM PDT on Aug 13, 2013

Good to know.

9:20AM PDT on Aug 13, 2013


8:29AM PDT on Aug 13, 2013

I have VERY severe nut allergy
I have the fact tattooed onto my wrist as I usually forget to wear my medic alert bracelet
And yet one of my colleagues insists on eating a giant Snickers bar on a Friday when around me as if he delights in watching me have an asthma attack due to the proximity of the nuts......

7:49AM PDT on Aug 13, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

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