Managing Food Allergies at the Office

Managing Food Allergies at the Office

by Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

The office environment can be a complex terrain for those of us with food allergies. We have to navigate the waters of the Kurig machine, the tables of food at birthdays and celebrations, and the inquiries about ordering in or going out to eat with colleagues. It can be awkward – and sometimes downright alienating. I mean, who wants to be the only one to decline a slice of the boss' birthday cake or be left in the office when everyone goes out to lunch?

Just because you need to take precautions doesn’t mean you should feel awkward or alone. By planning ahead and developing an office “survival kit,” you can feel not only prepared but also less stressed about managing your food allergies in the office environment.

Here's what a Food Allergy Office Survival Kit should include:

1. Dinnerware and utensils: First and foremost, you need a safe way to eat your food. Some offices have paper and plastic dinnerware and utensils for the entire staff. If this isn't the case, bring your own to the office – either disposable or reusable. I recommend reusable if there is a sink available. (Check # 4 on this list to reduce cross-contact!)

2. Teabags or loose leaf tea and strainer: A good cup of tea can make any morning better. However, many offices now only have a Keurig machine. No tea bags, no hot water dispenser. I won't run the risk of cross contamination. I heat all my water in the microwave and use my own teabags or loose leaf tea and with a strainer.

3. Condiments: This one is simple.If you like sugar in your tea, salt on your potatoes, or soy sauce on your sushi, bring them in. You know what you like. If a condiment needs to be refrigerated, be sure to label it with your name.

4. Sponge or rag: You don’t want to risk cross-contamination by cleaning your dishes with a sponge or rag someone just used to clean up last night's fish from their Tupperware.

5. Desserts and snacks: When it comes to large office gatherings, there may or may not be something you can partake in. If your office is on the “healthy” side of celebrations, grabbing something might be easier – although even people with food allergies don’t always want to eat the fruit or veggie tray. Store some back-up snacks and desserts for those long “lunch will be served” meetings or other get-togethers. Bonus points if they're big enough to share. It's great showing folks that allergen-free food is delicious too!

6. Menus: You don't always have to eat in the office. Do some research and find out what restaurants near your job can accommodate your dietary needs. Keep the menus on hand for the next time a lunch out is suggested, and make a recommendation.

These are just a few staples for your Food Allergy Office Survival Kit. You can accessorize by including other items, of course. Make it fun by using cute dinnerware or Tupperware. Put all your survival kit items together in a box, basket, or drawer. Or, if you have space in a kitchen (and trust your colleagues not to use your stuff), keep it in a cabinet. By making this kit you are making your office life more simple and taking control over your diet and, ultimately, your health.

Georgianna (Celtic Celiac) is a Licensed Master Social Worker in New York and the owner and writer of Celtic Celiac, a Web site dedicated to improving the quality of life for those living gluten free. Launched in 2010, Celtic Celiac strives to help gluten-free individuals live their lives to the fullest one step at a time by providing educational, empowerment, coaching, consulting, and advocacy services. Here she shares her insights on living a liberated gluten-free life, one not held back by a restrictive diet in a fast-paced, gluten-loving world. You’ll find a variety of resources on this site, from reviews of some great gluten-free products to tools for advocating for your gluten-free needs and everything in between.

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