Tag Archives: Food Allergies

When you don’t have food allergies

WHEN FOOD ALLERGIES EFFECT THE NON-ALLERGIC

When I started writing several months ago, I had little plans in mind. I knew I wanted to write about Molly and our struggles with her Sensory Processing Disorder because it takes up most of our energy every day. I wanted to include our journey with food allergies as well because they definitely play a roll in our family dynamic. Sometimes the food allergies are why I am going insane. I mean who wants to bake cupcakes every time you go to a birthday party?? What I didn’t expect is that people would read what I wrote and change their behaviors. Seriously, I am humbled. In the past 18 months our lives got turned upside down, but in the journey I have seen how our family has effected other people. I have witnessed a 4 year old hold off on taking peanut butter and jelly to his new school because he wanted to find out if any of his new friends were allergic. A 4 year old that put someone else first, that’s amazing to me. Moms have come to me and asked about taking snacks to public places and told me that they are now conscience of how their children eat on public spaces such as playgrounds. I’ve had educators reach out to me and ask about safe classroom snacks for special occasions or parties. I had no idea that Charlie and our family would raise that much awareness, I don’t think I could ever express how touched I am by people’s concern for Charlie and other children like him. I wanted to find an easy way to help those that don’t have food allergies and want be considerate of those that do. So I put together a list of what do when food allergies effect others.

Image

1. Ask the mom. If there is a child attending a party or in a class that has a food allergy, reach out to the parents. We are more than willing to help and answer any questions you may have. But don’t ask Stampy. He told a Charlie’s classroom parents that home baked goods are ok to serve. It will be years before I let him talk again to other parents. Other than Stampy, we can tell you what food could be avoided and food alternatives could be served.

2. Eat where you eat, not where you play. If you are at a public venue such as a playground, story time or a pool and you want to have a snack then sit and eat, clean up and return to play. Easiest way to avoid an accidental contamination.

3. Read labels. If a food contains an allergen it will be listed. This gets tough when allergens can come listed in many forms. A gluten allergy for example has to read for many types of grains and even “malt” so it does get complicated. Occasionally, food companies are nice and will list the allergen content separately. For cross contamination, I usually will pick up several packages from a similar manufacturer to see if it has a “may contain” allergen statement. If it does and your package doesn’t, you can be pretty certain that your food will not have cross contamination issues.

4. Save the packages for the parent. Honestly, I do not have all labels memorized. I barely have my name memorized most days. I read labels every time I go to the store to make sure ingredients or manufacturing methods haven’t changed so I wouldn’t even trust my memory if it worked.

5. Use clean surfaces, dishes and utensils when preparing food and keep prepared food separate. This may sound like a no-brainer, but not everyone wipes down their counter tops 24-7. I know I don’t. But I have a nut-free kitchen. If I had to cook for a milk or wheat allergic child, I would need to scrub my counter tops down first.

6. Be understanding. When a parent of a food allergy child still wants to provide their own food even when you’ve taken the allergy into consideration, don’t be offended. It’s not that we don’t trust you, but we don’t. There’s a lot at stake with one simple mistake and it’s a mistake even we can make.

As a parent we are always trying to protect our children and it’s nice to know that I have friends helping to protect mine.

Advertisements

Calling Nabisco

The more I learn about food allergies the more I realize how little I knew when this process started. I called most major food brands over a year ago to ask questions and at the time were satisfied with their answers. Now and then I tend to call back regarding specific items, especially of the “snack pack” variety because they are often made on shared lines that aren’t cleaned and since a may contain is a voluntary label, I feel better calling to double check and while I’m on the phone I now ask more specific questions about products in general. Today I called Nabisco because I bought their new Angry Birds Snack Pack graham crackers and I was less than pleased with my phone conversation. When I asked about reducing cross contamination through employees I was told “yeah, sure, we do that”. Hmmmm. “yeah, sure”? “Yeah, sure” is what my 4 year old says when she has no clue what to say. It’s also what people say when they aren’t paying attention. I informed the man that “yeah, sure” is never an acceptable answer when fielding questions regarding life or death. He still didn’t seem to concerned. So I asked to speak to someone else, but at the time anyone that could answer my questions was busy. I said that was fine and I could wait on hold or if he wouldn’t mind taking my name and number and submitting it to whoever could answer my questions. Well, I learned it is not their policy to take people’s names and numbers for questions to be answered by someone who may have the answer and was told to just try and call back later. Oh, right in ALL my free time, I’ll just call back and hope someone is available. Obviously, this person doesn’t have children and doesn’t schedule his day around naptime and Leapster time. I decided to go the email route first. Here is the email I sent to Nabisco today:

