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.

20 February 2018

SmartLabel could revolutionize food label reading for those with food allergies

With the advent of SmartLabel, label reading at the supermarket is going to get much easier for those managing food allergies. Though SmartLabel is still in its infancy, we can see what is to come. SmartLabel is an app and tool developed by a collaboration between the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing institute. It provides additional product information when the QR code for a label is scanned with a cell phone camera or when a product is searched by phone or website with a computer. Not only does it provide ingredient information, but the product listings also provide information about shared equipment and shared facilities — precisely the types of information those managing food allergies normally have to call or write to customer service to inquire about.
Even better, the information available on SmartLabel is uploaded by the manufacturer itself and therefore is considered to be the most current informtion, even moreso than what is listed on the packaging itself. No more cross-checking lists from third parties, you will be able to zap that package at the supermarket and get the allergen information you need instantaneously, for top 8 allergens as defined by the FDA.
Since SmartLabel is a creation of the food manufacturing industry, just how much information is provided is up to the manufacturers. They already are going above and beyond what is required by FDA by providing voluntary allergen information such as shared equipment and facilities. We are hopeful that more products will contain voluntary warning information for shared equipment and shared facilities and that manufacturers will also choose to provide information about additional allergens outside the top 8. This type of information is so important to those managing food allergies. After all, avoiding one’s allergen can be a matter of life and death.
Consumers value transparency about ingredients and manufacturing processes. Food allergy consumers value it more than the typical consumer because for them, it is a medical necessity. Eating food containing the wrong ingredient can result in a life threatening allergic reaction. We have high hopes for SmartLabel and the opportunity it presents for transparency about ingredients and possible cross-contamination with allergens. If you or a loved one have a food allergy, please give SmartLabel a try, give them some feedback and encouragement. Also take a moment and visit their website at http://www.smartlabel.org/. It could be the next great food allergy tool. It would be great to see that happen.

02 February 2018

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: Food Allergies at the Dentist

By Jonas Bergsten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Content on www.foodallergybuzz.com is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

If you are managing food allergies or your child has food allergies, it is wise to notify the dentist of the food allergies. Ingredients should be checked for anything that is going in the mouth during a dental visit. Fortunately, in terms of food allergies, there is not much to check on aside from fluoride, toothpaste and polishing paste. There are, of course, other allergies one needs to keep in mind when visiting the dentist such as latex allergies or a nickel allergy.

A cursory search in Google Scholar shows that most reactions to dental materials tend to be to the metals in dental materials. No articles about food allergens and dental materials jump out. There are, however, a few dental products, which may contain food or food additives. A 2012 blog post on rdh.com (Registered Dental Hygienist) entitled Food Allergy Awareness lists several substances used by dentists which may contain food or food products. The author, Michele A. Fagan, EFDA, RDH, BS provides the following list:

  • "Recaldent is a milk derivative (may be listed as casein) - found in GC America's MI paste, toothpastes, and some forms of Trident gum.
  •  Polishing paste - contains gluten (causes gastrointestinal disorder)
  • Fluorides - can contain gluten or nut oils
  • Topical anesthesia - contains fruit flavorings
  • Propofol - general anesthesia that contains egg protein
  • Cements - eugenol is derived from oil of cloves
  • Nitrous oxide - does not specifically contain egg, but it has a substance that is molecularly structured like eggs and reactions have been reported" 
**A reader with a science background pointed out the above quote has some inaccurate info. Propofol does not contain egg protein. Rather it contains egg phospholipds and therefore should not cause allergic reactions. A cursory check of scholarly articles on Propofol and egg, however, indicate there are a few records--not many--of reactions by individuals with egg allergy to Propfol despite the absence of egg protein in the medicine. See N.J.N. Harper's article entitle "Propofol and Food Allergy" in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, Volume 116, Issue 1, 1 January 2016, pp. 11-13 (Published Decmber 16 2015) for additional information:  https://academic.oup.com/bja/article/116/1/11/2566111  **

Please note: the list quoted above is not an exhaustive list nor is it intended to cause alarm. In addition, the list is from only one source; there may be other, more accurate or complete lists available. It's always prudent to do your due diligence and research for information. Dentist visits are a topic that pops up periodically in food allergy discussion groups. Keep in mind, the great majority of individuals with food allergies go to the dentist without incident, just like everyone else, but it's always a good idea to inquire. With the rising number of people with food allergies, your dentist probably has already provided the same ingredient info to other patients and has likely vetted the products he or she uses, with allergies in mind.

