Purchasing food for a member of the family with a food allergy may seem like a daunting task, but with some practice you can make that trip to the grocery store as “easy as pie”.  Try these suggestions:

Become an Expert Label Reader

  • Food labeling laws require that common allergens be listed on food labels.  This means food products will always list the following ingredients: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish or crustacean shellfish.  These common allergens are listed separately in a “contains” statement located directly below the “ingredients” list.
  • Check for cross-contamination warnings. If there is a possibility for cross-contamination with allergens, there will be a warning that the product is “manufactured in a facility that processes a common allergen” such as wheat or nuts.  When applicable, avoid these products to be 100% safe.

CAUTION – Certain Foods Have a High Risk of Cross-Contamination

The risk of cross-contamination with allergens is higher in certain areas of the grocery store. Be cautious when purchasing the foods listed below, and always read the label carefully for warnings:

  • Imported foods
  • Foods from deli counters
  • Foods from salad bars

Be Cautious when Purchasing Non – Food Items

  • Pet food: Food labeling laws do not apply to pet food. Dog food can contain ingredients such as eggs and peanuts. Family pets love to lick faces, so teach your children about this potential exposure to allergens.
  • Medications: Always check medications for allergy warnings and content, whether they are prescription or “over the counter.”  Ingredients can be found on the package insert which you can obtain from the grocery store pharmacist.
  • Cleaning Products: Personal care products such as soap, make-up and cleaning products may be labeled “hypoallergenic” but can contain food products.  Be sure to check the label.

Try “Allergy Friendly” Stores

  • Shopping at stores that are sensitive to living with food allergies and intolerances can help.  Stores such as “Trader Joes,” “Sprouts,” and “Whole Foods” advertise their commitment to serving people with food allergies.
  • Also try online grocery stores that are allergy friendly.  The website offers great selections.

Be “Label Free”- Try Non-Processed Foods

Grocery stores may carry over 50,000 items, and reading labels with fine print can be stressful.  To alleviate some this worry, start becoming “label free.”

This can be done by limiting consumption of processed foods with labels; this will reduce the stress of wondering if you missed an allergen listed as an ingredient on a food product.

Not will you significantly decrease your potential exposure to allergens, you will get the added benefit of a reduced intake of fat, sugar and sodium, which are often added to processed foods.

To start this process, go slowly and start buying products that have less than 5 ingredients listed on the label.  This will also substantially reduce the time you spent looking for ingredients on a label that could cause an allergic reaction.

Make a conscious effort to expand your diet and try different types of fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains you’ve never tasted. You might find a new food that your family really enjoys!

Lezli Stone is a Registered Dietician and a consulting clinical staff member of the Arizona Asthma & Allergy Institute.  She counsels AAAI patients about food allergies and nutrition.  She is authoring a four-part series of articles about living with food allergies, which will be posted on this website over the next few months.