Keep Valentine’s Day Sweet and Safe for Those With Food Allergy

NIAID Now | February 12, 2019

Roses are red.
It’s wise to be wary.
Look out for allergens
Like peanuts and dairy!

People with food allergy need to remain watchful on Valentine’s Day, but they certainly shouldn’t be left out of the sweet celebrations! Carefully reading food labels on candies and other treats can help ensure a safe day for everyone.

Allergic reactions to food can range from mild to life-threatening. Some people may experience swelling of the lips, hives or shortness of breath. The most severe type of reaction, called anaphylaxis, can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble breathing and dizziness. If untreated, anaphylaxis can be fatal.

To avoid allergic reactions, people with food allergy must be vigilant about the foods they eat and the environments they enter. Reading food labels is key, because sometimes allergens are present in foods one would not normally associate with them. FDA requires that food labels clearly identify ingredients that are one of the major food allergens or contain any protein derived from a major food allergen.

Some foods might contain traces of an allergen due to cross-contamination during the production process. In these cases, the label may note that the product “may contain” an allergen or is “produced in a facility that also uses” an allergen.

Food labels denote allergens contained in packaged food. Image shown is a food label noting the allergen milk.

Reading labels carefully is important to identify food allergens, such as milk, in Valentine's candy. Labels also may note that a product “may contain” traces of an allergen.

Credit: NIAID

Reading labels carefully can be particularly important for snack-sized or fun-sized candies, which sometimes are produced with different ingredients or in a different facility than the regular-sized version of the same candy. Individual pieces of miniature candy may not contain the full ingredient list, but the complete label should be available on the manufacturer’s website. Seasonal or holiday varieties of candy also may have different ingredients than the regular variety.

Making a plan in advance can help ensure that everyone has a fun and safe Valentine’s Day. For example, kids with food allergy could agree to “trade in” unsafe candy to their caregiver in exchange for an allergen-free candy or other safe treat, or donate their extra candy to a charity. People also may consider giving non-food treats such as stickers or pencils for Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's chocolates

Candy may contain milk, peanuts and other allergenic foods. Read labels carefully.

Credit: NIAID

To learn more about food allergy, watch NIAID’s Understanding Food Allergy video on YouTube and see NIAID’s food allergy website.

A previous version of this post appeared on NIAID Now on Oct. 25, 2017.

Content last reviewed on February 12, 2019