Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to School

We're coming down to the wire for sending our kids back to school. Most parents view this time as - like the Staples commercials suggests - "the most wonderful time of the year". Parents of children with food allergies more often view this as the most stressful time of the year.

Along with the return to classes comes the return of communal lunches, school bus snacking, and field trips with school-provided food. To the parent of a food-allergic child, each of these have the potential for cross-contamination and allergic reactions.

Anaphylaxis Canada has put together a Back to School podcast to help share strategies for returning to school. It can be found under the Anaphylaxis Learning Centre on their website. Below is also a checklist they originally posted for returning to school.

Back to School Checklist:

Educate your child about his/her allergies and review key recommendations:

  • Do not share foods or take food from others.
  • Read food labels. Avoid any foods with precautionary warnings, such as may contain.
  • Always carry an epinephrine auto-injector, i.e. EpiPen or Twinject when age appropriate.
  • Wash their hands before and after eating.
  • Wear medical identification, such as a MedicAlert bracelet.
  • Talk to others about their allergies.

Work with your child's school staff and community:

  • Establish open communication when developing avoidance strategies and plans. Strive for allergy-safe, not allergen-free environments.
  • Provide completed medical forms and in-date auto-injectors at the start of the school year.
  • Advocate for no eating policies on buses and other settings where no adult supervision (for younger children) is provided.
  • Help educate the school community about anaphylaxis with credible allergy-related information.
  • Consult with foodservice/cafeteria staff to inquire about their allergen management policies for food prepared at school.

Review emergency procedures with staff:

Stay informed

Remember, anaphylaxis management is a shared responsibility that includes allergic children, parents, educators and the entire school community. Only by working together can we help keep our kids safe.

We wish you all a happy and safe school year!

Anaphylaxis Canada

I (Shawn) would also like to add a few more resources for you from earlier posts:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Peanut-Free Contest !!!

If you haven't already, make sure you enter the Pack a lunch with panache contest from Dare Foods!

As a back to school treat - for the parents :) - Dare is giving away a great lunch tote from Built, along with a Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle. AND you also get a selection of Dare's peanut-free snack products to go in the tote!

Get more details and sign up for the contest here.

... Sorry, but the contest is only open to Canadian residents.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So Close, and yet So Far

Peanut-Free Snacks!

This is the sign that greeted me last night when I walked into the local grocery store. Hallelujah! Along with all of the Back to School binders and pens and backpacks, here were some school-safe snacks for parents to pick up as well. I wandered over to check out the stash.

Large packs of Mars bars, Tootsie Rolls, Wonka candy, and Dare Bear Paws all stared at me with smiling "No Peanut" symbols. But then, what was that? There's some Cadbury boxes on the shelf. Has Cadbury finally joined the ranks of companies offering peanut-free lines? Is that a Caramilk package I see?

I went in for a closer look. Yes, it was a Caramilk package. I eagerly turned it over, ready to scan through the ingredient list for the may contain warning, newly free of peanuts.

Nope. There it was in bold lettering - may contain peanuts, tree nuts ... Then I saw the Mr. Big package next to it.

Now I knew there was a problem. One of the main ingredients in a Mr Big bar is peanuts. Read the label - there it is. Mind you, the may contain warning only listed "tree nuts", but up just one line from it was the word "peanuts". I grabbed a bag of both and walked to the nearest cashier.

"Is there a Duty Manager I could talk with about the Peanut Free section?", I asked. Now, I know that a 6'4, 350-lb man coming up to you late at night may seem intimidating, so I smiled and made sure to stand a "safe" distance from her. After a second-take and a little blink, she called upstairs and shortly thereafter, the night manager came downstairs.

"First off, thank you for the peanut-free section," I started (It's always good to start and end with praise, sandwiching the concern in the middle - Management 101). "But I noticed there are a few things in the section that contain nuts."

"Oh? Well my understanding is that it's only the one wall that is peanut-free, she replied."

Wait, what? - that part was thankfully only in my head - "Ok, but couldn't that be a bit confusing?", I asked as we walked towards the small corner at the store entrance.

She looked over the layout which was "only supposed" to be peanut-free, and nodded in approval. "Yep, this is the side."

This side mostly contained cookies. The candy bars behind me were apparently a mixed bag of nut and no-nut treats and separated from the safe snacks only by a small block of drink boxes.

