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Sip Smart: Your Guide to Drinking Safely with Food Allergies

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The 21st birthday is a significant milestone for many young adults in the United States. It marks the legal age for drinking alcohol, often celebrated with excitement and anticipation. However, for parents of kids with food allergies, particularly peanut allergies, this milestone can bring a wave of anxiety, confusion, and concern. 

In the United States, there are currently 20 million individuals living with food allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Of this number, 16 million are adults aged 18 and older, many of whom are legally allowed to consume alcohol.

A significant portion of these food allergy cases are found among Millennials and Gen Z, many of whom are now of legal drinking age or will be soon.

Under the current regulations of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act), alcoholic beverage labels are not required to disclose major food allergens. According to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), while an optional food allergy labeling policy is in place, brands are not required to list allergens.

This lack of mandatory allergen labeling presents a serious risk for adults with food allergies who wish to consume alcohol. Each time they try a new drink, they are potentially exposing themselves to life-threatening allergens without clear information to guide their choices.

Common Fears of Parents

I have noticed that many people do not realize how often food allergens are in drinks. Besides the more obvious amaretto or peanut butter whiskey, most people do not realize how many drinks include nuts.

Nuts are very common in many types of alcohol, including beer, sparkling wine, liqueur, whiskey, vodka, and gin.

Did You Know?

Alcohol manufacturers in the U.S. are not required to provide ingredient labels or disclose potential allergens, making it impossible to know what you might be consuming.

  • Cross-contamination: One of the primary concerns is the risk of cross-contamination. Many alcoholic beverages, especially those mixed in bars, may come into contact with peanuts or other allergens. Shared equipment and surfaces in bars can easily transfer allergens, posing a significant risk.
  • Ingredient uncertainty: Alcoholic beverages often contain various ingredients, some of which may not be listed. This uncertainty makes it difficult to know if a drink is safe. Flavored liquors, cocktails, and even some beers can contain hidden allergens.
  • Reduced vigilance: Alcohol consumption can impair judgment and reduce vigilance. Your child may become less cautious about checking ingredients or avoiding potential cross-contamination, increasing the risk of an allergic reaction. 
  • Peer pressure: Social situations often involve peer pressure, which encourages young adults to try new drinks or foods without considering the potential risks. This pressure can lead to dangerous situations, especially if friends are unaware of your child’s allergy.
  • Emergency response: The ability to recognize and respond to an allergic reaction can be compromised when under the influence of alcohol. This delay in response can be critical, making it essential for your child to always have a plan and support system.

 Tips for Teaching Safety

  • Educate about Ingredients. Educate your adult child with food allergies about the importance of understanding what’s in their drink. Encourage them to ask questions and read labels, even with friends. Knowing common allergens in alcoholic beverages can help them make safer choices. 
  • Communicate with bartenders.  No matter the age, anyone with food allergies should be able to communicate clearly with bartenders about their dietary needs. A simple, direct conversation can go a long way in ensuring that their drink is prepared safely. Encourage them to specify the severity of their allergy and the need for clean equipment. Below are two ways to communicate essential health needs quickly and effectively in a dark, noisy place:
  • Create a handy allergy card for your wallet: Make a small, durable card listing all your food allergies in bold, easy-to-read text. Include key phrases like “I have a severe allergy to [specific allergens]” and “Please ensure all equipment is clean.” This card can be shown to bartenders in loud or crowded places to ensure they understand your dietary needs, even when communication is challenging.
  • Designate a different kind of DD (default drink): Identify an alcoholic drink that you know is safe for you and make it your go-to order when you’re unsure about other options. Choose something simple, like a specific brand of beer, wine, or a basic cocktail with known ingredients. This way, you can confidently order your default drink without worrying about potential allergens.

  • Carry allergy medication.  Ensure your child always carries their allergy medication, such as antihistamines or an epinephrine auto-injector. Stress the importance of keeping this medication accessible and not leaving it at home or in the car when they go out.
  • Create a support network. Help your adult child build a support network of friends who understand their allergies and know how to respond in an emergency. Having a trusted friend who can assist in case of a reaction can provide both you and your child with peace of mind.
  • Know your limits. Encourage your child to drink responsibly and know their limits. Excessive drinking not only impairs judgment but also increases the risk of an allergic reaction going unnoticed or untreated. Moderation is key to staying safe.

How Moms Can Teach Safety

  • Start the conversation early. Begin talking to your child about alcohol and food allergies well before they turn 21. This ongoing dialogue can help them feel comfortable discussing their concerns and asking for advice.
  • Role-playing scenarios. Role-playing different scenarios can be an effective way to prepare your child for real-life situations. For example, practice how your child should talk to bartenders, handle peer pressure, and respond to potential allergic reactions.
  • Provide resources. Equip your child with resources, such as allergy alert cards, medical ID bracelets, and phone apps to help them manage their allergy in social settings. These tools can be invaluable in an emergency.
  • Emphasize self-advocacy. Encourage your child to be their advocate. They should feel confident and empowered to speak up about their allergy and take necessary precautions, even if it means being different or standing out in a social situation.
  • Stay involved. While giving your child independence is important, staying involved and informed can help you provide ongoing support. Regular check-ins and open communication about their experiences can help address new concerns or challenges.

Happy 21st Birthday Mom!

Watching your adult child reach the milestone of turning 21 and entering a world where they can legally consume alcohol is both exciting and nerve-wracking for any parent, especially when food allergies are involved. By educating your child, preparing them with practical strategies, and fostering open communication, you can help them navigate this new chapter safely. 

Remember, the goal is to empower your child to enjoy their newfound independence while maintaining their health and safety. With the right tools and knowledge, you can confidently celebrate this milestone.

Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments below. How have you approached the conversation about drinking safely and responsibly with your adult child with food allergies? Let’s help each other create safe and joyful celebrations!

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