Dear Customer Service,
I just ended a phone call with your customer service regarding allergen precautions in your facilities. I am writing to tell you that I was very disappointed in the answers I received. Not because they weren’t what I wanted to hear, but because the person answering your customer service didn’t speak well enough English to answer my direct questions. To almost every question I received the stock answer of “if it does or could contain the allergen it would be labeled on the box” and when I asked a specific question of cross contamination I received the answer of “yeah, sure”. I’m going to tell you that when a parent calls with questions or concerns regarding a life threatening condition for their child “yeah, sure” is not an answer. You will lose customers with that answer. It makes the person answering the phone and your company seem like they don’t take these concerns seriously. I was then told that “I answer these calls all day long, you believe the answer I’m giving you”. Again, when you aren’t answering my specific question, I do not believe you. After being placed on hold I was told that no one was available to answer my specific questions and that I would have to call back. I asked to wait on hold or have my name and number taken for a phone call back (which many companies do) and was told that was not your policy and I would just have to try again later. Since I am a busy mom of 2 kids and took 5 minutes of quiet to call, I opted this route to have my questions answered for now.
1. Since you share lines, what methods are taken to clean equipment between producing allergen ingredients and non-allergen ingredients?
2. Are your workers decontaminated as well? Will a person working a line with an allergen change their coat, gloves, hat, etc before working a line that is allergen free?
3. Do you test raw ingredients coming into your facility?
4. How often do you test your product for allergen to ensure that your sanitation methods are working?
I would like to thank you for your time and I hope in the future if I have to call your company for information, the person answering the phone is more informed. You may also contact me via phone at 410-XXX-XXXX.
Sincerely,
Jamie Meteer

I am looking forward to their response. I will share with you, my readers, when I get it.

Food Allergy Thoughts

I’ve now scrapped about 4 beginnings to a blog about food allergies. I just can’t quite put my thoughts into words. I hate them. They make me feel sick. They add stress to joyous occasion and there’s a part of me that has actually considered home-schooling. Now, the home schooling part comes from the crazy irrational side of me, but also the side that fears for her son’s life. Food allergies stole one of my favorite foods from me. Don’t get me wrong, I would pick the Wild Card over a peanut butter cup any day of the week, but there are days where I really really want that peanut butter cup. I know I could eat one, but it doesn’t taste as good anymore. And I haven’t figured out to make stress a calorie burning exercise so for the most part I stay away.

Yesterday I donned one of my favorite new t-shirts and noticed a weird reddish-brownish stain on the front. At first I was bummed because I can’t seem to own anything nice (yes, I used the words t-shirt and nice together) and then I felt sick and started to cry. After a second of “what is that??”, I realized it was dried blood. I remembered it was the shirt that I was wearing the day I gave my first epi-pen.  It’s no longer a fun new t-shirt I got for running a 5K while being pelted with powered paint, it’s a shirt that is stained with my son’s blood and has been vomited on. That’s the thing with allergies, they never leave. They are a stain on our lives. I will never go somewhere and not worry that it will end in another thigh stabbing and I will worry everyday he leaves the house that someone won’t fully understand the nature of his allergy and accidentally poison him. We went hiking and Charlie found an acorn, I spent the next hour worrying if acorns were a “tree nut” in the allergy sense and if we were going to have to book it to the ER. The good news, Charlie is not allergic to acorns, but it doesn’t change the fact that something as simple as a hike is stressful since a fury woodland creature has dropped part of it’s hibernation stash on our path. Our neighbors fed the squirrels shelled peanuts and our backyard became a stressful scavenger hunt every time we went out to play. There are still some days I find myself checking around the yard, just in case.

So, instead of dwelling on things I can’t change such as the child that will bring peanut butter and jelly to the lunch table or the playground mom that feeds her child peanut butter crackers, I’ve decided to focus on the things I can grow from. I can only become more knowledgeable on food allergies and how to educate others. I can have confidence in my reactions to his reactions and I can teach my child the joy in made-from-scratch brownies. Then hopefully, Charlie will learn from my confidence in his allergy and gain his own confidence. Yup, the best I can do is teach and lead by example and hope that he gains the necessary respect for the peanut so he doesn’t live with the same fear I do.

20 Questions To Dine With Food Allergies

It’s rare that you get to talk to an owner manager or chef of a restaurant while not in their restaurant or while they are working. I’m trying to ask all kinds of questions to find out if the Wild Card can safely eat while they are tending to me and other customers. Sometimes I feel like I get memorized answers. I think several restaurants go through the same “food allergy training” seminar. Yesterday I got the undivided attention of an owner chef of a local eatery outside of work and I jumped on the chance to question him inside and out of his allergy practices. The good thing is that he is a small deli and he is the main person preparing food so I know he is on top of what is what. It’s also from a place which I love to eat. I sent my labor coach/friend there after I delivered the Wild Card to get me a cold cut sub for lunch, no doubt the best in town. I needed this place to meet my standards and it did! For those of you that have never asked about food allergies, here is a list of some of the questions ER have to think about to ask.

1. Do you have any peanut or tree nut ingredients in your food?
2. Where are these ingredients stored in comparison to your non-nut ingredients?
3. Do you clean your meat slicer after each user?
4. How?
5. Do you fry anything?
6. Do you have desserts?
7. Are all desserts made on premise?
8. Where do you get your chocolate from?
9. Do you know for certain their plant does not handle nut products?
10. Do you mix your homemade cookies with outside cookies for packaging?
11. Do you wah your hands in between handling different types of food?
12. What you’re of oil do you use?
13. Do you bake your own bread?
14. Where does your bread come from?
15. What else does the bakery make?
16. Are you sure they only make bread?
17. Can I have their info to talk to them about food handling and allergen information?
18. Are you tired of my questions?
19. When are you having pit beef again?
20. Are you going to hide the next time you see me?

