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.


03 February 2009

Pizza, at Last!


Over the weekend, we attended a child's birthday party. There were about 20 children between the ages of 5 and 9 in attendance, and at least five of those children have life threatening allergies to peanuts. My peanut allergic 5 year old son observed the other children eating pizza as long as he could and then asked if he could have some. He has not had pizza from a pizza place or restaurant in about two years--we were too afraid to risk it. I responded that I did not know where they had purchased the pizza and did not know if it was safe. He really wanted the pizza and decided to take matters into his own hands by questioning the father of the birthday child (also a PA child). I sat and watched. Had all of my warnings resonated with him? What would he ask? What would he decide to do? I was ready to jump into action but held back to see how he did.

He asked "Is this pizza from a peanut-free facility?" "Is it safe for me?" "Where did you buy this pizza?" "Can you give my mother directions?" Then, after he had satisfied himself by asking all the questions he could think of, he asked me if it was okay for him to eat it. I said yes, and sat watching. He took a bite carefully and waited. Then, he declared "This pizza is good. I think I am going to eat the whole piece!" He leaned over to the boy next to him and said, "See, I'm eating it too!"

After we left the party, he thanked me for letting him try it. I told him that I was glad he enjoyed it but that it was a little scary for Mommy. He said, "You know what? I was scared too." He enjoyed it so much, we decided to have pizza from a pizza place for supper that night. I summoned up my courage and checked the internet for tips, read websites, and decided Papa Johns seemed a safe choice. We ordered, we ate, and everything was fine. 

So now I wonder, what does everyone else do? I know I tend to be on the extra-careful side. How big is the extra-careful camp? Thanks to polldaddy.com, we've devised a little survey to get some sense of what other food allergic families do for pizza. The survey is in the left sidebar under my profile, and also can be accessed thru this link, FAB Pizza Survey. There are only 7 questions, so please take a moment and participate! Thanks! Oh, and as always, feel free to comment too.

45 comments:

Jenny said...

There's nothing like letting your PA child experience what the other kids are eating at a B-day party! Glad your guy got to participate.

Sometimes Italian restaurants or pizza places can use peanut oil, unlikely though it seems. We've always asked about it and no one ever has said they use it. But we stil ask anyway!

That said, we stick to certain places that have been successful for us in the past.

It's good to branch out with new restaurants now and then if only to make the family's world a little bigger, but you're certainly right to be cautious. I say, if you find a place that works for you, become regular customers so they get to know you. And check on their ingredients frequently--sometimes things change.

I'm interested to see your survey results!

Jeanne said...

We are E,P,TN allergic here. We tend to make our own pizzas with a dough I make from scratch. We also love Papa John's as well b/c there are no eggs or peanut interactions there.

kelly said...

great story! those are great little moments of victory!

chris said...

Congrats on the pizza, parties are always tough. We usually ask about the ingredients in pizza and i'll ask to see lists of ingredients. We usually stick to a few pizza places that we know are safe but have ventured out also. So far we have never had a problem with pizza but we always ask about the ingredients. We stay away from Pizza Hut, I just learned last year their sauce may contain nuts.

Jennifer B said...

Thanks, everyone for your comments. As you can imagine, my son was just ecstatic to eat pizza from a pizza place, and eat what everyone else was eating. For me, it was one of the moments of re-realizing how significant a role food plays in socializing. I've known it, I am aware of it, but this just underscored it again for me.

Food Allergy Assistant said...

Good for you for letting him ask questions and being a part of the decision about safe foods for him. I'm so glad all went well and to hear how empowering this experience was for both of you.

Regarding pizza, my son needs to avoid dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, so we just make pizza at home. Every Sunday is pizza night at our house and my husband makes fantastic- way better than a pizza shop's- pizza. We also keep a few homemade pizza crusts in the freezer so we can make a quick safe pizza for parties or other events.

ramona said...

As a mom, I think what's really exciting about this moment you've described is watching your child successfully use the tools you have taught him to advocate for his own health and safety. He obviously learned what the right questions were from listening to his parents. It sounds as though you guys are doing a good job of preparing him to deal with this on his own.

Anonymous said...

So, it was the birthday party of a child who was allergic to peanuts, and that child was eating the pizza and you didn't trust the pizza and the parents of peanut allergic birthday child to have checked this pizza place out? That whole story does not seem to make sense.

Jennifer B said...

