We did it friends—we made it through winter! Now it’s time to break out those grilling tools and enjoy a little all-American backyard barbecue.
When you have food allergies, this can bring up a host of questions and worries though. What was cooked on the grill before my food? What’s in the marinade? If my allergen is present, can it be cooked out?! We’re here to answer all of your food allergy cooking questions.
Can you cook out a food allergen?
The short answer is no. Cooking (even when using really high heat) does not reliably destroy food allergen proteins. In some instances, cooking may even increase the allergenicity of a food, as found in this peanut study. The chances of a person with a food allergy having a reaction are not eliminated when cooking that food, so it’s best to maintain strict avoidance.
However, as with many things that are confusing and nonsensical about food allergies, there are a few exceptions to this rule:
Oral Allergy Syndrome
If you’ve ever bitten into a raw apple, banana, or piece of celery and experienced an itchy mouth, you’re not alone. This reaction occurs because the proteins found in some raw fruits and vegetables are very similar to those found in plant pollen. Your body perceives these similarly structured proteins as pollen allergens—this recognition overlap is also referred to as cross-reactivity.
If you’ve experienced this reaction before, you may have oral allergy syndrome (OAS). OAS is considered a mild form of food allergy, and only in very rare instances has OAS resulted in more serious allergic reactions like anaphylaxis.
The good news is many people affected by OAS can eat the same fruits or vegetables when they are cooked or canned. Heat and processing alter the protein structure in the food so the immune system no longer recognizes them as similar to pollen proteins. Learn more about OAS in our previous post.
Baked Egg and Milk
As you may know, eggs and milk are two of the top nine most common food allergens and have been reported to cause anaphylaxis in some people managing food allergies. You may have also heard that some who are allergic to eggs and milk can eat them without a problem when they are baked. Why is that?!
What sets these two foods apart is they both have proteins that can change shape under long periods of high heat. This process is called denaturation, and your body may no longer recognize them as a threat.
Technically speaking, one of the proteins that changes shape in eggs is called ovalbumin, and the proteins in milk that change shape are called α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin.
As with ANYTHING related to food allergies and potentially eating a known allergen, it’s best to consult with your physician before trying anything on your own. Food allergies are serious and should be treated as such!
Tips for Grilling Safely
Before you embark upon adventures in grilling, we wanted to share a few tips for safe cooking when serving someone with food allergies:
Always read ingredient labels. This is an oldie but a goodie, and one of the best ways to keep everyone safe.
Use freshly cleaned utensils and tableware. You’ll want to avoid cross-contact as much as possible so you’re not sharing an allergen accidentally.
When in doubt, grill on foil. If you’re not sure what’s been cooked on the grill before your meal, cooking your food on tin foil creates a barrier that protects your food from potential allergens.
Cook the food-allergic person’s food first. That way, you’ll be sure utensils haven’t touched other foods in the process.
If you’re attending someone else’s cookout, consider providing your own meat or side dishes. Then you know exactly what’s gone into the preparation.
Communication is key—if you’re open and honest with the grill master they will likely be much more willing and able to accommodate you. We hope this information helps to better prepare you for a fun and safe grilling season!
— Meg and the Amulet Team
This article was reviewed by Amulet advisors Dr. Jordan Scott and Dr. John Lee.
Dr. Scott is an allergist/immunologist and operates several private allergy clinics throughout the Boston area. He is on the board of overseers at Boston Children’s Hospital and the past president of the Massachusetts Allergy and Asthma Society. Dr. Scott is an allergy/immunology instructor at the University of Massachusetts.
Dr. Lee is the clinical director of the food allergy program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Lee is widely recognized for his work in food allergy, and his commitment to patient health.