"Ok," I calmly retorted, "but again, couldn't this layout be confusing?" I then turned to the Cadbury boxes and pulled out another bag (I still held mine) for her to read the label. "See, it says 'peanuts' right here. If someone picked up one of these, thinking they're peanut-free - because it's in the 'peanut-free' section - and gave it to their child for lunch, and then that child ate it while sitting next to my airborne-allergic son, that would be enough to send him to the emergency room."

"Oh, but ... Oh!" Her eyes went wide as the lights came on, and she grabbed the 'peanut-free' sign and moved it next to the end-cap of the side with the cookies. "I'll get the Grocery department to change this for tomorrow," she apologized (it was almost closing time). "The last thing we want is to send a child to the hospital."

She then picked up one of each bag of candy to check the ingredients. We then spent a few minutes reading the backs of the packages together, discussing shared manufacturing lines and differing label laws for Canada and other countries. She then figured out which ones would need to be moved from the section to make the whole corner "peanut-free" rather than one side of the shared shelving unit. I thanked her and then went deeper into the store to find the oil that I originally went there to buy (100% Vegetable Oil; Ingredients: canola and/or soybean oil).

For those of you pissed off that the food police are at it again, let me say that we're not trying to remove all peanut-containing products, or asking manufacturers to change recipes for a minority of consumers that can't eat their products anyway. We're only trying to make it easier for all consumers to make informed decisions. Not everyone is as used to reading the labels so carefully as the parent of a food-allergic child.

Allergy awareness happens at all times of the day, in all places. My wife or I will probably drop in later this afternoon to check on the section again.

Binky Goes Nuts

Helping a food-allergic child understand their allergy can be difficult. There's also the fear of singling them out and over-protecting them. All three of our boys are allergic to peanuts to some degree, with Liam having the worst of all reactions - analphylactic to trace amounts. His blood pressure drops and, if we don't catch it, he goes comatose. More than enough nights have been spent waking him up evrey 15-20 minutes and waiting for his secondary reaction - projectile vomiting. When this is the option, there really is no such thing as "over protecting".

The makers of the Arthur cartoon series understand a child's need to see that they are "normal", and even included food allergies. One of the main characters - Binky, the school bully - has a peanut allergy, and the show Binky Goes Nuts deals specifically with this.

You can download a number of pdf files in the parent and teacher section of the pbskids website, located here, in their Hooray for Health series. The DVD of the episode is available at Amazon - in Canada here and the US site here. If you want to preview it, I found the episode in two parts on YouTube (I didn't put it there, so don't please yell at me for not respecting copyright):

Binky Goes Nuts, part 1 of 2
Binky Goes Nuts, part 2 of 2

I found a list of other TV characters that deal with food allergies that I posted here. Did you know there are characters in Star Trek: Enterprise and StarGate: Atlantis with food allergies?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hidden Allergens

There's a commercial for peanut-free Quaker Chewy Bars up here in Canada that shows a mom about to put a cupcake in her child's lunch when all of a sudden a peanut jumps up through the top of the cupcake. The purpose of the commercial - other than to sell the Chewy Bars of course - is to highlight the hidden allergens in some products. At the end of the commercial we see the peanut "in jail" within the box of cupcakes that declares on its side may contain peanuts.

The point is, we can't tell what's in a product unless (a) we make it ourselves, or (b) the manufacturer clearly labels what is present as an ingredient or may be present due to cross-contamination from shared lines. And these allergens can be anywhere. Check out the short list of non-food items that I posted earlier that contain peanuts.

I have also noticed for the past month or so that there have been visits to the blog from someone typing "allergy to freezie" in Google. I don't know if that means that they are looking on behalf of them or a loved one to understand how they can be allergic to a freezie, not realizing that it may be through cross-contamination with nuts or some other allergen. Whatever the reason, my heart goes out to them.

As parents of food-allergic children, we each have lists of "safe" foods that our kids can eat and longer lists of foods to avoid. All we can do is share our discoveries, prayers and experiences with each other. For that reason, I'm listing a few links here in the hope that they help you as they've helped us. I caution you that these lists are far from exhaustive, and as always, may change without warning. Always read the labels, and ask questions whenever possible. Also, note that legislation, labelling and products are different in each region.

