Fire Up the Grill! Cooking Out Safely With Food Allergies
If you are anything like me, there is nothing you enjoy more than firing up the grill and gathering outdoors with friends and family for a good, old fashioned cookout. I love everything about this scene. From spending time outside to delving into simply prepared foods that perfectly suit the season, grilling out is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a meal. But, as with anything related to food allergies, my family must always proceed with caution, particularly when we are cooking out at someone else's home. As we approach an end-of-summer milestone and one of the most popular grilling times of the entire year - Labor Day weekend - let's talk about how you and your family can safely enjoy your next BBQ.
When you are hosting a cookout at your own home, it's easy; you are in control of what is being prepared, and you know exactly what has been previously cooked on your grill surface. Most likely, you also have processes in place during food preparation to ensure your family's safety. But, when you are eating at someone else's house, there is no way to be certain that the grill surface hasn't been contaminated by a allergen. Nor, are your hosts used to the types of food safety protocols that are second-nature to you. But, none of that should stop you from enjoying a fun and festive food moment like this!
I want to share with you some tricks that my family has adopted over the years to not only keep our boys safe when we are preparing food at our own house, but also set our minds at ease (and those of our hosts) when we attend cookouts outside of our own home.
Cook your food on tin-foil: Anyone who has spent time with my family knows this little "safe guard" of ours well. If we are grilling on any surface that is not our own - even if our hosts insist that they haven't grilled anything previously that contains an allergen - we always grill my boys' food separately on tin foil so that it does not touch the grill surface. While in theory it may seem like high heat will burn off any lingering food particles, thereby removing any allergen proteins from the grill, not all proteins can be broken down and removed this way (this is particularly true for peanut protein). And, for us, it is absolutely not worth the risk. This rule also applies any time we travel and stay at a rental condo or house, or when we use our neighborhood's community grill. Using tinfoil takes a huge "what if" factor out of the equation.
Prepare your food allergic family member's food first. If you haven't adopted this rule of thumb already, it's a smart one to incorporate even into your "day to day" food preparation practices. This is especially important if you are managing multiple food allergies like we are - there is so much room for error. At your next cookout, be sure to grill your food allergic family member's food FIRST, before anyone else's food is prepared. This will ensure that there is absolutely no chance of cross contact and that your loved one's food is not near anything that could contaminate it (for example, you don't need your dairy-allergic child's hamburger sitting next to your neighbor's burger that is sizzling with cheese on top of it).
Make sure all utensils, including serving pieces and spatulas used when handling food on the grill, have not touched any other food. This a biggie, and something that is so easy to mess up. My dairy-allergic son actually had a reaction once when we were at a friend's house and the host inadvertently used the same spatula that he'd used to take a cheeseburger off the grill to handle a steak that my son ate. The spatula was not dripping with cheese; it had simply touched the cheeseburger, and my son reacted. This risk is very real. The best way to avoid this all together is to do what I just mentioned previously, and cook the food-allergic person's food first so that the utensils are absolutely free from allergens when using.
Bring your own meat (seasoned and marinaded safely) if you are unsure about what ingredients were used to prepare the meat being cooked. Don't ever be shy about bringing your own food to a cookout, especially when your host may be using marinades and seasonings with which you are unfamiliar. If you bring your own chicken breast from home, seasoned safely, and put it on tin foil to grill, you will be 100% certain that what you are eating is not contaminated. And, trust me, no host in his or her right mind would object to you taking this kind of precaution and bringing your own meat along.
Always bring several side dishes and/or desserts of your own! Take this opportunity to show your family and friends that allergy-free cooking can be DELICIOUS! Just as I am with my kids' class parties, I am also known as the "dessert girl" any time someone invites my family over to eat. I make a regular habit of bringing at least one side dish that I know will be safe for my boys, too. When you take this on, you are not only contributing to the menu, but you're also giving your food allergic loved one the chance to fully participate in the moment and do it with 100% certainty that they are doing it safely. I can't stress enough the importance of this type of "normalcy" in a food allergic person's life!
So, this weekend, get out the charcoal and invite a couple of friends over, or go ahead and accept that invitation to enjoy a BBQ at someone else's house. Take full advantage of this moment because you know what... you CAN!
Stay tuned for my bonus post coming out tomorrow... two recipes that you can make to share at your next cookout!