Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Food Allergies and Food Labels: What You Need to Know January 31, 2012

If you or someone you know has just been diagnosed with a food allergy, navigating the supermarket has probably begun to feel like learning a foreign language.  But, learning to read food labels isn’t so bad, as long as you understand what you’re looking for.  So, grab your reading glasses:  let’s get started!


1.  Since 2006, it has been much easier for those with food allergies to avoid their trigger allergens thanks in part to the FDA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.  That Act requires companies to label for the top 8 allergens, which are:  milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybean.


2.  The above Act requires companies to label not only for the top 8 allergens but any ingredients made with proteins derived from those allergens.


3.  This law gives manufacturers a choice of how they can label the food source allergen.  They can either:

a.  List the allergen in the ingredient list, such as “whey (milk), lecithin (soy), flour (wheat)….”; or

b.  Use a “Contains” statement, for example “Contains tree nuts, eggs and shellfish.”

So when reading a label, I first look for a “Contains” statement.  If you spot your allergen, stop and put back the item – there’s no point in reading further.  If you there’s no “Contains” statement, you will need to go on to carefully read the ingredients list.  I often read it twice.


4.  If, like us, you need to avoid a protein outside of the top 8 allergens, you need to be extra diligent when reading labels.  For us, sesame seeds falls outside of the top 8 allergens.  So, we have learned other names for sesame seeds in labeling, such as “tahini” (which is sesame paste and found in hummus).  And when we read labels we again begin with the “Contains” statement to rule out any of my son’s other multiple food allergies.  Next, we move on to the ingredients list and scour the list (twice) for other allergens that we need to avoid.


5.  As the FDA itself points out, “Contains” and “May contain” have two very different meanings…. with possibly the same outcome.

Manufacturers are required to identify the top 8 allergens in either the ingredients list or “Contains” statement as described above.  But, a manufacturer might use the same equipment to produce two different products, upping the potential for cross-contamination of ingredients.  In that case, if the manufacturer feels there is a chance an allergen may be present in their product, they can voluntarily put a “May Contains” statement on the label.  You may be reading a soy milk label which states, “May contain tree nuts”  since it was produced on the same lines as the company’s almond milk.  Speak to your allergist about “May Contain” statements and what they mean for your particular allergy.


6.  Manufacturers change their ingredients and production methods all the time and without warning.  So, it’s important to read the labels every time you purchase an item.  And, yes, this gets tedious. But, if you read my post about Silk Soy Milk, you’ll see it happens all the time.


7.  Save your grocery receipts for a little bit.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the ingredients list at the store (while also minding the kids or the time) and gotten home only to notice an ingredient or a “May Contain” statement that doesn’t gel with our food allergies.


8.  Now that you have your labeling skills honed and your groceries packed, you may wish to consider sorting the safe and unsafe foods at home using a labeling system.  By labeling your food at home, you’ll cut down a little on how many times you re-read an ingredients list while keeping everyone at home safe!


Elevation Burger January 29, 2012

I was recently contacted by Elevation Burger execs with whom I had a fabulous conversation about their brand and food allergies.  They were so happy to hear about our great experiences eating at their franchises, re-emphasizing that [feeling well taken care of is] “definitely the mission that our brand tries to embody.”  Elevation Burger’s Managing Partner could relate to my post noting that he himself has a severe dairy allergy.  “I hear you loud and clear on that!” he wrote,  “It’s very few restaurants that take allergies seriously.  Since I’ve been involved with EB I’ve made sure our staff and franchisees are aware of just how serious an allergy can be and how we can, and should, accommodate our guests who have an allergy.”  


**CORRECTION:  Importantly, the Managing Partner noted that I had mentioned in my original post that their hamburger buns had dairy in them.  Well, turns out that Elevation Burger switched suppliers a few years ago and the buns no longer contain dairy (only vegan butter flavoring).  So, go out and get eating —  burger, buns and all!**


Ok, it’s hard for me to convey just how much I love Elevation Burger.  A fairly new burger chain, Elevation Burger’s hook is that the ingredients are so fresh and of great quality.  And, it is relayed in the way it tastes:  Heavenly…


Their menu consists mainly of organic burgers and veggie burgers with a smattering of other options.  Not to be missed are their “diet fries”.  Ok, they’re not really diet.  But they are heart healthy as the folks at Elevation Burger fry them in olive oil.  To justify their essential consumption, I think of them as “health food”…


But not only is Elevation Burger delicious, they were so great handling my son’s food allergies.  For example, several years ago Elevation Burger used buns which contained milk. (Please see CORRECTION above regarding EB’s buns)  At that time, they suggested serving my son’s burger wrapped in lettuce.  They’ve offered to give him Oreos from their milkshake station when his friends were eating the homemade variety they sell.  I certainly felt they took his allergies very seriously and I really appreciated that.  And, the limited menu reduces the risk of possible dangerous cross-contamination.


It’s lunchtime as I’m writing this… I might just have to go to Elevation now!


Get Ready: International Ice Cream For Breakfast Day is Coming! January 27, 2012

I’m ready!  (Cue royal trumpeters and drum roll….) International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day is February 4th, 2o12.  (Need an introduction to the holiday?  See ICFBD…Read On, And Your Plans for Feb. 5th Will Surely Change)  We already know how we’re observing this important holiday.  In case you’re allergic to dairy and don’t know how YOU’RE celebrating, you may wish to consider one of the following restaurants which serve **sorbet**:


La Sandia: Surprised and delighted  to find a daily selection of sorbet on a Mexican restaurant menu.

