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‘Tis the Season: 504 Plans April 15, 2016

 

Fall and the start of school seem far away – I mean, who can think about going back to school when summer is just around the corner?!  That said, many of you are now sitting in front of a pile of forms thinking about 504 Plans for your children for next fall.

 

504 refer to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These plans are set in place to provide accommodations to school age children with disabilities (food allergies are listed among the qualifiers) to ensure that they are afforded equal access to learning and academic success as their peers.

 

These plans are created in collaboration with your child’s school and spell out food allergy management.  In addition to a Food Allergy Action Plan, 504 Plans can cover a broad range of topics such as snacks and meals, storage of emergency medication, addresses classroom issues related to food allergies such as science projects and other manipulatives, as well as hand washing policies.

 

Many people, including school administrators, get 504 Plans confused with IEPs.  An IEP is an Individual Education Plan which allows students with disabilities (often learning or cognitive disabilities) to receive specialized instruction and/or related services.  IEP qualification is determined both at meetings and in conjunction with standardized assessments, as well as other data collection.  504 Plans are determined by looking at medical records. Both are federally funded programs: 504 Plans guarantee access to education while IEPs provide supplemental academic services.

 

I recently came across an incredibly thorough and helpful article written by Vivian Stock-Hendel on fellow blogger, Sharon Wong’s blog “Nut Free Wok.”  Entitled, Food Allergy 101: 1, 2, 3…504 , you will learn everything you need to know about completing a 504 Plan and what to do if you need both a 504 and IEP.

 

Keep in mind, both plans can be used at schools which receive federal funding.  If your child attends private school, ask someone in administration if the school makes food allergy accommodations through 504 Plans or by another means.

 

Best of luck!

 

Additional Resources:

FARE: Advocacy – Section 504 and Written Management Plans

Food Allergy Action Plan Template

 

Food Allergies and Family – Disagreements Not Break-Ups April 12, 2016

I hear stories all the time from food allergy parents that their family members aren’t taking their child’s food allergy seriously.  And, this – of course – can have serious implications.  I’m also saddened to hear when this difference in perspective leads to family disagreements – or worse, families cutting one another off completely.

 

Our parents (our children’s grandparents) didn’t grow up with this alarming rate of food allergy.  In fact, many of them didn’t know a single person with a diagnosed food allergy.  Times have changes and current parenting is more active and vigilant than it was 30 years ago.  I’ve explained to many a grandparent that the rise in food allergies is not a trend of parent over-sensitivity or as a result of over-protectiveness, but -in fact- an actual, black and white medical diagnosis.

 

Grandparents and other family members may not understand the amount of work and preparation it takes to safely raise a child with a severe food allergy: the advanced preparation when eating out; repeated education of others; familiarity with labeling laws (such as the FDA’s FALCPA in the United States), alternative names for allergens and a general sense of where it might pop up and cause problems; the worry about our kids and the exclusion we fear they face.  Let’s face it, none of us were prepared for the intense amount of work prior to our family’s first food allergy diagnosis.

 

If there’s one thing I know for sure though, it’s that a parent’s love for their child is fierce.  It knows no bounds.  As food allergic parents, that fierce love we have for our children and our instinct to protect them may come off a little strong.  And, understandably so when we feel like their lives are in danger.  But in the face of difficult decision-making, our anxiety over their well-being may not offer the patient, gentle voice that our family and friends need in order to truly hear our concerns.

 

It doesn’t help that food allergy parents feel disrespected when their own parents don’t fully abide by or outright disregard their guidance about how to feed (and therefore protect) their children.  Food allergy parents can feel betrayed when others are unwilling to make changes to protect their children.

 

So, what can you do when you’re at odds with your family over your child’s food allergies? 

 

First, have a kind but firm talk about the allergies and severity of the possible reactions.  Do this when your child is not present.  Expect a lot of questions, so come prepared with answers from your allergist or pediatrician.  Bottom line: be informative and remain calm.

 

Reminder: don’t put your parents (…siblings, friends…) on the defensive.  Remember the “I” statements you were taught in school.  Now’s the time to employ them.  In essence, phrase your emotions with “I feel…”  rather than pointedly, “You” statements.  “I’m worried that Charlie will have a dangerous allergic reaction because he’s a toddler who doesn’t know the difference between peanuts and raisins,” rather than “You’re not listening to me: put away the peanuts!”

