You Be the Judge: Who is Responsible for Birthday Party Food Allergy Kerfuffle?


Birthday parties are often the bane of a food allergy parent’s existence: While wanting your child to be a full participant and enjoy the experience like other children, you also need to protect them from exposure to their allergens, which may abound. It’s often a tricky tightrope to walk, even in the best of circumstances.

Which brings us to this installment of our “You be the Judge” series, where we present a food allergy-related scenario and invite you to sound off by sharing your opinions and expertise.

This time, a woman posting to reddit as u/macncheesewketchup relays her frustration in a post entitled: “AITAH? Tried my best to accommodate family food allergies.

We’ve referred to the “AITA” subreddit before where this story was recently posted. AITA is short for “Am I the A-Hole,” a subreddit (discussion group) that provides a medium where people question their behavior and readers vote.

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Here is the post, noting that BIL and SIL stand for brother and sister-in-law respectively:

A few days ago we had my kid’s birthday party at our house. My BIL and SIL have two kids, a few years older than our child – they were all invited, as they are invited to everything we host. But their kids have food allergies (nuts and sesame), and that can make it hard for them to eat out at places. They usually don’t attend any family events & use that as the reason. We live 15 min away but don’t see them much. My husband (DH) and his brother have a decent relationship; they talk every day in a group chat with their friends. I am not friendly with his wife, my SIL. We just don’t have much in common. No animosity there, at least on my end. Never had a falling out or any problems. I invite her to brunch and things, but she never comes.

I sent out invites to the party a month prior. BIL replied that they would attend, “pending the menu”. No instructions on what we could or couldn’t have. They go to other kids’ parties all the time – we were just with them at one and the kids ate pizza and cake. So we decided to order pizza and hoagies with seedless rolls to avoid sesame. Another family member made pumpkin muffins and chocolate chip cookies, and we had a charcuterie board and fruit. DH listed the menu and sent it to BIL a week before the party. He approved and said they would definitely be there. We ordered cake, but BIL said they would bring their own allergen free cupcakes for the kids. Before shopping, I researched what crackers to buy for the charcuterie board, and DH met with the hoagie place manager to make sure to avoid sesame.

The party started, and BIL called DH to say they would be late and asked him to set aside pizza for them “to avoid cross contamination”. DH explained there were absolutely no nuts or sesame, but ok. When they arrived, they walked past the food and BIL and SIL began arguing quietly. SIL did not greet me or my child and went to sit down by herself.

Everything seemed great. Their kids ate pizza and their cupcakes. I noticed my SIL was gone for a while, but I was so preoccupied with doing activities with the kids that I forgot about it.

The next day, several family members called me (all different conversations) to talk to me about SIL. They said she was complaining that there was no food they could eat. She left my house to get a salad for herself and came back to eat it (ok, whatever). Someone asked her why she didn’t want any food, and she allegedly said, “There is sesame everywhere. We can’t eat any of this.” Family assured her there wasn’t and explained the lengths I had gone through to ensure no allergens were present. She said she still didn’t trust me. DH cousin got a juice box for their daughter, and BIL and SIL allegedly freaked out that there could be sesame oil on the cousin’s hands, so she couldn’t put the straw in the juice box for their child. SIL said, “We shouldn’t have come.”

AITAH here? Is there a way I could have been more accommodating? I don’t want to be the reason we can’t all have holidays together.

Now, we all know that cross-contact is a concern when food allergies are involved, especially at a birthday party where kids are likely to get food everywhere. That said, there’s a lot to unpack from this incident.

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The poster and her husband were concerned for the nephews’ safety and took measures to avoid all products with sesame and nuts; check. They provided the inlaws with the proposed menu well in advance; check. The inlaws accepted the invitation and brought their kids; check. And they brought along homemade cupcakes to avoid potential cross-contact issues that might occur with a store-bought cake; check.

So now we turn to you, our readers — knowledgeable in all things food allergy — and ask you to render your opinion: Is this simply drama on the part of the sister-in-law or is there more the poster should have done?

You be the judge and sound off in the comments section below.

And for context, please tell us what you’ve done when faced with birthday parties your kids with food allergies were invited to. Were the hosts accommodative? How did you respond?

