Just because something was safe before, does not mean it is safe now. Manufacturers change plants, production lines and ingredients regularly, that means food labels need to be read each and every time. For example, Keebler announced that in April 2016 it began adding Peanut Flour as an ingredient to Austin Sandwich crackers. This used to be a staple snack for many peanut allergic kids.
2.People with allergies don’t get time off from being diligent.
Every meal, every snack, every day requires some level of awareness. The older my daughter gets, the more she takes on the responsibility of checking and re-checking for herself. She does not have the luxury to say “whatever” and just sit down to eat without fully knowing what is in her food. It is exhausting, but there is not an alternative. I will never forget eating potato chips at a party after checking with the host that the food was nut free without thinking about reading each label. When my daughter asked if she could have some I said she could and she (at age 10) asked to read the label only to find they were made with peanut oil. I missed it, but thankfully she did not.
No matter how diligent you are, things happen. Have a written action plan from your doctor, carry medication and know how to use it. Too often accidents turn tragic because medication was not available or not used quickly enough. You hope you never need to use it, but prepare is if you will.
4.Other people will most likely not get it.
The word allergy means different things to different people. Often food sensitivities are explained as allergies. Unfortunately that creates a situation where some people do not realize the severity of life threatening allergies. Just because other people know you have an allergy does not mean they understand what it means to be safe. It is great when you meet other people who get it, but don’t expect that because you ask if there are any nuts in something that you will get an accurate answer.
5.What you don’t see can still hurt you.
Making sure food has no nuts is one thing, but understanding the risk of cross contamination is another. For example, using nut free ingredients on a baking sheet that was used to make peanut butter cookies poses a dangerous risk. Plan ahead, look at restaurant menus and ask questions about the process in the kitchen to prevent cross contamination. Know which manufacturers label for risk and which do not. If you are not sure, check out guides like Snack Safely.
6.Socialization will revolve around food.
The older our children get, the more things they do involve food. My middle schooler is regularly meeting up with her friends at the local Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Parties all have some sort of snack or meal attached. It’s nice to see that many grade schools ban food treats for birthday celebrations however that is not the case outside of the classroom. Learning to navigate social events needs to be taught early. You can’t be everywhere with your child, so you want to teach them how to stay safe around unsafe foods.
Things outside of our control happen. Keep yourself aware. For example, last year a cumin manufacturer found peanut flour in their product which resulted in hundreds of items recalled due to peanut residue. Today the same happened with wheat flour and I realized I have an unopened bag of the affected pretzles in my home right now. A great place to get alerts is to sign up with the FARE website: http://www.foodallergy.org/alerts
8.Use caution eating out.
I believe strongly that most people are inherently good and kind and deep down inside want the best for each other, however when it comes to staying safe we need to take personal responsibility for the amount of risk we are comfortable with. Many restaurant and food service employees can be helpful and understanding, but that doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen. Unfortunately negligent or malicious behavior can also happen, as cited in recent lawsuits with Panera and a UK Restaurant owner jailed over an allergy death. I don’t believe that people with allergies should never eat out, but be aware of risks and don’t expect other people will always keep you safe.
9.Allergies don’t need to define you.
Recognize that having a food allergy is just one tiny part of the big picture. Here is a quote from a chapter on Nut Allergies from the book: Lose That Mommy Guilt
“Your child is not his or her food allergies. She or he is a wonderful, beautiful, kind and spectacular kid who happens to have food allergies. Just because it is a part of everyday life does not mean it needs to be your entire life.”
10. There is always something to be grateful for.
There are many things in life that present challenges. Food allergies are manageable. When we spend so much time focused on what we can’t do or can’t have we lose sight of all that we do have in life. It is important to take time and remember what we have to be grateful for each day. Just because food choices are limited does not mean my child is not able to have fun, enjoy meals, spend time with friends and celebrate like anyone else. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our blessings. Here’s a great way to practice that in few minutes a day: Fill Your BAG Happy.