Allergen-Free: Cooking Tips For Students At College

  • By Clay Chambers Springible Contributor
  • Reading Time About 4 minutes
  • PostedFebruary 27, 2017
  • Category

When you have a child or loved one who has food allergies, every meal can be a fraught with danger.  That’s why we have created an “Allergen-Free” series

It is hard enough when you are there to watch over them, but when you are faced with sending your child off to college that can be downright scary. College is hard enough, it’s an emotional process, and a stressful one, too- will they do well in class? who is going to take care of them? how late will they be out?  These are natural concerns for parents, but, if your child has a severe food allergy, sending them to college is scary!

While many universities offer allergen-free options in their dining halls, will your child be okay cooking by themselves at home? There are so many ways for cross-contact to occur, and it’s hard to trust that a group of young adults are going to be extremely careful with their PB&J’s.

Cross-contact occurs when a food allergen comes in contact with food or an item not intended to contain that allergen. Small traces of allergens can cause allergic reactions.

Most parents wish they could follow their children to college and protect them from the outside world. When it’s time for yours to leave the nest, when they have food allergies make sure you educate them about how to avoid an allergic reaction while sharing a kitchen with others.

Here are a few tips to share with your child before he or she moves out:

1. Keep Kitchen Supplies Separate

The best way to avoid cross-contact while living with others is to have your own personal set of everything needed to cook and eat a meal. Keep them clean and store them in a place where roommates won’t use yours instead of their own.

2. Clean Dishes & Utensils

When you share cooking items in the home with others, be sure to wash the dishes and cooking utensils with warm water and soap before (and after) using them. Also, use a separate sponge for cleaning dishes. These small precautions are worth the extra effort!

3. Clean Countertops and Other Surfaces

Educate everyone about your food allergy. Teach them to clean countertops and surfaces thoroughly after preparing food. As an extra precaution, always sanitize the countertops before cooking, just in case.

4. Food Storage

Designate a shelf or cabinet that will contain all “safe” food items. Make sure these are labeled in some way to avoid any mix-ups.

5. Don’t Share Food

Though it would be easier to share a jar of jelly, you can’t guarantee that someone isn’t going to dip their knife in after they have spread their peanut butter. Avoid this possibly fatal mistake by simply not sharing any food items.

6. BBQ Rule

Use foil to cook the food to avoid any possibility of cross-contact, and make sure to use a separate utensil to flip or rotate the food while grilling.  

7. Cutting Boards

Avoid wooden cutting boards, as they are more difficult to sanitize and could hold on to allergens. To completely avoid cross-contact, use a sturdy plastic cutting board and be sure that no other roommates use this. Purple is the universal color for food allergen-free cooking tools. This could be a great way to establish that in your kitchen.

8. Clean Eating Areas

Like the group effort to keep the counters and surfaces in the kitchen clean, it’s important that all shared areas where food is consumed is kept clean. Even coming in to skin contact with the allergen can trigger an allergic reaction.

Although you can’t be their chef forever, sharing these tips can help prevent the honest mistakes when it comes to sharing a space with someone who has a food allergy. Plus, if they follow all these tips, they will have the cleanest apartment in their college town!

Watch out for more in this important “Allergen-Free” series, which will hopefully help alleviate some of your concerns.

NOTE: This feature shares remarks made from articles at Kids with Food Allergies and Foodallergy.org.

If you have a loved-one, or care for someone with food allergies, let us know some of your favorite tips by clicking here.

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