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Serve With Care

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, September/October 2012 Meetings

By: Samantha Whitehorne

Summary: Tips for managing food allergies at events.

At a recent conference, meeting planner Kimberly Moore, CMP, owner of Moore Voice and Events, had an attendee taken to the hospital as a precaution when it was discovered there was clam juice in the soup. "It was a liability that I don't want to pay for in the future," she says.

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, an estimated 9 million U.S. adults have food allergies, so handling them has to be on every meeting planner's radar. Here are a few tips for avoiding an allergy scare at your next meeting:

  • Ask the event facility to put out signs on buffets labeling what each food item is, and for plated meals have a menu on the table. Waiters should know what is in a meal they are serving or be able to get that information quickly.
  • Where possible, keep dressings and toppings separate, and have attendees add their own. It helps not only those with allergies but also picky eaters and waistline watchers.
  • Provide gift cards or vouchers to the onsite vendors for attendees with allergies. They can pick out what they can eat, and you can control costs. Attendees will appreciate the flexibility, and you won't have to worry about having meals for every dietary restriction. 
  • Avoid key allergens in meals, including nuts, peanut butter, and dairy (which can be more difficult).
  • Ask attendees for any dietary restrictions when they register for an event where any
    type of food and drink will be served.

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor for Associations Now. Email:

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