Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

God Bless Bloomingdales! February 28, 2011

I spent the weekend in and around my hometown in New York.  And, as we’ve been known to do, my  mother and I decided to head down to White Plains to check in at Bloomingdale’s.


If there weren’t already enough reasons to love Bloomingdale’s, let me give you one more.  A trip to their cafe, Forty Carrots revealed something else to love about this landmark department store.  They sell Divvies treats!   If you don’t already know, Divvies bakery produces delicious dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, peanut-free cookies, candy, and popcorn among other things.



Now I’m not sure all of Bloomingdale’s cafes carry Divvies’ products, but it’s worth checking out.   So bring the kids shopping and reward them (or yourself!) and replenish with SAFE treats once you’ve exhausted the sales racks.


Our Giant Saga with Giant’s Bakery February 23, 2011

I can’t believe it, my son is 6!  In a flash of ambitiousness, I set out determined to make an R2D2 cake for his Star Wars-themed party.  But after spending an overwhelming hour in the baking section of Sur La Table surrounded by employees advising me quite honestly about how difficult working with fondant could be (especially for the first time), I decided to go simpler.


I had heard that Giant supermarket’s sheet cakes are nut-free.  I contacted our local Giant three times over 24 hours and spoke with three different people inquiring about their cake’s allergy information and was assured each time that it did not contain tree nuts or peanuts.  I asked if there was mention of manufacturing issues in regards to nuts or peanuts and was again assured they saw nothing to indicate it was a problem.  We ordered a Star Wars cake and I patted myself on the back for saving a few hours of work the day before the party.


An hour before the party started, my husband picked up the cake from the bakery and was alarmed to notice that the label stated, “Allergen information:  this product contains walnuts, peanuts, dairy, eggs, wheat and soy.” WHAT?!   So, I placed my fourth phone call to Giant’s bakery.  The employees apologized and kindly mentioned that we could return the cake and keep the Star Wars cake toppers.  But with only an hour to go before 18 kids and their parents showed up, I had few options.  So, I scrambled to make a small safe cake to be sure my son could eat some sort of birthday cake at his own party.


Yesterday, I spoke with the manager at our Giant in McLean about the incident.  I urged him to work with his staff to better prepared them for food allergy questions and arm them with answers that could have avoided this debacle.  He and his assistant manager were very gracious and understanding.  The assistant manager has a daughter with food allergies and was naturally disappointed.  The manager planned to discuss this issue with the bakery staff.  And, they both insisted on refunding my money even though I protested that I hadn’t come in for that purpose.


So, here’s the skinny:

  • Giant’s cakes and icings are not made on premises.  They are made by outside vendors.
  • There are ingredient lists available in the bakery for these products.
  • The cakes do not contain tree nuts or peanuts.
  • The icing is also tree nut, peanut-free as well as milk-free.
  • BUT,  the cakes are assembled and decorated in Giant’s bakery.  And, they handle tree nuts and peanuts in their workspace.
  • Since they can’t guarantee their workspace is free of these allergens, Giant puts a label on everything they produce in their on-site bakery which states those products contain tree nuts and peanuts


Although the rumor is that Giant bakery goods are safe for nut and peanut allergic children.  They actually aren’t.  Because while it appears the cake and cupcakes do not actually contain tree nuts or peanuts, there is an unresolved issue with cross-contamination that I, personally, wouldn’t feel comfortable with.  This issue will likely prevent many parents from being able to buy their bakery goods for birthday parties and/or school functions from Giant (since most schools require nut-free treats that were not processed on contaminated equipment) and urged Giant’s manager to explore the possibility of correctly labeling their bakery products, at a minimum.

Giant Star Wars cake we served only to party guests - everyone BUT the birthday boy!

Safe R2D2 cake I whipped up the next night in under an hour - Should have done this in the first place!

May the frosting be with you…


Babysitters and Food Allergies 201: Text! Your Caregiver Probably Does. February 19, 2011

Filed under: Preparedness — malawer @ 9:01 am
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I know you’re all groaning and wondering what texting has to do with food allergies.  Bear with me.


The key to avoiding exposure accidents while you’re away is to make yourself available to questions from your caregiver.  I would bet we all provide our mobile and emergency numbers to babysitters as we head out of the house.  But in our experience, the younger generation (oh, how old do I feel even writing that?!) is not as comfortable on the phone as we are.  Especially when they think they are disturbing you.


Our babysitters are in their late teens and twenties —  and, they all text.  Teens and 20-somethings are, in many cases, more comfortable with texting, instant messaging and emailing than using their cellphone for actual calls.  We actually book most of our babysitting jobs through text as  I’ve found babysitters respond most readily to that method of communication.  And, as soon as our sitters knew we were willing to text, they starting pumping us with questions about how to handle our son’s many food allergies while we were out.


“Is OJ ok?”

“There are cookies on the counter in tupperware: safe for your son?  Can I have one, too? :)”

“He wants ice cream.  Thought he was allergic to dairy.  Does he mean actual ice cream or sorbet?”


Because texting is a more passive way to communicate, I think sitters don’t feel as if they are interrupting our plans.  Plus, even if we’re at a movie or in a business meeting, we can quietly give an answer and avoid all kinds of problems.  By acknowledging it would be fine to text you while you’re out, you’ll be available to clarify any misunderstanding about your child’s allergy and avoid any possible missteps in handling.