26 January 2018

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: Highly Refined Oils on Food Labels

from https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm106187.htm

A question that pops on a regular basis in food allergy discussion groups, especially peanut allergy focused groups is this: 
why isn't peanut listed as an allergen when peanut oil is an ingredient?

Highly refined oils from one of the top eight allergens are not considered to contain the protein which causes allergic reactions. While you may disagree with the veracity of this statement, highly refined oils--since the are not considered to contain reaction-causing proteins--do not need to be listed as a top 8 allergen on food labels.

It's a good idea to always read the entire label and all the ingredients. Not every label will list allergens in bold and ingredients can change from one grocery store trip to another. Read every label every time.

23 January 2018

Buyer Beware: Free-From Labels on Baked Goods

By Dezidor - Own work (own photo), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8902579
Bakery shopping tip.

When purchasing baked goods from a bakery, do not assume that a free-from label, such as "nut-free" or "dairy-free", means the bakery is dedicated free of those allergens. If there is no information provided about the bakery, it very likely is not a dedicated facility.

If cross-contamination is a concern, be sure to ask the bakery about their facility, whether it is dedicated or not, and what their procedures for preventing cross-contact are. If their reply is defensive, and they do not provide information that is helpful to you as a consumer managing food allergies, consider it a red flag! If the owner, manager, or baker is insulted by valid questions about the bakery, their labeling, and cross-contamination procedures, that also is a red flag. Remember--no baked good or treat, no matter how eye-appealing, is worth the risk!

Bakeries, like any other food manufacturer, should be prepared to answer your questions so you can make a decision about whether or not the product is safe for your allergies.

12 January 2018

Food Allergy Tip Friday: Allergen-free Claims on Labels

People managing food allergies and other health conditions depend on accurate food labeling. While food labeling in the United States has improved over the last decade or two, there is still room for improvement. 

Only the top 8 most common food allergens are required to be listed by name, leaving those with less common allergies to decipher the rest of the ingredients.  Sometimes ingredients have mysterious names, such as "spices" or "fruit juice" or "natural flavoring". What do those ingredients actually contain? Those with non-top allergies have no choice but to contact the food manufacturers to ask. They may or may not get an answer.

Then there are the allergen free-from claims on food packages, which are still completely unregulated. Free-from claims on labels mean different things to different manufacturers, and can be interpreted in varying ways by consumers.  When a baked good from a bakery states "gluten free" or "nut free", does that mean the facility is gluten-free or nut-free, or just that particular product? There is no uniformity, and what's alarming is there is a difference! A food made in facility where there is gluten or nuts or any allergen may possibly contain trace amounts of that allergen, and consumers should be able to decide if they want to take that risk. Misleading free-from labels abound, especially in baked goods. If a bakery does not indicate that they are a dedicated facility, they probably are not. Don't hesitate to ask questions!

Some food manufacturers take extra measures to make their labeling clear to consumers. Take a look at the below photos of some of Enjoy Life Foods' newest products. The box has a listing stating the 15 foods Enjoy Life's Crispy Grain & Seed Bars are free from, and also has a separate statement underneath the ingredients stating "Made in a dedicated nut and gluten free facility."  This voluntary statement leaves no confusion about which allergens the facility is free of, and makes determining the safety of this food easier for consumers with food allergies.

It is so easy for food manufacturers to make their labeling clearer, as Enjoy Life Foods has. 