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  1. I think they did everything right, but having said that, as a parent of severely allergic children, I know that you can’t trust anyone. I have questioned restaurant personal and been assured there was nothing in the restaurant only to find the allergen was actually in a meal ordered. So I do not trust anything or anyone with my allergic children. I almost lost one of my children due to trusting a family member who was assured by staff at the bakery that there was no cross contact, and not only was there contamination, the allergen was actually in the food. My daughter almost died. So yes, the family did everything right, but that doesn’t mean it was safe for the allergic child, and even if it was, their parents are likely to not trust it, with good reason. This is life and death and death can happen so quickly and easily. This is tough one, because they did try hard to do everything right, and they did everything they could. Maybe it was safe, but I personally wouldn’t trust it, so compassion and understanding for the parents of the allergic child is in order here. And realizing how seriously this affects the parents of the allergic child. It is crazy knowing that you can do everything, ask everything and your child could still die. So just some extra compassion, maybe events without any food going forward. Or asking them if they would feel more comfortable providing the food for everyone with the host paying for it of course, if food is a must. Just some thoughts.

  2. My reply is very general widsom for someone with an allergy. If it rises to the concern of anaphylaxis, I would have brought food, prepared similarly to the menu. This way you know what is in it and how it was prepared. That is of course not fool proof from possible touching or aerosol cross contamination at the event, but as long as you are aware of that, you can mitigate any potentially deadly situation.

    When in doubt… go without. Enjoy the time with your family, eat at home before you go, or eat when you get back home. Just have a drink, go have fun.

  3. I don’t see what the hosts could have done differently. It sounds like the SIL and husband were disagreeing about something to begin with. It’s fine to not partake of the food – i might not trust anyone else’s food either, but the hosts certainly did their best to be accommodating. If someone does their best to accommodate a food allergy, i don’t see why the SIL had to be angry with them!

  4. My 9 year old son goes to birthday parties/family events all the time but never eats the food provided. He has too many severe food allergies and it’s too dangerous. So I either feed him before/after and bring him allergy safe food and a treat. I think the host went out of her way to accommodate and did everything she could but I still don’t trust anyone and wouldn’t want to risk it.

  5. If the in-laws choose to attend the party, they should bring their own food and be thankful that you’ve gone over and above to mitigate the risk of cross contamination to their child. If they choose not to attend due to allergies, accept their explanation.
    While I am the one with allergies and not my child, there are events I just won’t attend. With a few exceptions, nothing is worth the risk of death.

  6. I am an adult with adult onset food allergies, soy being the hardest to avoid. Honestly I will not eat any food that I have not seen being prepared and even then accidents happen. I always bring my own food and generally family and friends have stopped asking me to ‘just try it’ I don’t remember seeing the age of the children, in my experience even the youngest of children and their parents have some way to safely handle these situations. If SIL left the party she abdicated her responsibility, it’s all on SIL IMHO.

  7. A couple of things caught my attention. Since the two children with food allergies are older than the hosts’ child, I would have expected the hosts to understand the risks of cross-contamination. At an event with guests who may not have washed their hands before touching the pizza, it is standard practice to set aside food to avoid cross-contamination. The host’s lack of understanding about the cross-contamination risk with someone with unwashed hands handling the straw reinforces their lack of education/concern about cross-contamination. Not understanding basic precautions makes me wonder whether the hosts actually take food allergies seriously.

  8. I think the hosts did a great job trying to ensure the party would be safe and inclusive. Having 2 highly allergic kids myself, I also understand the BIL and SIL being cautious. That having been said, it does sound like the SIL chose to isolate herself and to be unkind and ungrateful for the efforts that were made. If she is that, understandably, anxious about social setting then she should not attend or bring safe food. She sets the tone for how her kids will feel about and handle their food allergies in the future. The tone she’s setting doesn’t sound healthy. Plus, it’s hard enough to get people to care and take the allergies seriously. I tend to find that a little communication on the allergic family’s part goes a long way to others beginning to understand what this life is really like.

  9. What stands out to me is the OP mentioning both that her niece and nephew eat at other people’s parties, and the mention of “Everything seemed great. Their kids ate pizza and their cupcakes.” which seems to imply the niblings did, in fact, eat at the party. And later it says ” She left my house to get a salad for herself and came back to eat it”, meaning the SIL, and yet the complaint heard from other family members was that there was nothing for ‘them’ to eat. The way this is phrased makes it sound like only the SIL had an issue with the menu–whether because she has allergies herself or didn’t like what was served.

    I’ve had food allergies my whole life. There is no 100% certain way to avoid all cross contact. To me, it sounds like the OP did what they could (other than the dismissive note about putting stuff aside to avoid further cross contact). Also confused on where sesame oil on the cousin’s hands came from since there was apparently none available during the party? (I’m referring to the juicebox part mentioned at the end).

    To me, it feels like the OP could have maybe not been dismissive about putting stuff aside to further reduce chances of cross contact, but considering that the BIL agreed to the menu and the kids apparently ate it with no problems, the SIL seems to be over-reacting just a little.


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