The Capital Grille:  They even offered to add some mixed berries to my son’s scoop.

Clydes:  I was thrilled to discover Haagen Dazs sorbet on their menu.  (Read: Crazy About Clyde’s Food Allergy Safety Program to understand why Clyde’s is on our go-to list for food allergies.)

Sweet Leaf:  Mentioned in last year’s post.  While chatting one night over delicious sorbet, the owner told me how her now-grown son was dairy intolerant as a child.  Nice to know…

Legal Sea Foods:  While not on the kids’ menu, the seafood chain does serve sorbet from their regular menu.

Chef Geoff’s:  A choice of sorbet along with a gluten-free menu.  Bonus!

Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza:  (See post:  New Haven Has Arrived in Virginia)

The Dairy Godmother in Alexandria serves sorbets in fresh and interesting flavors such as lemon lavender, apple cider, and balsamic strawberry.

Yogi Castle, throughout the DC metro area, specializes in frozen yogurt. But they also serve a variety of sorbet!


My kids couldn’t have been more excited for ICBFD.   They were so excited, they were practically bouncing around – and that was BEFORE the sorbet was introduced!  This year, we’re planning an ice cream sundae bar buffet for family and friends.  I CANNOT wait!


Found: Nut-Free Seeds! January 23, 2012

I eat pumpkin seeds literally once a year – the week following Halloween when I make them from the innards of my kids’ jack-o-lanterns – and that’s it.  Every other time of year, I look for sunflower or pumpkin seeds to snack on that are not contaminated by nuts and come up with bubkes.


Finally after searching for literally years, I stumbled upon Gerbs Pumpkin, Sunflower and Flax Seeds which are processed in a dedicated nut-free facility (everything but their milk and dark chocolate products).  They come in a bunch of different flavors.  So far, I’ve tried the toasted onion and garlic flavor which is excellent and I’m looking forward to finding the sunflower seeds.


Wondering if anyone has any good nut-free recipes for pumpkin or sunflower seeds for us to try…..  ????


Gerbs Pumpkin Seeds



Legal Sea Foods – Fish and Chipper about Food Allergies January 20, 2012

Legal Sea Foods

It had been forever since I’d eaten at Legal Sea Foods.  I couldn’t be happier that my nephew chose to ring in his birthday here —  our meals were great, there were so many choices for my food allergic son he had to make a plan to come back, and they took great pains to ensure his dinner that night was allergen-free.  Although it had been off my radar for a while, Legal Sea Foods is now officially IN the rotation.


Here’s the skinny:

  • The staff as a whole was super-accomodating, answering every question we had about ingredients in many, many dishes.  My son loves seafood and wanted to try some new things which they were patient about investigating one at a time.
  • Legal Sea Foods were very willing to substitute allergen-filled sides with safe alternatives for my son, making the meal a balanced one.
  • They have a gluten-free menu which includes something from every category of their regular menu (soups, salads, main courses, desserts, etc) as well as a GF Children’s Menu.  Their GF Menu has an informative section demonstrating their understanding of gluten sensitivities, including a paragraph which states,

“All seafood and meat items will be prepared by the following methods: wood grilled, steamed, pan-seared, baked with gluten free crumbs, or fried in brown rice flour and cornmeal. All cookware and plateware will be pre-washed and wiped dry before cooking and presentation.”

  • Legal Sea Foods has a policy whereby the allergic individual’s meal gets prepared first and the manager often serves it.  In our case, the waitress served but the manager came out to make sure everything turned out all right.
  • The bread was safe for my sesame seed-allergic son.  That’s a big one, so he was on cloud nine.
  • As it was my nephew’s 13th birthday and we absolutely HAD to have dessert.  In my scramble to get out of the house, I completely forgot to bring something for my food allergic son.  Agh!  I ran to my car and assembled some Pez, left over from a recent car trip.  It would have to do. Unless…..  Thankfully, Legal Sea Foods serves sorbet!  Amen !

Bottom line:  we fell for Legal Sea Foods’ commitment to food allergy-safety hook, line and sinker.


Gluten-Free at HomeGoods January 18, 2012

HomeGoods comes through again!  They had a smorgasbord of gluten-free products.  Here are just some of them I saw on just ONE day!





Gluten-free products at Homegoods


Game Day Turkey Vegetable Chili January 15, 2012

In the mood for chili, I decided to adapt my mother’s already-delicious recipe to include a few more vegetables.  The result was a fantastic meal that everyone loved.  [NB:  I cut the chili powder, and red pepper by about 1/3 (so 1 Tbsp chili powder and slightly less than 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes) to appease the taste budettes of my kids.]



1 lb ground turkey

2 large onions, minced

2-4 garlic cloves, crushed

olive oil cooking spray

1 zucchini, shredded

28 oz can diced tomatoes

6 oz can tomato paste

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp crushed pepper

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1/4 cup fresh basil (chopped) or 1 Tbsp dried basil

16 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed


Spray large saute pan with cooking oil, saute onion and garlic for 2 minutes; then add turkey.  Cook , stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until the turkey is no longer pink (about 5 minutes).

Add chili powder, cumin, salt and red pepper flakes, stir and cook for 1 minute.  Add can of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and zucchini and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add bay leaf, basil and beans; cover and simmer for 1 hour.

 Grated Zucchini Ready for the Pan

Serve with Whole Grain Tostita Chips.  Enjoy!