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Packing a Food Allergy-Safe Picnic Basket

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Whether it’s a romantic outing or family trip to the beach, the summer months are the perfect time for dining outdoors. Like all food-focused events, picnics pose special challenges for people with food allergies. But with careful planning, it’s easy to put together an allergy-friendly picnic basket that everyone can enjoy.

Ask first.
If picnic attendees include people outside of your immediate family, ask ahead of time if anyone has specific food allergies. If someone has an allergic condition, inquire about any precautions you can take in food preparation to make the picnic allergy-safe.

Keep it simple.
Picnics are casual affairs, so make your menu uncomplicated. Fresh fruits and vegetables and basic sandwiches and salads are easy to make and to transport. And fewer ingredients means less potential for an unexpected allergic reaction.

Fewer ingredients means less potential for an unexpected allergic reaction.

Make it yourself.
Prepackaged picnic foods from the deli or grocery store may save time, but they can also contain hidden allergy triggers. Many pre-made marinades or salad dressings contain allergens like wheat and soy, and hummus, a popular dip and spread, includes sesame. Creating your own salads, dips, dressings, and marinades is easy, and it ensures that the food you’re eating is allergy-safe.

Pack food separately.
If your picnic basket contains a mix of foods for both allergic and non-allergic picnickers, be sure to pack foods in separate sealed containers. Or bring two baskets and designate one allergy-friendly. Bring hand wipes and use condiment packets rather than shared jars to avoid cross-contamination.

Practice food safety.
Remember to follow basic food safety tips when picnicking to keep everyone safe and healthy. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot to prevent bacteria growth. If you’re planning to grill, pack raw meat separately and handle carefully.

More Picnic Tips
Bring a clean tablecloth to cover the picnic table. This will prevent contact with germs and any allergens left over from previous picnics. Potluck-style picnics and barbecues can be a minefield for those with food allergies. Always bring allergy-safe options for yourself or your child, and have whoever is doing the grilling cook your food first to avoid cross-contamination. Bring hand wipes or sanitizer in case there is no water at the picnic site. If you’re camping, remember that cleaning pots, pans, and plates may be more difficult than at home, increasing risks for cross-contamination.

Check cellphone coverage at your picnic or campsite, especially if you’re headed to a more remote area. Have a plan if you or someone you’re with does have a severe allergic reaction.

Clean up when you’re done eating. Leaving food out in the open can attract bugs, such as wasps and honeybees, to which many people are allergic.


Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2011.