BBQ Allergies: What You Need to Know for Summer Fun

As the weather warms up, New Yorkers are shrugging off…

As the weather warms up, New Yorkers are shrugging off their heavy winter coats and slipping on shorts and sundresses. The sunshine will also bring one of the cornerstones of summer: backyard barbecues. Whether you’re planning to attend a small get-together with friends or a big block party, you might be concerned about how to balance your allergies with your good time.

The last thing our patients want to do at a party is worry about their allergies. An allergic reaction can be triggered by some unexpected items, which is why it’s important to be able to recognize allergy triggers that may be present at your next BBQ. Here are some tips to ensure you have a safe (and fun) time:

  1. Talk to the host.
    Your first line of defense for safely enjoying your BBQ is to talk with the host to let them know about your allergy and get relevant details about where the party is being held and what types of food will be served. The host may take extra precautions when preparing foods or ask for suggestions of dishes that would be safe to serve. If possible, you can offer to prepare a few allergy-friendly side dishes to bring along to the party or let the host know you will be bringing safe snacks for yourself.
  1. Come prepared.
    In addition to bringing along safe snacks, you should also consider bringing along items that will help make you more comfortable or help you deal with possible environmental allergens. (If you have a gluten intolerance, this might even include bringing along gluten-free beer. Click here for five of our favorite gluten-free beers.) For example, if you’ll be sitting on the grass (and therefore directly exposed to grass and other pollens), bring along a blanket to sit on.You’ll also want to wear closed-toe shoes while in the yard to avoid insect stings, and don’t drink out of a soft drink can that has been left unattended – the soda could have attracted bees or other insects.
  1. Know where allergens hide.
    Anyone with a food allergy will be very familiar with the need to read and understand food labels. This vigilance will come in handy at a barbecue or picnic, where allergens may lurk in a variety of places.

Here are some places you might encounter allergens at your next BBQ:

Homemade Food

We recommend using caution when eating homemade foods and desserts that you did not witness being prepared. Always verify ingredients whenever possible. The best way to avoid an allergic reaction at a party is to be aware of your surroundings and be able to recognize the common triggers of your allergy. When in doubt, say a polite “no thank you” and skip the food you’re unsure of.

Sauces and Spices

Barbecue sauce can be a hidden source of peanuts and tree nuts. It may also contain a fish product that may trigger an allergic reaction in some people. You will also want to read the ingredient labels of any spice rubs, marinades, or other seasonings that your host may have used to flavor the food.

BBQ Smoke

Smoke from a barbecue may irritate your eyes or throat, but did you know it could also bring on an allergic reaction? Wood commonly used in barbecue (mesquite, oak, cedar and hickory) can contain pollen proteins that some people are allergic to. These allergens can remain in the smoke even after the wood is burned, and may even transfer to your food or cause oral allergy syndrome (OAS). The symptoms of OAS include a scratchy throat and itchy mouth as well as swelling of the lips, tongue, mouth, and throat.

Grill Residue

The grill your host is using could have been exposed to allergens in the past, or even earlier in the day. Remember: an allergic reaction is still possible even if the grill has been scraped. It will take a much more thorough cleaning to remove all traces of an allergen. If you are not able to clean the grill, ask that your food be wrapped in aluminum fool while cooking to avoid direct exposure to the grill, or use a disposable grilling tray.

People with allergies may need to take a few extra precautions when attending a barbecue, but it is possible for everyone to enjoy a fun summer outdoors.

If you suspect you have a food or seasonal allergy and want to be tested or have questions about other resources available to people with allergies, give us a call. We can be reached at 212-729-1283 or send us an email at

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