Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

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

 

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Skiing Mount Snow: A Food Allergy Review February 8, 2016

(Please read: Lift Lines and EpiPens: Skiing with Food Allergies)

 

 

Last March, we took a ski vacation up to Mount Snow in Vermont.  The folks at the mountain were extremely helpful when it came to food allergy issues, including handing over ingredient lists for us to review.  And, as it turns out, my son’s ski instructor was well-versed in carrying epinephrine as his younger brother had food allergies.  We had SUCH a great experience there, I wanted to pass along a few *specific* points of information for those of you thinking about going.

We were happy to learn that the hamburger buns at all lodges were sesame seed-free and SAFE for my son!  An unusual find!

Not a great photo from my frozen hands, but the chicken nuggets were made by Tyson, a brand we deem safe at home.  Dairy, egg, sesame seed, peanut and tree nut-free.

For those of you on a gluten-free diet, you’ll be excited to hear that they not only offered gluten-free bread at the main lodge, but they sold Liz Lovely gluten-free cookies as well as Monkey Chew nut-free, gluten-free granola bars.  Woohoo!

For dinner, we found this great restaurant, Last Chair.  The food was excellent, the manager and waitresses knowledgeable about food allergies PLUS they have an arcade to entertain the kiddos while you wait for a table.  A win all around!

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Clearly NOT dairy-free, but check out that plate of nachos.  That’s a PIZZA TRAY underneath.  The Last Chair is not skimping on portions!

 

Lift Lines and EpiPens: Skiing with Food Allergies

As I look out my window, I’m surprised to see green again. Grass is finally peeking through after we received nearly 30 inches of snow.  Even after all that shoveling, all I wish for is that powdery white.  When February hits, all I want to do is ski.  Maybe it’s a holdover from my childhood when we used to get a mid-winter February break – a kind of Pavlovian yearning to be cruising down the slopes this month. Either way, when I see snowflakes, I think trails.
When my food allergic son was old enough, my husband (an avid skier) was ready to enroll him in ski school.  But the idea of trying to manage food issues on a ski vacation seemed challenging.  For one, ski lodges never seem that organized.  I couldn’t imagine who I might track down to get ingredient information on their chicken nuggets, for example – especially at mid-mountain or higher.  Secondly, there’s SO MUCH gear, etc to bring to the slopes, how was I going to carry (and where could I store and easily access) snacks and lunch for him if we brought some from home?  Finally, could I reasonably rely on the ski school to look out for him at lunch vis-à-vis his food allergies?

Well, fast forward almost 8 years, and I can happily tell you that we’ve had a lot of success on the slopes.  Here are some tips I’ve learned over the past few years:

1. Call ahead – way ahead.  Ski lodges are not nearly as disorganized as I had thought.  They’re just a lot more relaxed.  But they take food safety seriously. Be prepared to leave a message and have someone get back to you.  There is typically a food services manager who is knowledgeable about the suppliers and who can track down ingredients for you.  Be sure to ask where kids in ski school usually eat and what kinds of food they receive (are they given snacks, do they have free range on the cafeteria line, etc).

2. Bring your epinephrine autoinjector and show up for ski school EARLY.  Meet with your child’s ski instructor – teach them how to use the autoinjector and WHEN.  Remind them that they will need to store it in an inside pocket of their ski jacket to keep it close to room temperature.

3. Find out where and when your child will be having lunch and consider meeting them to help them navigate the cafeteria line.  But DON’T expect to eat with them!  Skiing creates fast friendships and they’ll have more fun hanging out with their ski buddies – go have a lunchtime date instead!

4.  Pack some safe snacks and store them in your ski locker, car or somewhere else that is readily accessible.  Kids are STARVING when they get off the slopes and cafeterias typically close right when the lifts do.

 

Now we just need some snow!  Happy trails in the meantime!

 

 

Allergy-Friendly Superbowl Party Dips February 3, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — malawer @ 9:27 pm

Anyone have a tried and true dairy-free dip to share? Comment below! I’m making BOTH of these this weekend.

Allergy Shmallergy

No matter who you’re cheering for this weekend, everyone wins with these allergy-free dips.   And not only are they safe, but they are extremely easy to make.  Bring one to your Super Bowl party and score points for deliciousness!

 
 

Kick-Off Guacamole

Salsa and guacamole are especially great for us food allergic parents.  There’re almost always dairy, egg, and nut-free.  And, fresh tortilla chips are totally addictive!

 

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped red onion

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

pinch of sea salt

1 garlic clove

1/2 small jalapeno pepper

1 ripe peeled avocado

(optional 1 Tbsp cilantro leaves)

 

Place first 5 ingredients in food processor; pulse 5 times or until finely chopped.  Add avocado; process until smooth.  Optional:  Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves about 4.

 
 

Halftime Hummus

Hummus is off-limits to those with a sesame seed allergy like my son.  The key ingredient, tahini, is

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