Thanks, Food Allergy Assistant and ramona. I was really grateful to have an opportunity to watch him in action on this very critical challenge. He did a great job!

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for being so involved with your child - yet you are admittedly on the over-cautious side.
Observationally, you seem a little dramatic. Food doesn't really have anything to do with social interaction, unless you are the one making an issue(especially when it's something so widely recognized as a peanut allergy!!).
Don't turn a food allergy into a stigma - Relax a little, so long as you have an epipen close.
You can't be so afraid to die that you forget to live.

Jennifer B said...

Welcome, Anonymous! I am going to assume you do not have experience living with a food allergy or caring for someone who is food allergic. Determining whether a food is safe is much more complicated than "trusting" another child's parents or a restaurant. The wrong decision could result in death.

Food allergic people can have different levels of allergic sensitivity. They also receive different advice from their allergists on what foods to avoid and whether they can safely ingest trace amounts of a food, such as peanuts. If you would like to learn more about food allergies in general, I recommend starting with a visit to www.foodallergy.org. For information specific to peanut allergies, Dr. Michael C. Young (of Massachusetts!) has an excellent book, The Peanut Allergy Answer Book. His book would quickly clarify things for you.

Jennifer B said...

Welcome, 2nd Anonymous! I agree with most of what you've said. You'll be glad to know we're already planning on more pizza this weekend! (It may take him a while to tire of it. He's been asking about it all week.)

Not to worry, I am certain he's not stigmatized by the peanut allergy. As you can see, it doesn't slow him a bit! I'll try to take your advice and worry less. :) Thanks!

J's Mommy said...

Anonymous- I agree with Jennifer B, you must not live with a child with food allergies. You would truly be amazed and saddened at the amount of food you are limited to. My 3 yr old son is allergic to all nuts, sesame, beans, eggs, oil fish, and lentils. More foods, than any non-allergy family realizes, contains or "MAY" contain several of those ingredients. Yes, an epi-pen is helpful but it is not necessarily a life saver as reoccurances are common.
Jennifer- congrats on the pizza and all the other triumphs you make in the upcoming days & months!

Jennifer B said...

J's Mommy, thanks for your kind thoughts! Triumph is the perfect word.

Anonymous said...

I am not anonymous, but I live with a food allergic child (dairy and peanuts) and I agree with her that this story is a bit sad. I absolutely agree that empowering kids to ask questions and know how to handle their allergies is key (congrats to your son for lessons learned), but not trusting a family with a PA kid to provide a PA safe food, or at least not asking first, seems a bit overly paranoid. We can't wrap these kids in bubble wrap. And I assume you had your epi pen handy in any event.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever found a pizza place that uses peanut oil? I am not talking about anecdotal "evidence" . . . We have asked at dozens of places and they have all been safe.

Jennifer B said...

Welcome, not-Anonymous! Thanks for sharing your views. I respectfully disagree.

It's difficult (and boring!) to give all the details in a post. Perhaps I should clarify by explaining that my 5 y.o was actually just tagging along with me, so big brother could attend the party--we were chauffeuring. You see, big brother is not PA, and since he was the one attending the party, there was no reason to inquire about PA safety of the pizza, cake or ice cream. When my 5 y.o (with PA) is invited to a party, we handle the food part differently for obvious reasons.

So, I respectfully disagree. We can't assume that all parents of PA children handle the allergy the same way or that all PA children have the same level of sensitivity. And it would be rude to inquire about the food when my PA son isn't invited! Everyone present seemed to think it was handled quite gracefully. The parents of the birthday child offered pizza to everyone present, my 5 y.o expressed an interest and asked all the right questions. I think J's Mommy used a perfect word, it was a triumph, and not sad in the least.

Jennifer B said...

Hello Anonymous (4?). Yes, just the other day, I noticed that the menu for Rome Restaurant in Bellingham or Franklin, Massachusetts states that they use peanut oil for its fried foods. They also make pizzas (not fried in peanut oil!), but there's always that tiny chance of cross-contact. I know there is another one in Sharon or Stoughton (Massachusetts) too. A fellow blogger mentioned there are some around Chicago. They are out there.

Anonymous said...

> Has anyone ever found
> a pizza place that
> uses peanut oil?
> I am not talking about
> anecdotal "evidence" . . .
> We have asked at dozens
> of places and they have
> all been safe.

We are friends with a family with a serious PA (residual peanut dust on a cleaned airplane from a previous flight caused reaction) and our favorite local pizza place uses peanut oil (at least according to our friend with the PA kid).