 

Share your learning curve.  Relate to them by reminding yourself (and them) how overwhelmed you first felt when you first received your child’s diagnosis.  They probably feel this way too right now: they’re trying to take it all in and food allergies have likely seemed very far off and remote to them.

 

If necessary, spell out the seriousness.  It can be hard to truly admit – most especially to yourself – the possibility of a severe food allergic reaction and its real consequences.  I have a lump in my throat just writing about it.  Watch the Discovery Channel’s 2013 documentary “Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America” with your parents and siblings (again without the kids present).  The first 10 minutes of this multifaceted documentary deal with an anaphylactic reaction and is a firsthand example of the dangers of food allergies.

 

Remember that old habits die hard.  Most habits are not malicious, but they can be dangerous.  My own father had a nightly habit of snacking on a bowl of nuts, which he continued to do unconsciously when we visited.  When my son could crawl, I reminded him again that this wasn’t safe.  I was frustrated having to restate this every visit, so to drive the point home, I told him, “These nuts are like arsenic for my child.  Leaving them on the table is the equivalent of leaving a loaded gun for my toddler to figure out.”  It clicked immediately.  My dad apologized profusely and has since been phenomenally careful with my son’s allergies.

 

Invite them to a doctor’s appointment.  Allow them to ask as many questions as they have.  Maybe give your allergist or primary care physician a heads up so they know to allow a little extra time for questions and answers.  Hearing the information from a medical professional often underscores what you’ve been saying all along.  You know how your kids listen to their teachers but not you?  Your parents might be the same way.

 

Remind them that as much of an inconvenience as it is for them to adapt to your allergy-friendly lifestyle, assure them that it is SIGNIFICANTLY more so for you and your family.  Make it easier for them to navigate by suggesting some of the tips in The Host’s Guide to AllergiesThe Host’s Guide: Part II; and the Host’s Guide: Part III.

 

Invite them to participate in your lives by organizing activities that DO NOT revolve around food or meals.  I know that’s hard when we talk of family because food and socializing traditionally go hand-in-hand.  But, there’s no need to sacrifice your relationship with even the most obstinate family member – just take away the point of contention:  food.  I know that tensions can flare in the process of trying to win over someone’s mindset, but – by doing other things and removing the obstacle – perhaps you will both come to an understanding about your different perspectives.

 

Families are important.  They are our best cheerleaders.  They remind us of who we are and where we come from.  And, they teach our children all kinds of lessons we can’t impart alone.  By trying to handle differing opinions over a difficult issue like a child’s food allergies in a calm and collected way, we are also modeling great conflict resolution to our kids who pick up on more than we’d like to believe.

 

Food allergy parents need support too.  Parenting is hard.  Parenting a child with life-threatening allergies to something as common as food makes it exponentially more challenging.  Families should be there to help out and pat us on the back for encouragement, to give us a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) after a particularly rough day.  And they should be available to envelope our kids in love, support and safety so they grow up to be confident, self-assured adults with loving families of their own.

 

 

 

 

Play Ball! March 30, 2016

I love seeing more and more stadiums adopting the peanut-free game concept.

 

Lucky for us in DC, the Washington Nationals just released their peanut-free game schedule.

Sat. April 23 at 1:05 vs. Twins

Sun.  May 15 at 1:35pm  vs. Marlins

Sat. June 11 at 12:05pm vs. Phillies

Fri.  July 1st at 6:05pm vs. Reds

Sun, Aug. 14 at 1:35pm vs. Braves

Sat. Sept. 10 at 7:05pm vs. Phillies

 

Call or contact the stadium directly for ticket pricing and further information.

 

Not a Nats fan?!  (What’s wrong with you?!  Just kidding.)  Check your local team’s website for their own schedule of peanut-free games.  Don’t forget minor league teams who are awesome about getting in on the action and making baseball fun and safe for everyone.

 

UPDATE:

Rejoice, Seattle fans!  I just heard from the Mariners!

For the past several years, we’ve been offering the opportunity for fans with peanut allergies to come to games at Safeco Field and sit in sections with a reduced risk of exposure to peanuts.  Information about the games, the precautions we take and a special ticket offer is all available at Mariners.com/NoPeanuts.

 

“Take me out to the ballgame.  Take me out to the crowd! Buy me some pretzels and cold snow cones…”

 

 

 

 

Food Allergy Education: Allergy and Asthma Today Spring 2016 March 8, 2016

 

As you all know, I strongly support the need for food allergy education in school.  The non-profit Allergy and Asthma Network (AANMA) recently picked up one of my articles on the subject for their publication, “Asthma and Allergy Today.”

asthma allergy today spring 2016

Here’s a link to my article in their Spring 2016 issue:  Thank You For Being a Friend.

