Cheers to Safety: Helping Food Allergy Friends Celebrate 21st Birthdays

Celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday with drinks is always a blast, but if your friend has a nut allergy, it’s crucial to stay vigilant. When I turned 21, I only had to worry about remembering my ID and deciding who the group’s designated driver was that night.

This blog post is for friends of people with nut allergies, offering guidance on supporting and ensuring their safety. In addition to teaching young people to drink responsibly, food allergy parents have the added worry of ensuring their children navigate social situations safely. Young adults must be mindful of allergens in alcohol because even a small oversight can lead to serious health risks.

When Matthew’s friends started turning 21 this year, I realized that we had more to talk about than the dangers of drunk drinking and making sure Uber was installed on his phone. These were the same friends eager to ask questions and voluntarily washed their hands after eating elementary school lunch together to ensure no allergen residue—would that enthusiasm carry over now at 21? Turns out, yes.

Here are three vital things to know and five tips on supporting and ensuring your nut-allergy friends have a safe and fun night out.

Three Things You Should Know

Allergens in Alcohol — Many people don’t realize that alcohol can contain hidden allergens. Nut-flavored liqueurs like Amaretto and Frangelico, as well as certain whiskeys and cocktails, can contain nut extracts or be contaminated with nuts during production. It’s essential to be aware of the potential risks when ordering drinks.

Cross-Contamination — Bars and clubs are busy places, and cross-contamination can easily occur. Bartenders might use the same shaker or glassware for multiple drinks without thoroughly cleaning them in between, which can lead to traces of nuts ending up in otherwise safe drinks.

Seriousness of Allergic Reactions — An allergic reaction can range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms can include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention. Understanding the severity of nut allergies can help you stay vigilant and responsive in an emergency.

Five Tips to Keep Your Friend Safe

Communicate with Bartenders — Inform the bartender about your friend’s nut allergy when ordering drinks. Ask if they can use clean equipment and avoid using ingredients that might contain nuts. Clear communication can significantly reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Stick to Safe Drinks — Help your friend choose safe drinks. Simple drinks like vodka sodas, gin and tonics, or plain beers are often safer. Avoid cocktails with multiple ingredients or those known to contain nut-based liqueurs.

Designate an Allergy Buddy — Assign someone in the group to be the “allergy buddy” for the night. This person will keep an extra eye on the friend with the allergy, make sure they’re safe, and carry emergency medication like an epinephrine auto-injector if needed. It’s always good to have a dedicated person looking out for them. This could be the group’s designated driver. 

Download an Allergy App — Several apps can help identify allergens in food and drinks. Apps like Spokin provide user reviews and tips on allergen-friendly places. Having an app can make finding safe options and avoiding risky drinks easier.

Have an Emergency Plan — Make sure everyone in the group knows what to do in case of an allergic reaction. Identify the nearest hospital or medical facility and know how to use an epinephrine auto-injector if your friend carries one. Quick and calm action can be life-saving in an emergency.

Safe Celebrations and Lasting Memories

Celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday is an unforgettable experience, and ensuring everyone stays safe makes it even more special.

By understanding the risks of nut allergies and following these smart tips, you can help your friend enjoy the night without a hitch. Communication, vigilance, and preparedness are key to ensuring your friend with a nut allergy can join in the fun confidently and safely. Here’s to creating amazing memories and keeping the party allergy-aware and responsible!

As the mom of a 21-year-old with a peanut allergy, I know firsthand how crucial it is to stay vigilant and informed. Watching Matthew navigate this new chapter with his friends has made me realize the importance of continuous education and support. Seeing him surrounded by friends who understand and prioritize his safety is a relief, making each celebration enjoyable and secure.

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