One tool which may help consumers with food allergies make more sense of labels is SmartLabel (http:///www.smartlabel.org). It is a tool whereby consumers can scan in a food label, and ingredient and other information from the manufacturer is provided, often more than what you can see on the label. There is a tab for manufacturers to provide information, such as voluntary information about the manufacturing facility and possible cross-contamination. Any time food manufacturers go above and beyond FDA's labeling requirements, they really deserve acknowledgement. By the same token, when manufacturers purposefully provide vague labeling, they should receive feedback requesting clarification. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and consumers with food allergies should be able to easily locate information to determine if a food is safe or not. It shouldn't be a mystery.

Disclosure: Food Allergy Buzz has received free products from Enjoy Life Foods.

28 October 2017

Food Allergies and Halloween: It's OK If There is No Teal Pumpkin

My children are too old to trick-or-treat now. They are teenagers. When they were young enough to trick-or-treat, there was no such thing as the Teal Pumpkin. I quickly discovered that swapping out the candy for something sweet at home wasn't enough for my younger son. Just touching the packages of candy while trick-or-treating caused him to get hives. Not full body hives, just several on his face. After that year, gloves became a routine part of his Halloween costume. Just because he couldn't eat the candy collected and couldn't touch the packages with his bare hands without a reaction of some kind, didn't mean we would miss out on that fun! These were all tiny manageable challenges. 

I can't tell you how much time was spent on costumes!! There were several years when he was quite a Buzz Lightyear fanatic. One year, I even found inflatable Buzz Lightyear wings to add to his already awesome Buzz Lightyear costume. It was all about the costume. His allergies were peanut and tree nut allergies, so I would buy candy from Tootsie and also Vermont Nut Free Chocolate and have it ready at home. We would make plans with friends and go to the neighbor's Halloween party, and the kids had a blast. Food allergies played NO role whatsoever. They were not part of the equation because we really did not focus on the candy collected. We did, however, enjoy being with our friends and neighbors, and they LOVED playing flashlight tag in costume in the dark. Isn't fun what it is all about?!

The Teal Pumpkin is a great addition to Halloween for those who really want to enjoy a treat collected while trick-or-treating. Many people are still figuring out just what the Teal Pumpkin means. We food allergy folks need to be patient and give people time to hear about and find out what it is. I even saw a letter to the editor written by a food allergy mom with all kinds of inaccurate information. Her heart was in the right place; she was trying to educate her community. But she has some incorrect info--she wrote that FARE has a "safe list (nut free)" and also "Items that are considered “safe” candies are listed below, but just note that at times items change so parents of allergic children should always check labeling before children eat any items....The following items are among those listed as safe: Divvies (anything made by Divvies), Haribo Gummy Candy, Skittles, Peeps, Swedish Fish, Altoids, Mike and Ike, Hershey plain chocolate bars and Kisses (personal size only), Laffy Taffy, Runts, Tootsie Rolls, Junior Mints, Lifesaver Gummies, Smarties, Sour Patch Kids, Whoppers, Sweet Tarts, Bottle Caps, Pop Rocks, Hot Tamales, Red Vines, Jolly Rancher, Twizzlers, Kraft Marshmallows, Trader Joe’s milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips."

If you visit FARE’s page about the Teal Pumpkin Project, you won’t find a safe candy list and certainly not a nut free list. The Teal Pumpkin Project is intended to help make children with ALL food allergies feel included. While the well-meaning food allergy mom shared inaccurate info, we have to give her credit for going the extra mile and trying to educate her community! Kudos to her for trying! That is more than many of us do; I know I haven't written any letters to the editor. Maybe I should start! Kids with Food Allergies does have an Allergy-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide, listing candies which are top-8 allergen free. Perhaps the well-meaning mom was thinking of that list?

