Do you ever experience “that awkward thing” where you don’t feel 100% secure about your food allergies, but don’t want to put anyone off by asking them to change their habits? And it’s awkward because you aren’t sure what the best thing to do is. It can happen at a restaurant, coffee shop, airplanes (you know what I’m talking about!) and even the workplace.
Let’s take the workplace as an example. You want to know that the space you are working in is an allergy safe zone. But that’s not always the case. So how do you deal with this situation graciously? 🤔
I work in a co-working space that I share with four other people. We all have separate working areas, share a bathroom and kitchen. When I first joined the space, I didn’t mention my food allergies right away. I wasn’t planning on eating there, I have a separate room, and the moment to bring it up wasn’t right. I was there for about a month when I walked into the kitchen, and a bowl of sesame seeds was just chilling on the counter! Eek! My number one arch nemesis, the sesame seed!
The bowl of sesame seeds was the catalyst for me; it was time to explain my food allergies. I want to be completely open and say that this was a silly move, and I should have said something at the beginning. You can always make a moment for explaining your allergies! Another lesson on what not to do! 😁
What happened was, I let my coworkers know what I am allergic to and the severity, but I never explicitly asked them to change their habits. This was when I felt “that awkward thing” and I had to feel out how much I can ask from them.
The result: if we have an office party, it will be nut and seed free. But the kitchen space is not allergen free. Some of my allergens are the main components of my coworkers’ diets, and I don’t want to ask them not to eat. They are aware of my allergies and now the nuts and seeds live in ziplocks. I never use the kitchen or have any food stored there, only a carton of milk that is sealed.
Since there are allergens present in the workspace I have taken several steps to keep myself safe and wanted to share them with you.
Make it a memo & set rules
A blast email is a good way to bring up food allergies and let your colleagues know what they can do to make you feel safe in the workplace. This is especially important if you have an airborne allergy. FARE has great resources for this.
My first internship right out of college was at a place that loved ordering in Chinese food, which was heavily laden in sesame. The first time it happened I didn’t know what was going on and had a reaction (sesame oil = airborne allergen). After this, we created a set of rules about what people couldn’t eat when I was in. Seriously, yet another situation that could have been avoided if I was upfront at the beginning!
Awesome FARE resource: Workplace presentation by FARE
Sometimes signs can feel passive-aggressive, but if you aren’t able to talk to everyone in your office about your allergies it may be the best way to reach people where it matters most: the kitchen! I would recommend posting a sign about cross contact. There is a great one by FARE, it looks pretty official too, which I think helps make it feel less pushy.
Resource: Cross Contact Poster
Use your own stuff
This is what I have always done in the past and especially now at the co-working space.
– Use only your ingredients and label them allergy free (a.k.a keep your hands off!). Better yet, keep them at your desk if you can. Avoid any opportunity of cross contact.
– Use your own cloth to clean your dishes.
– Only use communal dishes and utensils once you have cleaned them with your own cloth. It is a bit of a pain, but you don’t know how well the dish was cleaned, what was on it, and how clean the dishcloth used is.
– Clean all surfaces before preparing food and where you are eating. People are seriously terrible about wiping up and they may have smeared peanut butter all over the table for all you know.
Be open, friendly, & coexist
The last thing is to be open and friendly about your food allergies. Don’t feel like you need to sacrifice your safety to make sure everyone is happy. Feel out your colleagues. See how you can find a way to coexist where you feel safe, and they feel like they aren’t changing much. The last thing you want is to accidentally make them to join the people with food allergies are a pain club. Honestly one of my biggest fears with food allergy noobs. And please don’t be silly like me and only bring up your food allergies when it’s a problem.
These are my tips. Do you do anything different? I would love to know what you do and grow the list of ways to navigate food allergies in the workplace.
Extra Allergy Resource: Want to keep reading more? Check out what FARE has to say about food allergies in the workplace.
PS. Thanks to Claire for suggesting this topic 😊