If allergy tests show you have a food allergy, your doctor will tell you how to avoid an allergic reaction. Here are some general tips on living with food allergies. Avoiding Allergens The only real way to prevent a reaction is to completely avoid foods you're allergic to. Food allergies aren't like environmental allergies. There's no medicine you can take to prevent a reaction before it happens. Avoiding a food you're allergic to means more than not eating that food. It also means not eating anything that might contain the food. Some people even have to avoid touching or breathing in foods they're allergic to. Sometimes things that aren't food — like cosmetics — may still contain ingredients you're allergic to. Here are three ways to avoid coming into contact with foods you may be allergic to: 1. Read Food Labels In the United States, food manufacturers must say on their labels if foods contain any of these most common allergens: peanuts tree nuts (such as walnuts and cashews) shellfish fish wheat milk eggs soy Food allergy information will be on the label in one of two ways: The food will show up in the list of ingredients. There will be an alert somewhere on the label (e.g., "contains peanuts" or "contains shellfish"). Foods sold in the United States are supposed to label foods clearly so people with allergies can stay safe. But it still helps to know the different names of the foods you're allergic to: For example, shellfish may show up on a food label as "crevettes" or "scampi." Peanuts may show up as "arachis" or "mandelonas" or be hidden in "hydrolyzed vegetable protein." 2. Know About Cross-Contamination One thing that might not show up on a label is cross-contamination risk. Cross-contamination happens when a food you can normally eat comes in contact with a food you are allergic to, like if a manufacturer uses the same equipment to grind lots of different foods. Some companies put statements on their labels to alert customers to the risk of cross-contamination — messages like: "May contain peanuts," "Processed in a facility that also processes nuts," or "Manufactured on equipment also used for shellfish." You'll want to avoid products that have these kinds of alerts about foods you're allergic to. Although companies have to say if a food contains allergen ingredients, they are not required to put cross-contamination alerts on a food label. So it's best to contact the company to see if a product might have come in contact with a food you are allergic to. You may be able to get this information from a company website. If not, email the company and ask. Even if you've eaten a particular food before, be cautious. Companies sometimes change how they make their products or the suppliers they use. Different size products may even have different ingredients or be made in different facilities. 3. Be Alert When You're Not at Home Restaurants, cafeterias, and food courts are getting better about preparing foods for people with allergies. But cross-contamination is still a risk when you eat out: Foods you're allergic to can get into foods you normally eat when kitchen staff use the same surfaces, utensils, or oil to prepare different foods. When you're not at home, ask what's in a food you're thinking of eating. Find out how the food is cooked. Many people find it's best to bring safe food from home or eat at home before heading out. If friends you're visiting or eating with don't know about your allergy, tell them in plenty of time so they can prepare. Don't share a drink or eating utensils with friends if they're eating foods you're allergic to, and avoid tasting any of their food. A Summary of What to Do Read food labels and be alert for cross-contamination. Sites like the Food Allergy Research and Education network (FARE) have lots of information to help you read labels and navigate different foods and ingredients. Learn all you can about food products. Some of the things that contain allergens may surprise you. Learn the different names for the food you are allergic to that may show up on food labels. Read the list of ingredients on everything you eat. Dressings, sauces, processed deli meats, soup broth, and even frosting can have surprising allergens in them. Talk to your parents about getting foods you're allergic to out of your home so there's no risk of cross-contamination. Avoid foods you didn't make yourself if you're not sure of the ingredients. Tell everyone who handles the food you eat, from relatives to restaurant waitstaff, about your allergies. Carry a personalized "chef card." This card details your allergies and helps kitchen staff understand how to prepare a safe meal for you. You can find chef cards in many different languages on food allergy websites (like the FARE site). If the manager or owner of a restaurant seems uncomfortable about your request for safe food preparation, don't eat there. It's best to avoid some types of restaurants. For example, if you have a peanut or tree nut allergy, don't go to places that use lots of peanuts, peanut oil, or tree nuts like Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, etc.), African, Mexican, or Mediterranean restaurants. If you have a fish or shellfish allergy, don't eat at seafood restaurants, Asian restaurants, and places with open stovetops or steam tables. When eating at restaurants, avoid fried foods. Many places cook multiple foods in the same oil. Don't eat at buffets or salad bars. They can be risky since people might move serving spoons and other utensils from one food to another. Be careful in bakeries, ice cream parlors, or candy shops. The risk of cross-contamination from shared scoops or machinery is high. Make school lunches and snacks at home where you can control the preparation. Be sure your school knows about your allergy and has an action plan in place for you. Watch out for non-food items where foods may be a hidden ingredient — such as bird food, pet food, mouse or ant traps, nutritional supplements, and cosmetics. If your doctor prescribes epinephrine, always carry it with you. Keep your prescription up to date. Back to Articles Related Articles My Girlfriend Has a Peanut Allergy. Do We Have to Worry About Kissing? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More Shellfish Allergy Shellfish allergies can be serious - and shellfish can appear in some surprising foods and products. Read about shellfish allergy and what to do when a reaction is severe. Read More Food Allergies and Travel Taking precautions and carrying meds are just part of normal life for someone who has a food allergy. Here are some tips on how to make travel also feel perfectly routine. Read More My Friend Has a Food Allergy. How Can I Help? Although food allergies are more common than ever, people who have them may feel different or embarrassed. A good friend can really help. Read More Milk Allergy Milk is in all kinds of foods, even things like baked goods. So what should a person who's allergic to milk do? Read More 5 Ways to Be Prepared for an Allergy Emergency Quick action is essential during a serious allergic reaction. It helps to remind yourself of action steps so they become second nature if there's an emergency. Here's what to do. Read More Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) A person with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction can seem scary, but the good news is it can be treated. Read More Food Allergies Doctors are diagnosing more and more people with food allergies. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with food allergies can make a big difference in preventing serious illness. Read More Egg Allergy Living with an egg allergy means you have to be aware of what you're eating and read food labels carefully. Here are some tips for teens who have an egg allergy. Read More Allergy Testing Doctors use several different types of allergy tests, depending on what a person may be allergic to. Find out what to expect from allergy tests. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.