Go Out for Date Night! Babysitters for Allergic Kids 101 February 16, 2011

Did Valentine’s Day remind you of how much you enjoy adult time out of the house?!  It did for me!  Sharing alone time with my husband is so important to us.  Being able to carry a small purse (rather than a bulky bag filled with snacks and Matchbox cars) is a joy and staying out until dark sadly feels wild these days!


But going out for the night while leaving food allergic children at home can be stressful.  When it comes to babysitters and keeping your child safe from allergens there are a number of things you can do to minimize your worry and maximize your fun.



  • Next, I would show each babysitter how to use an EpiPen (see and physically point out where you keep it and other emergency medication.  If you’re home is allergen-free you likely have no need to worry, but it’s worth the time to quickly outline the symptoms of an allergic reaction so the sitter knows what to look for and when/how to react.  ***Let them know that if they use the EpiPen, they will need to call 911 immediately —  before even calling you.***


  • Set your food allergy ground rules.  For us, there’s no bringing in any nut, sesame seed or peanut products.  In fact, to be welcoming and avoid the worry of foreign allergens coming in, I always find out what my sitters like to eat and make sure we’re stocked with snacks and/or dinner that are appealing to them.


  • Try to have the kids’ meals prepared so there’s not a lot of guesswork.   If our babysitter is giving our children dinner, for example, I try to have that sitting on a plate ready to microwave or in a tupperware container ready for the oven.  Keeping it simple avoids problems, I’ve learned.


  • Make yourself available.   Supply reachable numbers and encourage each caregiver to use them if they have ANY questions.  None are too trite!


  • Finally, post emergency contact numbers as well as your address on the refrigerator.  Your emergency contacts serve as back up and should be relatively familiar with your child’s allergies and your address could be given to emergency personnel.


You can and should go out once and a while.  It’s a refreshing luxury that we all need to indulge in every so often.  So, call your most trusted sitter and make some plans!


Easy Allergy-Free Valentine’s Day Treat February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here’s a perfect treat to make with kids – or just for yourself (guilty as charged!).      



1/2 cup allergy-free margarine

1 package regular size allergy-free marshmallows

6 cups Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal


Grease an 11×7 inch baking dish.  Melt the margarine in a large pot over low heat.  Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted.  Remove from heat and add Rice Krispies.  Stir well until the mixture is well coated.  Pour into baking dish and flatten with the back of a spoon.  Let cool before cutting into bars.


Optional:  Melt allergy-free semi-sweet chocolate chips over low heat and pour over flattened treats.  Let cool before cutting into bars and serving.


Suggestion:  Use heart-shaped cookie cutters to cut into surprise shapes and use frosting to pipe on Valentine’s Day messages.


Nothing says “Be Mine” like a chocolate-covered Rice Krispie treat!


Highlights from the Frozen Food Section of Trader Joe’s February 10, 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with Trader Joe’s.      Their allergy-free products are delicious and otherwise hard to find.   But many of their products are made on production lines with nuts and peanuts, making them useless for our family.  Trader Joe’s  frozen food is particularly helpful to me as I want the kids to eat well when I don’t feel like cooking.   So, I compiled a list which highlights some of Trader Joe’s dairy-free, egg-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free and sesame seed-free products.  And, if you’re only avoiding some of the aforementioned allergens, then you’ll have even better luck.  I hope this saves you all some time at the market and in the kitchen !


Mini Chicken Tacos:  also gluten-free!

*Beware of the beef tacos which are not free of the above allergens.


Party-Size Mini Meatballs

Turkey Meatballs

*Beware of the Trader Joe’s Meatballs as they contain milk.


Trader Joe’s Beef and Green Chili Burrito


Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons


Pork Gyoza Potstickers

*Beware:  The chicken potstickers contain sesame oil.


Trader Joe’s Penne Arrabbiata


Coq au Vin


Gluten-free Waffles


An assortment of Sorbets and Fruit Bars (such as their Fruit Floes)


A wide assortment of frozen vegetables, meats, fish and shellfish to cook


FDA Petition: Help Warn FA Families of Ingredient Changes February 8, 2011

The FDA is considering a petition which would require food companies to display the advisory statement “Ingredient Information Has Changed” on the front of packaging when one or more of the 8 major food allergens has been added to their product (allergens which has not previously been included).
This petition is open for the general public and it is encouraged that everyone leave comments as this has an impact on the FDA’s decision.   Go to and enter the docket number (FDA-2010-P-0578-0001) in the Enter Keyword or ID: search field.   You may also go to!searchResults;rpp=10;so=DESC;sb=postedDate;po=0;s=FDA-2010-P-0578-0001 and scroll to the bottom of the page to view the full  petition and make a comment. If you have any questions contact Dwayne Ratleff at
Note:  It is not recommended that this potential regulation substitute for the continued need to check all food labels.  Food allergic families will always need to keep checking ingredient lists and manufacturing lines to ensure the safety of their FA family members.  This would just add another layer of defense against an inadvertent reaction.
Please pass this information on to other food allergic families.   Thank you!