So….what to do if there are no Teal Pumpkins near you?
·    Feel angry or frustrated at your neighbors? I hope not! It’s really unreasonable to expect people to know about something for a disability that isn’t on their radar and doesn’t affect them personally. The Teal Pumpkin Project is still new! Be patient and give it time. Maybe next year you can write a letter to the editor to your local paper explaining what the Teal Pumpkin means.
·   Avoid trick-or-treating? Heck no! Kids LOVE getting in costume, and then seeing neighbors’ reactions at their costumes when they open their front doors. Have something safe for Halloween ready for your kids at home afterwards, and just briefly explain to your child that safe goodies (maybe a surprise!) are at waiting home and that mom or dad will take the unsafe goodies to work for other folks to enjoy. Or maybe you’ll donate the candies! Don’t miss trick-or-treating. Let your kids be kids. They really don’t need to be able to eat what they collect or get a safe treat from neighbors. You can easily handle that part at home yourself.
·    Be the first house with a Teal Pumpkin in your neighborhood! Publicize it in your local paper. Be the change you want to see!

Wishing all food allergy friends a happy and safe Halloween!

26 October 2017

Food Allergy Consumer: Considering Mylan and Kaleo

First things first. Let me begin by stating that I am a huge fan of the Auvi-Q epinephrine autoinjector. Provided it functions as well as the competition or better, I do not think you can beat its discrete size and shape, and its user-friendliness. It's fantastic and we were thrilled when Kaleo put it back on the market in the U.S.

Having observed many things food allergy related for more than a decade now, however, I am concerned by Kaleo's recent initiatives and campaigns. I am getting flashbacks to Mylan's intiatives and campaigns. I remember how enthusiastically bloggers and the non-profit food allergy organizations collaborated with Mylan. I know disease awareness campaigns by pharmaceutical companies are nothing new, and often do provide benefits to patients, but in light of the highly publicized price-gouging by Mylan, one would hope the food allergy community is taking note of Kaleo's similar marketing via awareness campaigns.

While many patients have received Auvi-Q--delightedly--for $0 thanks to Kaleo's amazing Affordability program, countless publications have reported that the list price for Auvi-Q and its starting price for health insurance companies is $4500. Does anyone really think that Kaleo will eternally charge patients $0 for Auvi-Q? How could that be possible? Modernhealthcare.com states "It's been widely reported that the actual list price for Auvi-Q is $4,500, which will be the starting point for insurers to negotiate discounts and rebates. It appears Kaleo will foot the bill for patients with commercial insurers that choose not to cover Auvi-Q." For many of us, health insurance already has astronomical costs, what will happen down the road as a result of the high bill for insurance companies that do cover Auvi-Qs? It all seems too good to be true, and unfortunately, that usually means it is. At some point, something is going to change, but what? We will wait and see.

Now some hail the latest awareness campaign, this time anti-food allergy bullying in collaboration with national food allergy non-profits. I believe I read that 1000 parents of children with food allergies were surveyed. We have about 15 million people with food allergies, with a large percentage of them being children, so 1000 parents is an extremely small sample! And how was this tiny sample of parents recruited and selected?  It just doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy about Auvi-Q. The actual device itself really is impressive all on its own. These campaigns, in my opinion, diminish Kaleo and make it resemble its competitor Mylan; not a good thing. 

I know the Edwards "get" food allergies and I appreciate that. It is noteworthy. And I do love Auvi-Q! But I haven't forgotten how a few years ago, Mylan strategically ingratiated itself with food allergy bloggers, non-profit organizations, and the overall food allergy community with its awareness campaigns and initiatives, as it jacked up the price of its life-saving medicine. So, what is the difference between Mylan's awareness initiatives and campaigns and Kaleo's? And then what is the difference between Mylan and Kaleo as companies? I also have to wonder about the non-profit organizations too--why the silence about Auvi-Q's high starting price for insurance companies, and the silence over the years while the price of Epi-pens rose? I don't have answers to these questions, but they are certainly worth considering. A little consumer skepticism is warranted following the infamous activities of Mylan.
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