See the problem is that most people only know the handling and preparations of their restaurants, not their food suppliers and since you don’t have to label for contamination, many people don’t realize if products have been tainted. I’m glad that owner Bill took my concerns seriously and answered my questions thoroughly. It’s nice to know we can get a good meal that wasn’t home made and support local businesses at the same time. This place got an A+ in my book.

Disclaimer: this is not an entire list of questions that need to be asked, it’s dependent on the type of food and “yes” answers.

Need Vs. Want

I was in the minority growing up. I grew up knowing about food allergies. In the 80’s I was aware of them and even though they weren’t mine, I understood that they could be deadly. My brother was plagued with several. None of which were Epi-pen worthy, but they still needed to be addressed. His were pretty easy to navigate around: citrus, melons and tree nuts. My aunt’s allergy to oranges was Epi-pen worthy. Although we only saw her several times a year, we knew that oranges weren’t allowed. At restaurants we requested they weren’t on our plates and we never had them in our house when she came to visit. For our wedding I didn’t need to be reminded about her allergy, I knew to request that oranges be removed from the premises. This was an easy request because it meant my aunt could safely attend my wedding. But did I need to do it or did I want to do it? I guess you could say both. I wanted to do it because I wanted her to attend our wedding and I needed to do it in order for her to be there.

Skip ahead 5 years and we are plagued with another familial food allergy. Only this time it is my son. I watched his face go from 1 one hive to twice it’s size in less than 10 minutes and I pinned him down in the ER while they put an IV in him. I watched the staff buzz around him and even move his room to in front of the nurses station and the entire time I was in denial. I didn’t want to believe that we were facing a food allergy. Over the next 4 months I read, talked to other moms dealing with food allergies, and called manufacturers to discuss allergy policies and contamination concerns. Did I need to do this or did I want to? I guess both. I wanted to be proactive and I needed to keep my child safe.

At this point, we have lived through 2 allergic reactions and in both cases Charlie has ingested less than 1/8 tsp of peanut butter. In fact he probably ate the tiniest little smear of the stuff. His second reaction happened at one of my friend’s home that is very allergy aware. She calls to find out about food she could get to serve Charlie, she asks about allergy friendly eating in public places so her children don’t possibly harm other children and makes sure that she scrubs down her kids before playing with mine and Charlie had his second reaction in her house. It didn’t happen because someone was being malicious or uncaring, but because sometimes accidents happen when you venture into a peanut filled world. That being said, does she need or want to be this conscience about a diagnosis that does not directly impact her. I guess both. She wants to have her Godson in her life (technically both her Godsons have food allergies) so she understands the needs that go with that.

We’ve only gone peanut free for a little over a year now and in that time I’ve been told that I was being ridiculous, I’ve had people act like I was hurting their feelings because I brought food to their house for Charlie to eat, and people that have told me that I want to pack his food wherever we go. Maybe all of these things are true, but maybe it’s because I need to value Charlie’s health over their feelings. Imagine you go to eat at a restaurant and your server tells you that the food being served has a 10% chance of making you terribly ill and/or killing you. What do you do? Do you throw caution to the wind and eat it anyway? Or do you go home and eat food that is 100% safe? Now imagine you have to feed that food to your child, do you give it to him? Remember, one bite could kill him and you know this giving it to him. If I had to guess, you would probably return home and eat the safe food. You would probably also start packing a lot of your own food when you went to places and you may even sneak food into places that say they don’t allow outside food. Theoretically you don’t need to. So are you needing or wanting to bring your own food?

Here’s my answer: I need to bring food. I need to bring my own food because I love my son and I want to keep him around for awhile. I need to call ahead to your birthday party and ask about the menu and I need to read food labels. Believe me, I don’t want to do any of these things. My life would be 1,000 times easier and grocery shopping would be much faster if I didn’t have to do these things. I don’t want to call Betty Crocker from the baking aisle of the grocery store and talk about cookie mix ingredients and then ultimately decide to bake them from scratch. I don’t want to ask to speak to managers or chefs at restaurants and then trust them to not kill my son. I don’t want to worry when he goes to preschool and I don’t want to sit and discuss emergency action plans with his teachers. These are things I need to do. I need to do them because I don’t want to go to the ER today, I don’t want to jab my son in the thigh with his Epi-pen and I sure as hell don’t want him to die.

As a mom to a child with food allergies, I don’t expect you to really understand the difference between need vs. want. It’s really something you can’t empathize with unless you have been there and have made the choice, do I NEED to do this or do I WANT to do this? I do ask though that you don’t question my judgement of my needs vs. wants or take it personally if I don’t 100% trust you to meet my child’s allergic needs because his diet is not a choice that I wanted to make.