How do you get a bunch of like-minded business men and women in the same room? Offer free food and a chance to network! However, if you have a food allergy, this can be potentially hazardous. Here are a few tips to networking allergy AND worry free:
- Snack before you arrive. If you have a full stomach, you are less likely to be tempted to snack on foods that may contain allergens or have been cross contaminated with allergens.
- Stick with the foods you know are safe. I have a tree nut allergy, so I avoid anything with a crumb crust or topping (cleverly disguising nuts) and almost NEVER eat baked goods. Even if a friend tests it first, nuts can be very hard to detect when they are chopped up or ground into flour. I will stack my plate with cheese, cold cuts, fruit, and veggies as long as they are not touching dips or spreads which frequently contain nuts or nut oils.
- Sip instead of snack. If you have a glass of punch or wine in your hand, your mouth will be plenty busy with sipping and chatting–you won’t even miss the snacks! However, if the beverage contains alcohol, sip slowly and limit yourself. The only thing worse than being carted out of an event in anaphylactic shock is being remembered as a lush!
- Contact the host in advance. For events that include a sit-down meal; call the host in advance and mention your food allergy. They should be able to provide you with the contact information for the caterer so that you can find out more details regarding the foods they plan to serve. Most caterers will be able to prepare a plate separately so that you do not come in contact with allergens.
- Wear a medical bracelet. If you DO happen to ingest something you are allergic to, make sure you are wearing a medical bracelet so that paramedics can quickly identify your allergy and respond appropriately.
- Carry Food Allergy Cards. I carry these around like business cards and provide them to restaurant staff or servers in a buffet-style event. They simply state “I am allergic to tree nuts.” Servers are more likely to pay closer attention to your requests when they have something tangible to remind them. It also helps to keep you focused on vital business discussions instead of being distracted by “Are there nuts in this? I’m allergic.” at each food station.
Our family will be attending “Feast For the Streets” next week to benefit Francis House, a public charity in Sacramento, CA serving the homeless. I will have Food Allergy cards for myself, and I will also have Food Allergy cards in name badges for the girls so that servers will be aware of their lactose intolerance. The girls are 10 and 12, and know that they should avoid dairy…however, the pull of ice cream is sometimes too much to resist. Hopefully, the prominently displayed cards will serve as a reminder for them as well as an alert for servers.