With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

02 February 2020

Exposure to Food Allergens in Public

Recently, there has been photo of a NYC subway car circulating along with a story of peanut butter possibly being smeared onto one of the poles passengers use to steady themselves during a subway ride. There is no confirmation of what the substance was, but kudos to Gothamist for posting a story which was sure to get clicks. Remember: clicks=money earned for many websites. Predictably, all kinds of folks with a connection to peanut allergy have shared the photo and the link to the story, leading to much speculation about the smear-er's motives. If you peek at one of the posts encouraging alarm, you will see comments such as "evil", "terrorism", and so on. The attention this photo and story have garnered are a great example of few things that really should be considered conventional wisdom in 2020: 
  1. subways are not clean, and the seats and poles have traces of all kinds of substances, be it food, germs, bodily fluids, etc
  2. when it comes to food allergies, many people have difficulty discerning real risk from perceived
  3. eye-catching stories related to peanut allergy make superb clickbait
  4. based on the number and types of comments this photo and story have generated, there are a lot of people with a lot of free time and apparently little experience riding public transportation
I think it is probably fair to say that for most people, using public transportation does not present a risk in terms of food allergies. My son has life threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, and has experienced an anaphylactic reaction. He has even broken out in hives just from trick-or-treating and transferring packaged candy from a candy dish to his trick-or-treat bag. I mention this to explain that he is fairly sensitive to his allergens. We have ridden on AMTRAK, the MBTA commuter rail around Boston, the "T" (subway) in Boston, tour buses in multiple cities, the subway in New York City, Metro in Washington DC, and have not experienced difficulties in terms of food allergy safety. Anyone suggesting that food allergy safety is a likely problem on public transportation is not sharing accurate information. Rather than question the motives of the smear-er on the NYC subway, perhaps we should be questioning the motives of those who promote unnecessary fear in the food allergy community.

Remember, any time you are out in public, you are bound to touch a surface that has been touched by many other hands--shopping cart handles, door handles, railings, debit/credit card machines at stores, ATM machines, pens attached to chains at the post office and bank, library books, computers at school and the public library, etc. We all go to so many places in public and people aren't having anaphylaxis all over the place. If touching surfaces in public places were truly as risky as some people want you to believe, we all would be witnessing people having anaphylaxis everywhere all the time. That isn't happening! When an alarmist photo and story like this is passed around in food allergy groups and Facebook pages, take a step back and think about whether the author is drawing a reasoned conclusion or reacting out of fear or lack of information. Ask your allergist if you aren't sure about whether something is a real risk or not. There is nothing to be gained and there is no benefit in worrying unnecessarily. 

Remember that old saying--knowledge is power. Don't just take someone's word for it, don't accept strangers' anecdotal stories as fact. Ask your allergist and rely on authoritative resources such as foodallergy.org, kidswithfoodallergies.org, and https://twitter.com/AllergyKidsDoc.

31 October 2019

Food Allergy Research and Education Summit Discount Code

If Washington DC is a possible weekend trip for you, and you have a teen with food allergies, we have a discount code you may want to take advantage of, and FAST! This coming weekend is FARE's Contains Courage summit and its target audience is teens who have food allergies. The discount code will get you 50% off the regular price of admission and is 50discountJennifer.

I attended a FAAN conference many years ago, back before FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) and FAI (Food Allergy Initiative) joined to form FARE and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was extremely informative, especially in terms of hearing about current research from some of the actual researcher themselves.

For more information about the summit, visit the FARE website. The Summit will take place November 1-3, 2019.

30 June 2019

Food Allergies and Labeling: Exercise Your Power

I saw a tweet earlier today and I cannot stop thinking about it. I was surprised and a bit disappointed to see criticism of Whole Foods for something they are not required by law to do--provide information on the label or packaging regarding cross-contact/cross-contamination. But, we are all entitled to our opinion, and food allergy reactions can be absolutely terrifying! The customer had a severe reaction to a bakery item that was labeled as "vegan" and believed there had been cross-contamination with non-vegan ingredients. Thankfully, the customer is ok. Very scary!!! 

Please note the FDA does not regulate the use of the terms "vegan" or "vegetarian." It is potentially dangerous to assume those terms mean a food does not contain traces of eggs or dairy. 

I must admit that I have seen many customer stories about reactions to cross-contamination in Whole Foods bakery items over the years. Unfortunately, supermarket bakeries are notorious for cross-contamination. Often times, there is a CYA statement on supermarket bakery items because of the cross-contamination risk. It is our responsibility, as consumers, to read labels for the food allergies we manage. If you need to know about shared facilities or shared equipment, don't make assumptions. If the information is not clearly on the label, ask! It is up to us, the consumers, to look out for ourselves, and why shouldn't it be? We need to know how food should be labeled (by law), and if we need more information than is provided on the label, it is up to us to ask! We can read, we can advocate for ourselves, and ask questions. We have power! 

People with food allergies are not helpless. They are not victims. They are not vulnerable. Feel empowered, for you have a great deal of power and control over what you choose to eat. Exercise your power. Ask questions, and when in doubt, do without. 

Can food labeling be improved in the United States? Of course! I am not saying it is perfect or that it should stay as it is, but it is always our responsibility as consumers to look out for ourselves in the context of existing labeling laws. 

My food labeling dream: I would love to see all ingredients labeled on food packaging in the United States. That would be a fantastic improvement, and I think a realistic one. Why focus on 8 allergens when people can have allergic reactions to over 100 foods? 

