Food Allergies 101

Our house is full of allergies...pollen, dust, medicine, etc. Worst of all, A has VERY serious food allergies. Allergens so serious that they've sent her to the ER, that she carries an epipen, that she has a detailed, comprehensive plan that changes how her classroom functions at school, including more frequent hand washing, snack rules, designated seats in the cafeteria, etc. One tiny bite of anything with milk in it causes a severe reaction. Don't get me started on nuts...

Here's the thing...we are realistic about her allergies. I would never expect a party hostess to make an allergen-free cake for her, or safe pizza, or treats that are allergen-free. It's next to impossible for someone who doesn't live it day to day, and, honestly, they just don't taste as good as other snacks. We always expect to feed her when we're out. We're happy to do it...it saves you the trouble, and it gives us peace of mind. To be truthful, we don't operate a dairy, egg, shellfish, sunflower free home. We do not keep peanut products of any kind in our house. It's just too risky. We still drink regular milk, we eat eggs, etc. We are just very careful not to cross-contaminate. 

I wouldn't wish this diet on anyone. I don't petition my school to be nut-free (peanut butter is a WIC staple. It's here to stay in public schools.) So I work with school and her teachers to ensure the safest environment possible, and we put all the precautions in place. School has 'been there, done that.' They know the drill. How about when she's at a friend or relative's house? Many people think it's as easy as 'don't drink milk', 'don't eat eggs', 'don't eat nuts.' That couldn't be farther from the truth. Here are a few things you maybe didn't think of...

1) I'm not being picky. I'm trying to keep my daughter out of the ER or worse.

When I move her away from your child who has a handful of PB crackers, I'm not being a helicopter mom. I'm actually being considerate. I could be a pest and hover over your child, but, instead, I choose to remove my daughter from a potentially unsafe situation and let yours keep on keepin' on. I will speak up if I worry about safety (your kid literally has to chase my child with her sticky hands), but any parent with half a brain in 2016 should know that washing your hands after an Uncrustable is just common sense. Peanut allergies are everywhere. 

2) No. Just because you are lactose-intolerant, it doesn't mean you 'get it.' 

A's dairy allergy is so severe that her breathing becomes impaired. You might get a belly ache and fart a bit. Not even close...

3) Just because it's organic, doesn't mean it's safe!

There's organic milk, organic peanut butter, organic eggs...they're healthier, but no safer. 

4) Hand sanitizer is NOT the same as washing with soap and water. 

Allergens aren't germs. Washing with soap and water actually removes the allergen and sends it down the drain. Rubbing hand sanitizer on your hands after a peanut butter sandwich leaves you with clean smelling hands still covered in a sticky, dangerous food. 

5) Be careful with utensils.

An example: there is a safe butter substitute, Earth Balance, that we use in our house. It tastes good, and it's safe for A. Easy enough, right? Wrong! If I am buttering a piece of A-safe bread, I can dip the knife, spread the butter, dip again. Repeat. What if I'm buttering an English muffin for me? One dip is all I get. If I spread that butter on my English Muffin, then dip it back in the butter, guess what I've done? I've added trace amounts of allergens back the butter. Into the trash it goes. If you need a lot, you take a big scoop, put it on your plate, use your knife back and forth as you wish. The second your knife touches an unsafe food item, it DOESN'T go back in the butter. This goes for almond butter, or any other similar spread. 

6) Assume the food has an allergen. It's best to feed her nothing than be lazy.

Years ago, we had an incident at A's preschool. Her cook at school used to go over the menu with me each month, and underline what she could have. It was great to be able to include her. A few months and a new cook later, we end up in the ER struggling to breathe. Why? Because the cook was to watch for dairy in her foods, and didn't think that 'cheese' as an ingredient was a problem. Seriously? We don't feed her and THEN check. We scrupulously review the ingredients in EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM before it goes in her mouth. If it's safe, we feed it to her. If it might be safe, she doesn't eat it. Do you know how easy it is to forget that butter, milk, cheese are in everything!

7) Do not wipe your face on my hand towels! While you're at it, use a disposable. 

Just ate some shrimp, some crab, some ice cream? It takes a pretty thorough washing to get rid of it, so no swishing your hands through the water and calling them clean, okay? Then you splash some water on your face to clean it. When you use my hand towel, you are simply transferring those allergens from your face and hands to something she uses every single day. We keep disposable hand towels out for guests. Please use them!

8) No, gluten-free is not ok. 

She's just fine with gluten. The health determination notwithstanding...she can eat it, it doesn't hurt her, I don't care if it's gluten-free when you're trying to tell me it's safe. 

9) When I ask if she can have the french fries at a restaurant, stop looking at me like I'm an idiot. 

'They're just potatoes', said the snotty server at a local restaurant. 'Really? What kind of oil are they cooked in? Do they share a fryer with mozzarella sticks or fried shrimp?' 'Yes.' Ok then...stop acting like I'm crazy, dude. 

10) I'm not making it up. 

Yes, in this day and age, everyone seems to have some sort of food issue. Guess what? Lots are real. There has been a huge increase in food allergies, and there are number of theories for this. So you have a neighbor who has decided not to eat gluten because of an article she read, or someone has switched from cow's milk for their own reason (though please don't tell me about your voluntary decision to go gluten-free as a means to commiserate!)...it doesn't make my daughter's issues an less serious. Luckily, most people can pick and choose what they can eat. We can't.

A has a very limited selection when it comes to what she can eat. It affects her social life as she can't always have sleepovers or playdates unless I am 100% certain that the parents understand our situation (luckily I have an amazing group of friends who bend over backwards for her!) 

So, it comes down to this. I want to keep her safe. I'm not asking you to change a single thing about yours or your child's diet. I might take a minute longer in line because I have questions. I might ask a lot of questions before a school event. I rely on the decency and consideration of others to make my job a bit easier...I usually get it. Sometimes I get an eye roll instead, but that says a lot more about them than it does about us!