All the other local pizza places are fine.

That said, more kids die from choking each year than peanut allergies.

This story is a bit odd, in that a large party, "at least" 25% of the kids had PAs!? Our friends exercise extreme caution, bordering on neurosis/OCD (seems to be a common theme with parents of PA kids), but usually their kid is the only one at group event that has a PA.

Jennifer B said...

Welcome Anonymous #5, thanks for stopping by!

You know, you are the 1st person to comment on the number of PA kids. It is odd, to say the least! Now, I must add--3 of those 5 are siblings, so that is a little different than 5 different children from 5 different families. Still, you are right, that's a high percentage.

Elaine said...

I don't even know how to comment on this post. I really can not believe what I am reading from people. I am saddened by the condecending tone,and total lack of disrespect to the blog owner.

Everyone's comfort level is completely different. I have had two very different allergist explain things very differently.

I know PA people that eat things, we just never would. I do not judge them though. I do what makes my family comfortable.

Jennifer, I just want to say, I enjoy what you write, and am so glad your son enjoyed the pizza.

Jennifer B said...

Elaine, thank you for your kind thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read these comments... I am the mother of an older peanut allergic child... just sent him off to college this year. In our early years we were very cautious ("bordering on neurosis" as one blogger put it.) As we went through all the stages of childhood we adapted to new challenges and accepted the freedom in letting him go on his own with his own responsibilities. It was difficult and never without worry.

I will tell you it gets easier as they get older. My advice to a younger parent would be do not let your fear limit your life and living. Our doctor told us our son's RAST test was the highest level he had ever seen, and it continues to be high, yet he has never had a reaction after his first one (at age 1).

When he was in elementary school, there were no special tables or peanut free classrooms. People thought we were crazy for suggesting it. He was careful, chose his friends carefully and was always prepared with an Epipen.

While in high school, he worked at Fenway Park as a vendor (not selling peanuts of course, but other food items) and was surrounded by peanuts and fans eating them and exchanging money with him. He washed his hands frequently throughout the game and never had a problem.

I am happy he had the confidence to do this and the knowledge to be careful and educate others.

Jennifer B said...

Thank you, Anonymous #6, for your thoughtful comment.

Anonymous said...

Maybe your child no longer has an allergy or it was just in his head? I have heard of this happening. I would go to a doctor and have him retested.

I also wouldn't annoy everyone else at the party for your own needs. Bring your own food and enjoy the party.

Rational Jenn said...

I've just gotta chime in here. It is the responsibility of each parent/food allergic-individual to perform their own risk assessment and make decisions according to their level of sensitivity, doctor's advice, past history, the information gathered from friends, family, research, restaurant staff....

I trust that other PA families will do their own research. But. It is still MY responsibility to do my own assessment for my kid (who is only 6). I will certainly take what the other family has decided into account, especially if they have similar comfort levels and allergies and I know them well.

But I would be remiss if I substituted someone else's judgment for my own.

This risk assessment process is very misunderstood by people who do not live with food allergies. An acceptable risk for one family may not be an acceptable risk for another. We need to respect that different people are going to make different decisions based on their unique circumstances.

Jennifer B--congrats on a successful trip and for teaching your son so well.

Jennifer B said...

Thanks, Rational Jenn, for your comment and support! Very well said.

Ruth Smith said...

I have not taken the time to read past the first few anonymous comments b/c they sound much like the comments I've become used to all over the internet.

I have a child with multiple life threatening food allergies. And no one is allowed to give or approve food for him but his parents, close family members, and a few close friends.

No, I do not allow even parents of other food allergic children to decide what is safe for my child. To me "that" makes no sense.

We all have our own comfort zones, beliefs; no two food allergic children or parents are alike. I know of parents who let their food allergic children eat questionable food as long as they are close to a hospital. They are not nor should they be in the position to make that decision for my child. And epi pens are not fool proof. In fact a percentage of them fail.

I'm not sure what the issue is here. Jennifer B let her very young child ask questions and eventually eat the pizza himself. She wrote a very honest post about what it is like for her to live with a food allergic child.

Regarding why pizza is or can be unsafe...perhaps others have not done their research and read about how one woman died from pine nuts in a pizza sauce. She didn't think to ask..b/c after all..why would there be nuts in a pizza sauce?

Jennifer B did not criticize these other parents for choosing the pizza or how they manage their child's allergies. I just don't understand why others feel the need or that it's their right to criticize her or others.

