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.

23 October 2020

Food Allergies in School in the United States - Musings

EverythingSuperMario, CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons

One thing that has struck me during this pandemic is how different the 50 states really are in these United States. We are all witness to how different states have different ways of dealing with disease and public health. It's abundantly clear now too that different states have different ways of managing public education during public health crises. It's even different from one town to another town, in some cases.

Of course I believe the national food allergy organizations in the United States should seek to lead and advocate for food allergy safety and better food allergy management in schools, but it seems it is a bit misguided to put much emphasis and effort on a national level. Perhaps regional branches of national food allergy organizations or even state chapters--where they exist--should take a greater role in promoting food allergy safety in schools and improved management of food allergies in schools. 

It is not very helpful to receive guidance about food allergy management in schools from someone with little to no familiarity with schools in your own state. The same goes for many other things in school. For example, as a special education teacher, I find that although special education is protected by Federal Law and funded by the Federal government, there are differences in how special education services are provided and documented from state to state. Special education practices in Massachusetts, where I live and teach, are quite different than what you might find in Georgia or Indiana. Similarly, food allergy management in Massachusetts schools is a world apart from food allergy management in schools in other states.

In addition, it's been my experience that the best information about food allergy management in schools--in Massachusetts--usually is available from the school nurses. This may not be the case in other states. 

These are just a few of my recent musings about advocacy and leadership on the topic of food allergies in schools in these United States, which I typed into my laptop during the summer. Not much seems to make sense these days and no one seems to agree with anyone else either. Maybe we are all lost! And yet, the food allergy organizations are still pumping out the same old info. What's that old saying? "The more things change, the more they stay the same..."

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.