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Avoiding Cross-contamination in Your Home

September 2008

8 tips for avoiding cross-contamination

Precautions you should take to avoid allergic reactions

Many parents of severely food-allergic children, especially those whose kids are only allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts, choose to completely eliminate all allergenic foods from their homes. Others, especially those whose children have multiple food allergies, do not make this choice. If you choose to allow allergenic foods in your house, you run the risk that the allergenic foods will "contaminate" your home and your non-allergenic foods. There are a number of precautions you should take to avoid potential problems.

Label Foods in Your Home as "Safe" or "Not Safe"

To ensure everyone (including your children, visitors, babysitters, etc.) can easily determine which foods in your home are "safe" and which are not, it can be helpful to label the food in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. A convenient way to do this is to purchase a supply of red and green self-adhesive 1/2"- or 1"-diameter circle-shaped stickers from your local office supplies store. The red stickers are for the unsafe foods and the green are for the safe foods (i.e., "red" means "stop" and "green" means "go"). Apply these stickers to every food item in your house.

Avoid Pantry Mix-Ups

If you keep both "safe" and "not safe" versions of similar items in your home (for example, soy milk and cow’s milk, cheese-flavored crackers and dairy-free crackers), do not keep these products next to each other in the refrigerator or pantry. Designate particular shelves or cabinets for storing the "safe" foods.

Avoid Sippy Cup Mix-Ups

If your toddler is allergic to milk, purchase a "special" sippy cup from which he is always served his beverages (both at home and away from home), and which is never used for anyone else. Put his name on it. Once you put the lid on the average sippy cup you cannot see the contents. Having a special cup that is always used ensures that your child doesn’t grab the wrong cup by mistake.

Avoid Contaminating Your Food Supply

Wash hands to avoid cross-contamination of allergensIf you keep both "safe" and "not-safe" foods in your household, you need to take steps to ensure that your non-allergenic foods do not become contaminated through casual contact:
  • Hands – Teach all members of your household to wash their hands before touching the non-allergenic foods – even if they are touching it in order to serve themselves. For example, your non-allergic daughter should not stick her possibly allergen-covered hand into the box of crackers or bag of chips that are meant to be safe for her allergic sibling.

  • Utensils – Do not allow allergen-covered utensils to contaminate your "safe" foods. For example, if a knife containing butter has been inserted into a jar of jam, the jam is no longer safe for a dairy-allergic individual to eat. If a knife is used to spread some butter on a piece of wheat bread toast, and the stick of butter is then touched by this now bread crumb-covered knife, the butter will be cross-contaminated with wheat (and all of the other ingredients contained in the bread).

Avoid Getting Allergenic Residue All Over the House

If you allow allergenic food in your home, you need to take precautions to ensure that your entire home does not become contaminated with allergenic food residue. Teach all members of your household to always wash their hands with soap immediately after eating or touching something allergenic. In addition, consider confining all food consumption to your kitchen and dining areas. Remember, if Dad eats dinner on the sofa and Sister walks around the house eating snacks, crumbs and other residue are likely to find their way onto your carpets, furniture, counter-tops, toys, and other surfaces.

Don't Forget Your Guests

When friends who have been eating allergenic foods just prior to visiting your home arrive, politely ask them (and their children!!) to wash their hands before they touch anything. If your friends have infants, you may need to take precautions to avoid allowing these infants to spit up on your carpets or furniture, especially if your food-allergic child tends to put her hands or fingers into her mouth. The food, formula, or breast milk that your friends’ babies spit up is likely to be allergenic, and will therefore "contaminate" the surfaces on which it lands. Because your goal is to make your home a safe haven for your child, be sure that your friends’ babies are set down on a clean blanket or other appropriate carpet or furniture protector.

Take Precautions When Cooking

Take steps to ensure that you do not contaminate your child’s food with allergens during the cooking or serving process:
  • If you are preparing both allergenic and non-allergenic food for the same meal (such as sandwiches with or without mayonnaise and cheese), prepare the non-allergenic meal first – before you even open the allergenic ingredients.

  • Do not use the same utensils to simultaneously prepare allergenic and non-allergenic dishes.

  • Place all allergen-contaminated utensils, plates, cutting boards, etc. directly into the sink or the dishwasher immediately after use. Teach all members of your household that soiled items in the sink or dishwasher are not to be used again until they have been properly washed.

  • If you use your barbecue to cook both allergenic and non-allergenic foods, be sure to thoroughly clean the grill before cooking for your food-allergic child.

Wash Dishes Thoroughly

Mixing bowls, pots, pans, utensils, and so forth that have been used in the preparation of allergenic foods must be thoroughly washed in hot, sudsy water prior to being used to prepare food for your allergic child. In addition, to avoid having stray bits of dried allergenic food stick to your "clean" dishes, it is best to rinse off dirty dishes and utensils that are "contaminated" with allergenic foods prior to loading them into your dishwasher.

Approved by KFA Medical Advisory Team June 2007. Updated September 2008.

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Page last updated 7/29/2012

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