Health beat: Allergy-free zones at games are a hit

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2012 - 6:50 PM

Several years ago, the Minnesota Twins decided to try an experiment for fans with severe food allergies: a peanut-free gallery at the Metrodome.

It was for only one game, but it was such a hit that, seven years later, the allergy-free zone has become a recurring event. This season, Target Field set aside dozens of seats at 10 Twins games, including two in September. In all, 600 seats were reserved, and they sold out so quickly that some people ended up on waiting lists, said Nona Narvaez, cofounder of a support group called the Anaphylaxis & Food Allergy Association of Minnesota.

Narvaez, of St. Paul, said many of these families never would have ventured out to a ballgame because of the risk to their kids. To them, popcorn, peanuts or sesame-seed buns might cause life-threatening allergic reactions, even if they're not the ones eating them.

"When they've tried to sit in regular sections and then people are eating all around them and throwing the debris on the ground, it's been nightmarish for these families," said Narvaez, whose two sons have had food allergies. "This is a place where they can just relax and know that everything's taken care of."

At Target Field, the Twins set aside two balconies in an administrative area with its own entryway so fans won't have to "run a gantlet through a bunch of food vendors," Narvaez said. They also brought in special food to accommodate common allergies, such as Angie's Kettle Corn, which is made without peanut oil, and sesame-free buns.

This year, the St. Paul Saints got into the game, too. "They created a whole stadium that was peanut-free for Mother's Day," Narvaez said. For another game, the Saints not only created peanut-free galleries, they "donated a portion of the proceeds to us."

Next up: the Minnesota Timberwolves will set aside an allergy-free zone Nov. 9, with executive suite seating.

To learn more, e-mail info@minnesotafoodallergy.org.

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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