What is your food labeling dream?

18 April 2019

Food Allergy Tools: Podcasts from AAAAI

Good morning, food allergy friends! Here is an excellent food allergy information resource made available for both patients and physicians from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The link will take you to a page that houses several podcasts including the most recent one: "All About Food Allergies: From Diagnosis to Treatment. David M. Fleischer, MD."

22 February 2019

There's No Such Thing as Allergy-Free!

Today in Google Alerts, I noticed a press release for Safe + Fair's new top 8 free granola: "The Safe + Fair Food Company Introduces Allergy-Free Granola Line." Silly editors, there's no such thing as Allergy-Free food! Interesting to hear about this top-8 free addition to Safe + Fair's product line though...

It's very hard to compete with a company like Enjoy Life Foods. Many consumers with food allergies really feel that Enjoy Life cares about its customers, and Enjoy Life has made a real effort to connect with its customers since the beginning. Safe + Fair? Not so much! It was not long ago when Safe + Fair CEO gave us this gem: "If you have a peanut allergy, you want to eat as much gluten and dairy as you can--you have no empathy for the other allergies...You already have to give up a huge subset of food." Moreover, according to Crain's Chicago Business, Holsworth said "people allergic to multiples of the 14 ingredients on Enjoy Life's no-go list make up a tiny fraction of the already small food allergy community, and creating food that tastes good without any of those ingredients is nearly impossible." --https://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20180720/ISSUE01/180719843/allergy-friendly-packaged-foods-take-off

Those remarks do not exactly come off as friendly or sympathetic to the multiple food allergy community.

Maybe Safe + Fair has changed its mind and done an about-face, or at least sees the value $$$ in products for those with multiple food allergies now.

23 October 2018

Helpful Links for Info Re: Peanut Dust, Airborne Exposure and Air Travel

The below tweet from the Trasnportation Security Administration attracted attention from some consumers managing peanut and nut allergies yesterday.

Some feel it is irresponsible and dangerous for TSA to suggest bringing nuts on board.

While there are varying opinions about the risks posed by nuts and peanuts on airplanes, there is still little research. The following link from the American Academy of Asthma Allergy and Immunology provides a good summary of research on the topic of airborne exposure and peanuts on passenger airplanes: https://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/peanut-air-travel

Kids with Food Allergies Foundation hosted a webinar in 2014 regarding flying with food allergies. You can view the video on their website.

If you know of additional authoritative and science-backed resources on this topic, please let us know and share in a comment! Thank you.

20 August 2018

Food Allergy Consumer Perspective: Safe and Fair for Some, Insensitive to All

On July 20, 2018, Grain's Chicago Business published an article entitled "Could allergy-friendly be the next gluten-free? These food companies think so". While I am glad to see an article focused on manufacturers whose prime consumer base is people with food allergies, I could not have been more disappointed by what I read about Safe + Fair

"Safe + Fair, a line of allergy-safe cookies, macaroni and cheese and cake mixes focuses on eliminating merely the main culprits. Its chocolate chip cookies, for example, are free of the most common allergen, peanuts, plus tree nuts, but they do contain wheat, soy and egg." Note dairy or milk is not even mentioned. Yet in some studies, it is dairy allergy that is the most common in children, not peanuts, and for adults, it is shellfish. At a minimum, it is safe to say the jury is still out on which allergy is most common.

Then there is the use of the term "allergy-safe" in the article. "Allergy-safe" is a term which is confusing at best, and could be dangerously confusing for those managing allergies that are not Safe + Fair's focus. Terms like "allergy-safe" and "school safe" can lead to errors by well meaning caregivers, thinking it means safe for all food allergies. Actually, the manufacturer's name Safe + Fair is itself confusing in the same way. 

But these aspects are not the most concerning part of the article focused on Safe + Fair. No. It is this quote from Mr. Holsworth, the CEO: "If you have a peanut allergy, you want to eat as much gluten and dairy as you can--you have no empathy for the other allergies...You already have to give up a huge subset of food." Not only are his words offensive but they are also inaccurate. My son has peanut and tree nut allergies. There are so few foods that he is unable to eat; there is no "huge subset" of food he has had to give up or avoid. In fact, peanuts and tree nuts are not ingredients in many foods, except for baked goods and desserts. Furthermore, my son does not seek out or crave gluten and dairy or any other ingredients as a result of his allergies, and I have never heard of any children or adults with peanut and/or nut allergies wanting to eat as much gluten and dairy as they can. Many are quite happy to eat top-8 free products and many do not even seek products from dedicated facilities. Where is Mr. Holsworth getting his information? Furthermore, suggesting people who have peanut and nut allergies have no empathy for other allergies is truly offensive. In fact, people with food allergies, regardless of the specific food, all share a common enemy--anaphylaxis. People with food allergies have a certain set of precautions they all need to take to prevent reactions. People with peanut and tree nut allergies "get" other food allergies better than the general public might because they understand what it is like to live with a life threatening food allergy. His comment is a slap in the face to people like my son and shows little sensitivity for people with additional food allergies.

Based on the sentiments expressed by Mr. Holsworth, it seems Safe + Fair is not interested in creating "a more inclusive community for all." The article certainly does not paint a picture of Safe + Fair as allergy friendly, as Mr. Holsworth's words certainly were not friendly or considerate to people with any food allergy. One would hope a manufacturer would think a bit better of their own target consumer base. Skeeter Snacks was a friendly company.