Regardless of whether you have a food allergic child, they are not one in the same.

Perhaps it's time we just all support each other as human beings. There are other things to worry and fight about in this world.

As an aside, we had two bday parties today each of which we brought our own cupcake. The first one DS was able to eat the pizza b/c it was pizza we had before. Tomorrow we have another bday of a good friend who went out of her way to try to find a safe cake..but we told her not to worry and we are again bringing a cupcake. Everyone had fun today and DS was safe and happy!

Kudos to you Jennifer B for being so diplomatic. I wish I had your grace.

Jennifer B said...

Ruth, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and kind words!

Bob said...

30 yrs old, allergic to peanuts (and others, walnuts are really bad) my whole life and I have never heard of this level of paranoia.

Yes, some kids die from this, but it sounds like your over cautious side is interfering with his life. When he is proud to be 'normal' like the other kids eating pizza, that should be your clue.

I should also add that my allergies faded in intensity as I got older. I have accidentally eaten nuts many times in my life with various reaction severity, including my throat swelling shut. I carry an epi pen and benedryl, just in case. I never would have known that some types of nuts are now ok for me if I had been indoctrinated to only eat from a pre-approved 'safe' list as you describe. How will your child know if the allergies fade?

At 5, this may be appropriate for him, but I urge you to lighten up, especially as he gets older.

Rational Jenn said...

Bob, a few quick points you may not have considered.

1. Preventing anaphylactic episodes increases a child's chance of outgrowing the allergy. "Paranoia" or "vigilance" as I like to call it, when the child is young can have a real benefit.

2. There are blood tests to monitor the level of sensitivity to food allergens. There should be no need to chance it with a known allergen or a "may contains" food. I don't know if they had those tests when you were growing up as with PA, but they are available now. Seems a safer alternative to me.

3. Past history does not predict future performance. In other words, a history of mild reactions does not mean that future reactions will be mild. Anaphylaxis is very unpredictable, hence the need to have an Epi on hand at all times, just in case.

4. We are talking about children here. Every food allergy parent I know of realizes that their children will grow up and need to handle their allergy independently as adults. No adult is going to eat off of Mommy's Safe List, very true. Keep in mind, though, a small child needs that, especially if they are trying to prevent further episodes of anaphylaxis in order to help the child outgrow the allergy.

Obviously, you are comfortable taking a risk with trying new food, and I'm glad you have an Epi on hand. I do recommend you have your levels checked, either via a blood test (RAST) or skin prick test, to determine if your levels have really gone down.

As my son grown older, further testing will show if his allergy "fades"--it would be too high of a risk for our situation to just have him eat foods and see what happens.

Jennifer B said...

Bob, I am glad to hear that your allergies have faded in intensity with age. Since you have peanut and nut allergies, you probably will agree that there is a learning curve to living with food allergies. I certainly feel more knowledgeable about peanut allergy now than I did a couple of years ago.

Without the peanut allergy, my son would probably be more familiar with restaurant pizzas, but I have to confess I am not keen on eating out with small children in general. Regardless of allergies, eating out is costly and small children don't exactly eat their meals or even enjoy sitting still for that long. I expect eating out will be more enjoyable as the kids mature, and we'll continue to help him ask the right questions and make good choices. Having the chance to unexpectedly try new pizza provided a perfect opportunity to see how well these lessons have taken, and I must say, so far so good!

Allergy Mom said...

Jennifer, you are being far more gracious to these anonymous commentators than I would be. Did someone with an axe to grind link to this post? Take it as a testament to the success of your blog!

Congrats on teaching your son well and taking steps forward. Due to my son's multiple allergies, he is unable to have any commercial pizza, but he sure loves the homemade stuff!

Bob, my son has his blood tested annually by his allergist, so we know that his response to two allergens has diminished, but they are still unsafe. I hope someday he will outgrow the allergies and we will be able to confirm it with food challenges in an appropriate medical environment.

And to the rest of the anonymous commentators: there may be few annual deaths due to food allergies, but that is a testament to the care taken by parents of food allergic children. My son's body reacts to certain foods as your child's body does to rat poison, and I do not play Russian roulette with his life. So, with all due respect, take your backseat parenting and back off. Aren't there children out there who are abused, neglected or hungry that could use your help?

Jennifer B said...

Thanks, Rational Jenn, for taking the time to make such excellent points.