Our family restaurant list
Peanut free snacks
Our "safe snacks" letter for schools
A list of "safe foods" from the Toronto Catholic District School Board

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Scary Statistics

According to an article in the Fall 2009 Allergic Living magazine, there are many, many, potentially dangerous misconceptions about food allergies. A study done last February surveyed 2000 Americans about their knowledge surrounding food allergies.

The numbers …

  • 46% thought there is a cure for food allergies
  • 66% thought daily medication can prevent allergic reactions
  • 50% thought a milk allergy is the same as lactose intolerance
  • 51% didn’t know allergies run in families
  • 41% were aware that egg allergies are common in children
  • 33% felt allergic children should have separate lunch tables

With the new school year fast approaching, it is imperative that we as parents of food-allergic children find a way to raise awareness on the seriousness of food allergies. The difficulty is in not becoming militant in our concern for our own child(ren)’s safety and in so doing, alienate and anger those with whom we need to cooperate.

The survey also showed that while most people believe that schools should have food-allergy policies, two-thirds thought it would be unfair if their own child could not bring a peanut-butter sandwich to school. Scary stuff.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mmmm, Zucchini Bread

We saved up our zucchini from last week’s and this week’s farm share from Cooper’s Farm and decided to make some zucchini bread.

8 cups of pre-shredded zucchini :-)

Here’s the recipe we ended up using (shortened here for 2 cups of zucchini instead of 8 cups, though – we bake a lot) …

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit ( 165 degrees C). Grease and flour two 8x4 inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil and sugar. Stir in zucchini and vanilla. Combine flour, cinnamon, soda, baking powder and salt; stir into the egg mixture. Divide batter into prepared pans.

We decided to make chocolate zucchini bread too. If you want to make some, add 1 cup of melted chocolate chips and another 1/2 cup of un-melted chocolate chips and mix them through just before you divide the batter into the loaf pans

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until done.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Better Selection

On the heels of yesterday’s exclusion of the Selection brand of foods, I am happy to report on finding a peanut-safe brand of flours for baking.


Oak Manor Farms, located in Tavistock, Ontario, sells a number of certified organic products, including spelt flour, which is milled onsite. I called them to ask about cross-contamination, and was pleased to hear that they do not produce any nut products onsite – although they can’t state that they are “peanut free”. The example I was given was that one of the harvesters may be eating peanuts while harvesting the grains … which is far enough out of the production cycle for us. :)

So if you’re looking for a good supplier for peanut-safe and organic flours to be used in baking, I’d give the folks at Oak Manor Farms a look-see.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Risky Selection

One of the endless tasks in living with food allergies is reading package labels and ingredient lists. From party snacks to groceries, we have to be diligent in looking for allergens – like peanuts – or possible trace amounts.

We’ve found our favourite brands – those that we know and love and use daily – and brands that we need to avoid. One of the in-store brands that we absolutely love is the Compliments brand from the Sobeys family of stores (see Camping with Allergies), because of their clarity in allergy labelling. Sadly, we’ve had to add the Selection brand from the Metro family of stores to our “do not touch” list.

In an attempt to find allergy information for baking supplies, Krystyne called the customer service number and was told that there are no allergy warnings on any of that brand’s packaging. The reason given was that the manufacturing facilities change often enough to (they feel) preclude them from changing the labelling.

The customer service rep on the other end of the phone was very understanding – she has friends with food allergies – and she recommended to us that we avoid the Selection line entirely to err on the side of caution.

So we will be avoiding the Selection brand whenever we come across it in our shopping, at least until the national legislation on food labelling for allergens comes through. However, to the Metro chain’s credit, they do carry a number of products that are CAC-certified to be free from specific allergens.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Three months ago today my wife and I started this blog … interestingly enough, on our wedding anniversary. We thought it would be a good way to help other parents of children with food allergies – peanuts specifically, but since we all have to read labels and work at helping family, friends, and caregivers understand the hidden dangers of food allergies, all are welcome.

As an anniversary post, I’d like to offer links to some of the most-visited pages since May …

How to inject epinephrine
Peanut Free Snacks
Harmful Cure
Allergies on TV
Sticks and Stones aside …
Restaurant List
A Kindred Spirit
Reaction Watch
“Allergy Moms” Newsletter
It’ll drive you nuts

Thanks for a great three months so far. Hopefully these posts have been – and will continue to be – informational and helpful for you in learning to live with food allergies – whether in yourself, or in your child.