 

I’d love to hear from you!  Comment below, on our Facebook page, or email me: erin@allergystrong.com:

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts on:
  • What your school is doing right;
  • Any issues you or your child has faced as a result of insufficient food allergy information/education;
  • Suggestions you have for schools/teachers to create a safer, more inclusive school environment;
  • General comments.

 

Thank you as always for your support!

 

 

Girl Scout Cookies Allergen Reference February 24, 2016

Thanks-A-Lot Girl Scout Cookies

I remember being a Brownie.  To me, selling Girl Scout cookies was kind of intimidating.  I didn’t like going door to door and asking people to buy things.  There wasn’t any opportunity to set up a stand with friends in my town.  I might have been braver in that case:  you know, power in numbers.

 

As an adult, I want to support those adorable, little Girl Scouts who are sometimes nervous just like I was.   Which is why I hate having to say no due to food allergies issues.

 

So, I did a little research in the hopes that it helps you all make good decisions and allows you to support your local Brownies and Girl Scouts… by buying delicious cookies!  Now that I’m armed with some information, our family may try some ourselves this year!

 

Girl Scout cookies are made by one of two manufacturers:  ABC Smart Cookies or Little Brownie Bakers.  To find out which manufacturer bakes your local Girl Scout cookies, you must contact your local council:  locate your council here.

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While Little Brownie Bakers do not list ingredients lists for their cookies on their website, their allergen statement looks thorough.  All it should take is a quick peruse of the ingredient list on the box to determine whether the box is safe for your family.  Here’s their allergen statement:

The allergen statement clearly states the top 8 allergens contained inside each package. We encourage consumers with food allergies to check the ingredient statement on each package for the most current ingredient information because product formulations can change at any time.

If the allergen in concern is not listed below the ingredient statement, we are confident that the product is safe for consumption. Please trust the labeling. We do use a may contain statement for peanuts and tree nuts when the product is produced on a line that shares equipment with another product that does contain peanuts or tree nuts. Scientific evidence has shown that consumers with peanut and tree nut allergies can have a severe reaction to amounts that are below the current detectable limits based on existing technology.

For this reason, we have chosen to warn consumers allergic to peanuts and tree nuts of the potential for extremely low levels by using a may contain statement. The equipment is thoroughly cleaned in between processes and we follow Good Manufacturing Practices in all of our facilities. Beyond the top eight allergens, all ingredients are declared within the ingredient statement. If you are concerned about a specific ingredient, please review the ingredient statement to determine if it is part of the product formulation.

 

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ABC Smart Cookies, the Girl Scout’s other cookie manufacturer, also seems food allergy savvy.  They produce gluten-free cookies in a certified gluten-free facility and have a well-educated allergen statement which reads:

 

Over a decade ago, ABC partnered with Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN™) to learn more about life-threatening food allergies and the impact of ingredient labeling and allergen warnings. We have also worked with the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program in association with the University of Nebraska to review our sanitation, handling, and training procedures.  ABC adopted what is known as “product-specific” allergen labeling. Product-specific labeling enables the allergy-affected consumer to make an informed decision based on information specific to that particular product.

Product-specific labeling requires strict compliance to good manufacturing practices to prevent cross contamination such as:

  • Segregation of known allergens from the general production environment
  • Color-coding of storage units and utensils
  • Curtained-off production areas
  • Designated lanes for transportation of known allergens
  • Swabbing and testing of allergen shared equipment

In addition, we call out all allergens on our packaging, order cards and web site and provide specific warning if a product is made on a line that also produces product with a common allergen such as peanuts. ABC’s proactive approach to allergens is an example of our commitment to producing the best quality Girl Scout Cookies possible for the millions of valued consumers who support Girl Scouting every year.

 

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A quick review of ingredients show that all of the cookies were egg-free; Thin Mints, Cranberry Citrus Crisps, Lemonades, and Thanks-a-Lots are nut-free; several were vegan and therefore dairy-free; and at least one variety was gluten-free.  Check out their sites and I think you’ll find, like I did, that Girl Scout cookies are far more food allergy-friendly than you think!  Now, get out there and say YES! to some Girl Scouts.  You’ll make their day!

 

 

Girl Scout cookies

 

 

Pizza Hut – Again. February 18, 2016

 

I can’t believe I’m writing about Pizza Hut – again.  But here I am.