I'd like to add that we--like other parents of food allergic children--follow the advice of an allergist. Our allergist specializes in peanut allergy and literally "wrote the book" on it. His advice was very clear: no food containing peanuts or tree nuts, and no food from a facility that processes peanuts or tree nuts because of the risk of cross-contamination. He was very emphatic about it.

Jennifer B said...

Allergy Mom, thank you for your comment and support. I enjoyed your remark about the axe to grind! The "anonymouses" are out in force!

This pizza post is featured on the home page of the Boston Globe's Boston.com site this weekend, so Food Allergy Buzz is really busy this weekend. Speaking of which, it's rather exciting to have all of these visitors. Thanks, Boston.com for featuring Food Allergy Buzz on the home page! Happy to be on the home page anytime.

Jennifer said...

Jennifer,

Congrats to getting on the home page of Boston.com. I am sure you know that I think that your blog is AWESOME, and all these "anonymous's" are only a tribute to what a great job you are doing getting your message out there. You are such a gracious and well written blogger, that you are the perfect person to respond with logic and compassion to those I would rather kick in the shins :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this experience. As one who has grown up with serious food and other allergies ... I say have "Trusty Epi-Pen and not be too far in the Sticks will travel with ease and have fun"! Teach him how to use the Epi-Pen and to call for help from anywhere. Have an ID bracelet on him and/or a laminated typed card you design with diagnosis and doctors to call who know him. His social time is more important that scrutinizing his every bite. Kids have challenges ... that is a give ... yours just be more challenging, that's all. :)

Jennifer B said...

Thanks, Jennifer for your comment and kind words!

Thanks for stopping by Anonymous #8. We never go anywhere without our handy dandy Epipen and MedicAlert bracelet--that's good advice. As children mature and grow older, they undoubtedly accumulate more life experiences and gain more freedom. All in good time--he's only 5! We'll continue to help him ask the right questions and make good choices. So far so good!

Anonymous said...

There is being smart and cautious about things and then there is being paranoid and not enjoying life. My sense is that you fall in the latter. Coming from and allergic family which has just about every allergy know to man kind you just need to be smart about things but you also need to let your children live a normal life and not turn them into meek cowardly paranoid individuals who will be given prozac down the line because of anxiety issues their parents have bred into them.

That being said best of luck to you and your family. Be smart, be cautious, but also dont forget to live life to the fullest.

Jennifer B said...

Anonymous #9, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Beware making so many assumptions based on one post, you know what they say about assuming...! :)

Jenny said...

Jennifer, what is up with all of these "Anonymous" people? The fact that your post was "linked" to a newspaper explains it. There is a lot of ignorance out there, which your blog seeks to dispel. That's why it's so valuable.

The reason why people are so hostile to those of us who have food allergies in our family is because they don't understand how serious it is. Also, we aren't coming up with these food restrictions on our own--our doctors/allergists are giving them to us based on medical test results and/or severe reactions.

Jennifer, you have never struck me as "paranoid" or overly cautious and I applaud your continued efforts to keep your son healthy, happy and safe from a severe reaction.

Snarky comments and all--you've kept your cool and all of us food allergy parents could take a page from your playbook.

I wish some of these people would educate themselves about what a nut allergy really is before they get so aggressive. Also, for some reason I don't understand, you never see these types of comments regarding shellfish allergies, for example. But mention peanuts and the claws come out!! I don't understand it and never will.

Jennifer, Keep up the good work!

Jennifer B said...

Jenny, thanks for your support and kind words. It means a lot.

Ruth Smith said...

I just want to point out again that not all food allergies are created equal.

It might be easy for someone whose child gets a stomach ache to say not to be so paranoid. However, if you've faced anaphylaxis you will surely take more precautions.

Jennifer B-great blog, great job, and kudos for getting on Boston.com. If anything these anon posts bumped your blog up for others to benefit and learn from.

Jesseka said...

It is very frustrating to read all these anonymous comments especially when most of them are saying they are or come from a family that is allergic to various things. Often times I feel it is me against the world trying to protect my child and educate people on his allergies. The only people I feel even remotely understand are other people who either have food allergies or have a child with food allergies. I think instead of berating another's choice on how they handle a particular situation we should stand up for one another because most people just don't get it.

leslie said...

so what if your child has a peanut and dairy allergy, what to do then? I would like for him to experience tasting pizza but not until I find a safe place or make my own dough. do anyone know how to make a pizza dough for a child with these allergies

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