COVID-19? Coronavirus? Ever heard of it? Of course you have! It is all anybody is talking about anymore. Grocery shopping with food allergies can be challenging on its own but grocery shopping during the Coronavirus Pandemic is a whole different level of stress.
You might not feel comfortable going to the grocery store or spending extra time in the aisles to read labels. However, fret no more! Read this is a guide for tips on grocery shopping with food allergies during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Tips for shopping in-store
Following are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for grocery shopping during the Coronavirus Pandemic:
- As always, avoid being in public if you are sick or have any symptoms of the virus.
- Go to the stores during slower parts of the day like earlier in the morning or closer to closing.
- Check the store’s website or call for information on special hours for immunocompromised and the elderly.
- Wear a face covering when in public.
- Disinfect the shopping cart with disinfectant wipes.
- Social distance by staying 6 feet away from others.
- Use hand sanitizer often.
- Do not touch your face.
- Use touchless payment options if available. If this is not available, apply hand sanitizer after paying.
- When you arrive back at home, wash your hands with soap and water for 20+ seconds.
Shop online and have it delivered
When grocery shopping with food allergies during the Coronavirus pandemic, delivery may seem like the easiest and safest option. You order your groceries online, pick a day and time for delivery and they are left at your front door. No human contact whatsoever!
The limited human contact is the reason the CDC recommends this option when and if it is available.
When ordering online, look for allergy friendly substitutes (some examples are listed below) by using the online retailer's search function.
Carefully read the ingredients to be sure the items you are purchasing are safe for you. And watch for allergy friendly brands (see examples below).
Shop online, pick up
While delivery is the safest, it isn’t always the best option because delivery times can be far and few between. Also, stores sometimes have delivery fees (but not always - check with your store!)
Here are the names of national chains that offer “drive-up” or “curbside pick up” options.
- Dollar Tree
- Whole Foods
Allergy friendly substitutes
The following are a few allergy friendly substitutes for each of the most common food allergens. You can also visit the substitutes page for more ideas.
Peanuts and tree nuts
Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tahini (sesame seed paste), sunflower seed butter
- Whole soybeans: other beans and legumes
- Milk: almond, oat, hemp, rice, coconut
- Oil: canola, olive, grapeseed, avocado
- Milk: almond, oat, pea, hemp, rice, coconut
- Cheese: vegan cheeses like soy, almond, cashew
- Yogurt: coconut, almond, soy, oat
- Ice cream: coconut, oat, cashew, soy, rice
Rice, corn, quinoa, rye, barley, gluten free oats
- Oils: canola oil, olive oil, avocado oil
- Corn starch: arrowroot, tapioca, potato starches
Allergy friendly brands
The following are just a few allergy friendly brands, what allergens they are generally free from, and some stores where you can find them.
- Items available: spreads, butter, dressings, snacks
- Free of: soy, dairy, eggs
- Availability: Fry’s Price Chopper, Safeway, Stop and Shop, Target, Walmart
- Items available: bars, snack foods, cookies, baking mixes, chocolate bars, granola, cereal
- Free of: Dairy, egg, wheat/gluten, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish
- Availability: CVS, Fry’s, Safeway, Sprouts, WalMart, Whole Foods
- Items available: Frozen meals and snacks
- Free of: wheat/gluten, dairy, egg, nuts, soy
- Availability: Hannaford, Kroger, Meijer, Shaw’s, Shop Rite, Sprouts, Target, Whole Foods
- Items available: flours, baking mixes
- Free of: wheat/gluten (made in dedicated allergen free facility according to the website)
- Availability: most grocery stores
- Items available: baking mixes, pasta meals
- Free of: wheat/gluten, corn, soy, potato, dairy, peanut, tree nut
- Availability: widely available. See retailer list here.
- Items available: sunflower seed spread
- Free of: gluten/wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish
- Availability: Albertsons, Fry’s, Price Chopper, Safeway, Sprouts, Stop and Shop, Target, Walmart, Whole Foods
Always (always!) read labels carefully
Foods regulated by US Food & Drug Administration must have allergens called out in one of three ways:
- In the ingredient list, using the allergen’s common name.
- Using the word “Contains” followed by the name of the major food allergen—for example, “Contains milk, wheat.”
- In the ingredient list in parentheses, when the ingredient is a less common form of the allergen—for example, “albumin (egg).”
To learn more about labeling laws and tips for reading food labels check out these resources:
- https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/food-label (pictures of food labels are included in this one and are labeled with insights on what to look out for)
FDA Labeling: Temporary flexibility during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Labeling laws are put into place to keep those with food allergies safe. However, the FDA recently announced temporary flexibility regarding certain labeling requirements for foods during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The recent statement by the FDA regarding flexibility with these requirements is concerning to the food allergy community. You can read the full statement from the FDA here.
Here are a few bullet points about what the statement says:
- The reason for this change is to allow for flexibility to minimize supply chain disruptions. In other words, companies may not have access to the same ingredients during the pandemic and may need to use other ingredients. Rather than having to create a new label, the FDA is allowing those swaps without changing the label.
- Swaps cannot be with an ingredient containing a “top 8” allergens so the allergen statement on the product would not need to be changed. This is a concern for those avoiding allergens that aren't in the “top 8”.
- Examples provided in the statement include:
- If a quiche contains green peppers but they are not available, the company can leave them out without changing the label.
- If a product contains “bleached flour” but this is not available, the company can substitute unbleached flour without changing the label.
FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is working with the FDA on this issue. You can stay up to date on their progress here.
Be safe and stay well
These are unprecedented and uncertain times (also overwhelming, weird, CRAZY!! Need I go on?) I hope these grocery shopping strategies and suggestions are helpful for you.
Need help? Let us know! Please write to us here or message us on Facebook or Instagram @EatingWithFoodAllergies to let us know how we can help you specifically.