 

At this point in time/education, at their size, there’s no excuse for not having their act together when it comes to food allergies.  And yet…

 

My son was due to attend a birthday party that involved a trip to a nearby Pizza Hut.   Since we don’t have one very close to us AND they have a strange relationship with food allergies (see “Correction: Pizza Nut… I Mean, Pizza Hut” from 2012), I needed to do extra homework in preparation for my son to eat there.

 

I started by reviewing their allergen menu.  But since my son is allergic to food OUTSIDE the top 8 allergens, I also placed a call to double check my findings.  I don’t take unnecessary risks – especially in a birthday party-type situation.

 

It took three phone calls to get a customer service agent on the phone due to high call volume on three different days.   After waiting close to twenty minutes each time, I finally got a live voice.  I presented the facts simply, “My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (so all nuts), sesame seeds and dairy (which means milk, butter and cheese).  I have read your allergen menu online but I still have a few questions.”

 

I went on to explain what my son would order (a regular, personal size pizza with only sauce) and asked my three easy questions:

  1.  Does the sauce have dairy (particularly, cheese) in it?  It’s impossible to tell from the online menu since most pizza is covered in mozzerella, but his won’t be.
  2. Is sesame used anywhere in either the crust or the sauce?  It can be ground up like flour and used as an ingredient you can’t see.
  3. Are there any cross-contamination issues I should be aware of with nuts or sesame seeds?

 

Simple, right?  Should be an easy answer there…

 

Not only could the customer service not answer the question himself, but he put me on hold while he asked a “nutritionist” somewhere in his office.  Sounded promising… until he came back to the phone and told me to go to the online allergen menu.  I reminded him that I had already reviewed it and had questions that this online menu didn’t answer.

 

I already felt that my questions (which I’d like to remind Pizza Hut concern the safety of my child) weren’t being heard and my concerns were being dismissed.

 

He put me on hold again to retrieve information from the nutritionist.  “OKAY!” he returned. “Go to the nutrition menu on our site and the calories for each meal should be listed beside it.”

 

Huh?!  It sounds like neither the representative nor the nutritionist understood what kind of information I was asking for and both were just blindly answering.

 

I repeated my questions and directed him towards an ingredient list.  “Well,” he jumped in, “concerning sesame seeds:  We DO offer a gluten-free crust.  So your son should be okay there.”  Again, WHAT?!  Back to the drawing board.  Time to education yet another person in the food industry about the difference between gluten and sesame seeds…

 

He returned to the nutritionist and came back yet again without any helpful information. But, the customer service representative took my contact info and assured me that the nutritionist would get back to me within 24 hours.

 

“Terrific,” I said – exhausted from the ineptitude. “the party is in three days, so that will be just in the nick of time.”

 

It is now eight (8!) days later and I still haven’t received a reply from Pizza Hut’s customer service OR their nutritionist.

 

Unfortunately, my son injured himself playing sports and couldn’t attend the birthday party.  But there was no way I felt comfortable with him eating at Pizza Hut if customer service AND a nutritionist couldn’t tell me if cheese or sesame seeds were in their sauce and crust.  The already hard decisions about how to accommodate my son’s food allergies so that he feels included in social situations was made that much more difficult by a lack of both understanding and a total lack of response.

 

They may no longer be referred to as “Pizza Nut” in our house (they once listed peanuts and tree nuts in nearly all of their products).  Now, we call them “Pizza Not.”

 

 

 

Three Sweet Ways to Say “I Love You” Dairy, Egg, Peanut and Tree Nut-Free February 11, 2016

Since we have the weekend to prep for Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d suggest three simple and sweet ways to brighten your Valentine’s day.  All three are easy to prepare, GREAT for classrooms and parties, and all are dairy, peanut, tree nut and egg free.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

Cupid’s Arrows

Grab some fruit and a cookie cutter and you have yourself one adorable (and healthy – shhhh…) fruit kabob!

IMG_0133

 

 

Sweetheart Sorbet Pie

Trickiest thing is remembering to prep this a few hours in advance.  And, then not eating it before presenting it to your sweetheart.

20140127-133110.jpg

 

Rice Krispie Hearts

Subbing out the dairy, makes these hearts safe and scrumptious.  If you have letter cookie cutters, you could also spell out the words, “LOVE” or “HUGS” or “XOXO”.  Infinite possibilities!

20140214-152730.jpg

 

 
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