Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Food Allergy Retrospective: How Far Have We Come? May 17, 2017

When the term “food allergies” was first mentioned in our lives in 2005, my son was only a few months old.  Already suffering from severe, body-encompassing eczema and a family history of food allergies, my pediatrician mentioned that we’d have to approach first foods very carefully with him.  I thought she was being WAY overcautious.  Like a ridiculous amount.  I was told to avoid feeding him anything with peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, strawberries, pork, and corn in it.  I remember thinking, who had ever heard of anyone allergic to corn?!  And, so much for Cheerios as a finger food!

 

Now twelve years later, I think about what a genius that same pediatrician was and what a long way we’ve come since that first discussion about food allergies.

 

In 2005, there were approximately 11 million Americans living with food allergies.  Today, there are 15 million. And that number is growing.  Back in 2005 there may have been 1 child with food allergies per class; now there are at least 2 in every classroom.

 

In 2005, there were no food allergen labeling laws.  Manufacturers could “disguise” ingredients under a variety of names.  If you were allergic to dairy, for example, you had to memorize over 45 different names of ingredients that contained milk protein (whey, cream, casein, lactose, curd, rennet, ghee, flavoring… read the complete list here).  There were no suggestions to include voluntary “may contain” statements.  And, manufacturers were not well informed about how to respond to customer service questions about the safety of their products.

 

In 2005, consumers had less choice of emergency medication but it was far more affordable.  A pair of EpiPens cost only about $50. Other epinephrine auto-injectors were hard to come by and Auvi-Q wasn’t even invented yet.

 

In 2005, I felt alone with my son’s condition.  I started writing about food allergies, in part, to reach out to other like-minded parents experiencing the same daily struggles and triumphs that I was.  There was no research about the psychological impact of growing up with food allergies.  I was figuring out how to parent a confident, competent kid AND how to safely navigate the world with food allergies all at once.

 

I am so thankful to you all today for being part of the Allergy Shmallergy community – for giving me feedback, reminding me that we’re not alone running into and overcoming food allergy-obstacles, and for supporting each other, helping to make each other’s lives simpler and happier.

thank-you-362164_1920 pixabay ryan mcguire

 

 

 

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The Future of Food Allergies: Recommendations from the Experts December 8, 2016

Last week, the National Academies of Sciences put out a report outlining the gaps in global food allergy management.  Titled, “Finding a Path to Safety in Food Allergy Assessment of the Global Burden, Causes, Prevention, Management, and Public Policy,” the authors made recommendations that would lead to significant change in the quality of life of patients and families living with food allergies.

 

This was an important and informative report which helps prioritize ways in which we may see adjustments to food allergy diagnosis, information and policy in the future.  I listened to the live presentation while furiously taking notes, but you can read the report for yourself at:

nationalacademies.org/FoodAllergy

#foodallergies #peanutallergy medical doctor government law

 

In case you missed it, here are the highlights and some reflections:

 

Prevalence of Food Allergies:

The committee noted that although no formal studies have been able to corroborate the information, doctors across the country have confidently noted the increased prevalence of food allergies.  Studies of this sort are difficult to conduct and expensive, Dr. Hugh Sampson of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York noted.  However, the true prevalence of food allergies would help lawmakers and other health-related institutions prioritize food allergies as the “major health problem” it is in this country.  It is currently estimated that between 12 and 15 millions American are living with food allergies.

Recommendation: The CDC or other organization conduct a food allergy prevalence test that will help inform us of current food allergy levels and serve as a baseline for future assessments.

 

Standardized Diagnosis:

 

This is no one, standard way to diagnose food allergies.  Some doctors use skin tests (otherwise known as “scratch tests”) and some use IgE blood tests.  Still others consider the use of IgG testing to detect food intolerances.  Each test varies in conclusiveness and none can accurately predict the reaction a person will have to an allergen.  Only an oral challenge can determine the type and severity of an allergic reaction.

 

[More on this testing in a separate post.]

 

Recommendation: Doctors follow a standardized set of tests and protocols to inform them of a patient’s allergy and future medical action.

 

Prevention:

While there has been much in the news about best strategies to prevent food allergies from developing, advice on the ground from doctors and within parenting circles is lagging.

 

Recommendation: Clear, concise and solid advice about the early introduction of food and its benefits would greatly help parents and patients alike.

 

Education and Training

Misconceptions still abound.  Some dangerous.  Timely, proper management of food allergies saves lives.

 

Recommendation:  The launch of an educational campaign to align doctors, patients and general public regarding the diagnosis, prevention and management of food allergies.  This is especially important in organizations that provide emergency services as well as in medical schools and other healthcare institutions.

 

Policies and Practices

 

The list of major allergens identified in each country has not been updated since they were established in 1999.  And, labeling laws (particularly those known as Precautionary Allergen Labels, PALs – “may contain” and “made on equipment with” are two examples) aren’t currently effective at helping consumers assess risk.

 

Recommendation:  Reassess the priority list of major allergens to better identify regional allergens. Develop a new, risk-based system for labeling – specifically to address issues related to PALs – and outline guidelines for the labeling of prepackaged food such as those distributed at schools, on airlines, and in other public venues. Additionally, the committee recommended that federal agencies re-imagine and standardize food allergy and anaphylaxis response training for employees who work at public venues (schools, airlines, etc).

 


 

I was encouraged to listen to the guidance from the committee in each area.  There is certainly a long way to go in getting federal and state-level attention for the growing epidemic that is food allergies.  But by identifying current gaps and taking action to improve communication of standardized, evidence-based information and advice, I am confident we can help improve the lives of those living with food allergies in the near future.

 

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!

 

Food Labels January 13, 2011

Filed under: Preparedness — malawer @ 10:41 am
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I label all the food in my pantry.  Yup, all of it.  Bear with me, I promise I’m not crazy.  I’m still trying to make things easier for us food allergy parents at home.

 

When my son was first diagnosed with food allergies, feeding him instantly became nerve wracking.  With so many different food allergies to manage, I had found myself reading and re-reading and re-reading the same boxes of food to make sure the ingredients were safe.  At that point, my husband didn’t yet have as good a handle on my son’s situation and felt uncomfortable giving him anything without my stamp of approval.   Trying to navigate my pantry was daunting for both of us!

 

I began labeling all the food in the house.  I read all of the ingredient lists on all of the food in my pantry and stuck a bright sticker on the front of the safe foods with a note that read, “OK for [my son’s name]” on it.

 

How on earth does that make my life more simple, you’re wondering?  Well, for starters, I only had to go through the pantry once.  Now, I just add a sticker to the safe foods as I unpack them from the market.

 

Also, the labels have several advantages:

1.  My husband is not thrown off when a new food is introduced to the household (and importantly will not require my help when, for example, my son is hungry and I’m out or – god forbid – in the shower!);

2.  The labels ensure that babysitters and other caregivers will be less likely to make a mistake feeding my child in our house — which means I can have a better, more relaxed time while out;

3.  Although we do not have any nuts or peanuts in the house, the labeling system allows those of us who are not food allergic to enjoy some snacks that  my allergic son can’t have yet.  I still prefer regular milk to soy myself and it’s hard to kick that ice-cream habit….

4.  As my son grows up, he can safely pick out snacks for himself.  I love to see his confidence when he can do new things for himself; and

5.  Finally, I won’t go insane by rereading all of those ingredient lists over and over and over.

 

 

Your sanity is just a bonus.  You’ll thank me later!