Ah, yes, that time of the year again! Love is in the air, and you can hear Cupid’s wings fluttering in the distance. Valentine's Day brings loved ones close together, and for many, the holiday calls for parties, celebrations, and romantic gifts. Popularized in the mid-1840s, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate have become a Valentine’s Day staple. However, such a sweet gesture can open the door to many of the Top 9 food allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and dairy. Navigating holidays such as Valentine’s Day may seem like a landmine when you have food allergies, but do not fret! Here are Alerje’s tips to help make celebrating Valentine’s Day safely a breeze.
Look For the “Obvious” Food Allergens
First things first: just like going into any situation with food allergies, always read the label every time. Even with some of your trusted go-to's, ingredients are subject to change. Be aware of your food allergies and keep your eyes peeled for phrases such as “Contains ___” on food labels. U.S. law requires these statements for foods containing the top 8 allergens, and sesame, by January 1st, 2023. Read more about FALCPA food labeling requirements from FAACT. As sweet-themed holidays such as Valentine's Day or Halloween have an increased risk of reactions, it's necessary to stay vigilant. Sweet treats and gifts can be enjoyable, but nothing is "sweeter" than doing so safely- when in doubt, it's best to throw it out.
Avoid Sneaky Allergens
When prepping to purchase Valentine’s Day Treats, be aware of sneaky allergens hiding in plain sight. For example, nougat may contain egg whites or peanuts, while chocolate may contain milk, tree nuts, or peanuts. Work together with your allergist to know common names for your specific food allergens (such as casein in cow’s milk, used to make milk chocolate). Similarly, according to the FDA, “some manufacturers voluntarily include a separate advisory statement, such as 'may contain' or 'produced in a facility,' " indicating there is a chance that a food allergen could be present during the manufacturing process. Look out for these Voluntarily Labeling Statements when prepping for Valentine’s Day celebrations.
Allergens in "Mini" and Shareable-Sized Candy
Candy sizes are another factor to consider when avoiding sneaky allergens. As mentioned in our post on Tackling Halloween with Food Allergies, different candy sizes (Ex. “mini” and shareable sizes) and repackaged candies (for example, candy mixes or variety packs) can, at times ,contain different ingredients than their full-size counterparts. In any case, never assume a food is safe until you’ve read the label, even if it has never resulted in a reaction before.
Remember Food Allergy Etiquette 101: It is never rude to deny a food you suspect may have come into contact with other allergens.
Know Your Food Allergy Resources
Always have your resources on hand! Although sifting through which Valentine’s Day treats are allergy-friendly can seem tiresome, some popular treats on the market may be coincidentally safe for your particular allergies. Candies such as Valentine’s Dum Dums and Dots may be nut-free, as mentioned in this nifty nut-free Valentine’s Candy guide from NutFree.Org. In this case, you may want to reference the manufacturer’s website for ingredient lists. There are also dedicated allergy-friendly treats and treats made in dedicated allergen-free facilities. This 2022 Valentine’s Guide from Allergic Living mentions "teal" treats from brands such as Partake Foods, YumEarth, Vermont Nut Free Chocolates, No Whey, and Amanda’s Own.
Note: With severe food allergies, you should always carry epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times, the first-line treatment in case of anaphylaxis. Work together with your allergist to develop an Allergy Action Plan.
- Stay tuned: Currently under development, you’ll soon have epinephrine available to you when you need it with Alerje’s patented smartphone-attached Omniject™.
A Food-Free Valentine’s Day
Remember, food is not the only language during Valentine’s Day and related holidays. There are numerous “food-less” Valentine's gifts to enjoy despite having a food allergy. These can include:
- Plush Toys (E.g., giant cuddly bears, plush hearts)
- Valentine’s Cards and Virtual E-Cards
- Balloons and Flowers (Note: Be aware of pollen allergies!)
- Customized Items (E.g., mugs, crochet projects, and t-shirts)
- For the Kiddos: Stickers, toys, and heart-shaped trinkets.
Shop around in store or online, you never know what food-free Valentine’s Treats you may find!
Make Every Moment Count!
Celebrating Valentine’s Day Safely- It’s possible! Always have your epinephrine auto-injector nearby and avoid unnecessary allergy interruptions by having your "Alerje" resources handy. Plan ahead, and be aware of sneaky allergens by researching beforehand and reading candy labeling for common food allergies. You may also find it useful to explore dedicated allergy-friendly or food-free Valentine’s treats. However you celebrate this day of LOVE, remember to enjoy the time with your loved ones this February 14th. From our Alerje family to yours, we wish you a safe, happy Valentine’s Day!