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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Hold the Peanuts.

Recently I had the privilege of attending a workshop on food preparation for those with food allergies and intolerances with the Virginia Dietetic Association.  It seems that everyone and their child has an issue with at least one food or another these days.  So I felt my very basic understanding of food allergies and various intolerances needed a little beefing up.  Now I get to share all the juicy information with you.  This was a four hour workshop, so I’ll stick to the major take-aways.

Before we get to the workshop let’s just clarify the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance.  In very basic terms a food allergy is when your body has an immune system response to a protein (usually) in a specific food. The response may range from very minimal (a rash) to life-threatening (anaphylaxis).   The most common foods that people have a reaction to are tree nuts, milk, shellfish, egg, peanuts, soy, wheat and fish.  A food intolerance occurs when your body as trouble fully digesting a food.  Now back to what I learned at the workshop.

  • Thou shall not cross-contaminate.  Engrain this in your brain.  Apply it to ALL situations.  That plate, cutting board, knife, towel, counter top, jar of jelly used to prepare PB & J sandwiches (you get the picture), they all have particulate on them.  Even if it is not visible.  Either start with fresh utensils or wash all of those surfaces.  Even better, designate separate cutting boards, condiments, etc.  so there is less chance  of cross contamination.  To put it in perspective, little more than 10 parts per million can cause a reaction.  So never assume that just because you can’t see it you are safe.
  • Hand sanitizer is NOT your friend.  You know that little bottle you carry around everywhere?  It is useless when it comes to removing allergens or other particulate from your hands.  The only way to “clean” your hands when handling food for your child with say, a peanut allergy  is to thoroughly wash them immediately before touching their food.  Even if you already washed your hands prior to preparing everyone else’s food.  Better yet, just make the food for your child with the allergy first.
  • Let’s talk gluten-free.  Face it, we can’t discuss allergies/intolerances without addressing this subject.  There is much grey area regarding this issue.  Gluten-free diets seem to be a big trend right now wether you medically need to be on one or not.  (I am not broaching THAT subject at this time.)  So assuming you notice your child is having issues related to eating wheat (etc.).  DO NOT immediately place him on a gluten-free diet.  Take him to the doctor to discuss it and to undergo the proper testing for Celiac disease.   It you try the diet first and your child does have the disease, it will result in a false negative on the test.  Now if your child does have Celiac disease or a legitimate gluten-intolerance all of the same precautions for typical allergies apply too.
  • Be your child’s biggest advocate.  Nobody knows them better than you.  Also, most businesses out there are only concerned with one thing.  Money.  So learn to read those labels and develop a real understanding of what all those claims and terms mean. Dining out can be scary.  You must not be afraid to ask questions, no matter how the person who is answering responds.  (But know that kindness and a little explanation can go a long way).  When in doubt speak to the manager/owner or even the chef.  Things can change back in the kitchen that the server/cashier may not be aware of.  Also be cognizant  of cross contamination, it is riskier at establishments that use pizza stones, woks or fryers.
  • Have compassion.  If you are one of the fortunate people who do not have to deal with food allergies/intolerances on a regular basis, taking the time to accommodate for your friends that do can make a world of difference.  Chances are they will not expect you to so it will be greatly appreciated.  Coping with food issues can be exhausting.  But do not be over-confident about it.  I’ll share with you an experience I had at my home recently.  (Prior to attending this workshop).  We had some friends over for a play-date that graduated into lunch.  Our friend’s younger daughter has Celiac disease.  Even though she brought separate food for her daughter to eat, I was trying to be considerate and offered to make her an almond-butter sandwich on apple slices instead of bread so that her meal would be more like the older kids’.  My friend very kindly obliged .  While I was preparing the regular sandwiches for the older kids, I realized that our jar of almond butter was probably completely contaminated with wheat particulate. My well intentions could have been a disaster later for our friends.  All-in-all, our friends were very appreciative of the extra effort, wether it worked out or not.