Entertaining a crowd with various dietary restrictions nowadays may mean more than simply having a vegetarian alternative or avoiding peanut products. Food and beverage allergies vary, and some people steer clear of certain foods not because they have made a lifestyle choice, but because their health depends on it. As a result, party hosts should be mindful of any food restrictions and try to be as accommodating as possible.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that approximately 6 percent of allergy sufferers have food allergies as their primary allergy. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology offers similar findings while noting that 38.7 percent of food-allergic children have a history of severe reactions. Milk, soy, eggs, wheat, tree nuts, fish ,and shellfish are the foods most likely to cause a reaction among food allergy sufferers.

Each year allergies account for millions of outpatient office visits and hospitalizations. For some, allergies may be so severe that they result in extreme swelling and anaphylaxis. To ensure that dinner guests are not subject to uncomfortable or potentially fatal reactions, be sure to take into consideration food restrictions when preparing a meal and consider the following tips before and during the party.

* Speak to guests. The best way to learn of any food restrictions your guests may have is to ask them if they have any such restrictions. Some guests may only eat kosher foods while others may have a gluten intolerance. Knowing what to expect and being able to research proper preparation methods can make the process go more smoothly.

* Read labels carefully. Certain foods, especially premade items, may be hiding certain ingredients that can be dangerous to those with a food allergy or a dietary restriction. Foods that contain gelatin may be inappropriate for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Some items that are wheat-free may be produced in factories that also process wheat products. You have to be careful with all foods you serve.

* Consider kosher foods for all of your guests. Kosher foods tend to be made of simple ingredients and packaged in strict adherence to religious practices. Kosher foods are now easier to find than ever, as a substantial percentage of the packaged goods available in the supermarket are certified kosher. People with food allergies may appreciate the simplicity of kosher foods, and you can rely on these items when preparing meals.

* Label foods clearly. Your mother's recipe for turkey casserole may be a fan-favorite, but those with food allergies may shy away from items they can't easily recognize. Attach tags to buffet-style items that indicate their ingredients so guests with dietary restrictions can still enjoy a good meal like everyone else. 

* Prepare foods separately. When cooking, be mindful of kitchen hygiene by using separate dishes, bowls and utensils for preparing foods to avoid cross-contamination. If you will be preparing something with a known allergen, such as dairy or wheat, keep it separate from other foods and do not use mixing bowls or spoons for the different foods.

It may take some extra effort, but making guests who have dietary restrictions feel comfortable at your next party means having menu items that are compatible with their personal diets.