Category Archives: Communication

Top 10 Tips for Going to University/College with Food Allergies

Going away to school is a really exciting time for any student but for those at-risk for anaphylaxis, it can come along with a unique set of challenges. Since some college and university programs start in January, here are some tips to make the transition to this new part of your life as easy and as safe as possible!

Late night study, student desk in low light.

  1. Talk to food services

With the wide variety of dietary restrictions that students at university/college have, most food services have policies in place and are very accommodating to student needs. Go chat with the staff at food services at your school to discuss things such as ingredient lists, if they serve your allergen, cross-contamination risks, and how they can help you eat safely!

  1. Learn about your options for residence

For those that will be living on campus, like many students do in first year, you can get in touch with those who organize residence living. Often students with food allergies are able to get a single room more easily or even a room with a kitchen so they can cook their own meals!

  1. Tell your roommate in advance

If you chose to not live in a single room it is important to give your roommate(s) a heads up about your food allergies! You are usually given their contact information the summer before heading to school, so send them a quick email when introducing yourself to let them know about your allergies. You can discuss how you prefer to manage your allergies and come up with some friendly ground rules along with other general living guidelines for your time together.

  1. Tell your new friends

You will be making a ton of new friends when you get to university/college and none of them will know about your food allergies unless you tell them! It is easiest to just tell them right off the bat so that you don’t get stuck in any tricky situations and you can feel safe knowing you have people nearby who are aware of your situation.

  1. Talk to your residence advisor

Most schools will have a residence advisor who is an upper year student that lives on your floor and ensures everyone is safe and following residence rules. Usually during your orientation week, they will have a floor meeting for everyone to meet each other. It is a good idea to talk to your advisor prior to this meeting so they are aware of your allergies and so they can let everyone else know that someone on the floor has an allergy. This can save you some of the trouble of letting everyone know yourself! If you don’t want to be singled out as “the kid with allergies” you can even ask them not to identify you.

Shiny bright red miniature fridge

  1. Get your own snacks and a mini fridge

This is an essential for most students in residence but even more so for those with food allergies. Investing in a mini fridge is a great option to ensure that you have some safe foods as a go-to at all times! Go to the grocery store with some friends and get yourself breakfast foods, snacks, etc.

  1. Bring lots of auto-injectors

If you are going away to school somewhere that isn’t so close to your hometown it is likely that your family doctor, allergist, and pharmacy will all be inaccessible at times. Make sure that you have a good stock of auto-injectors (check the expiry date) with you so you can keep one in your backpack, one in your room, etc.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things

Having a food allergy may feel like it limits where you can go to eat, doing extra curricular activities, and making new friends but it shouldn’t stop you from doing anything! Going away to school is the best time to get involved, try new activities, and meet new people. There is always a way to accommodate for your allergies in whatever you are doing to make sure you are living safely.

  1. Find others with allergies

When I went away to school there just so happened to be two other girls on my floor who had food allergies. Getting to know them made it a lot easier to live with my allergies at school as we could go get food together, talk about what places were safe to eat, and share tips with each other.

  1. Become truly independent

For most people going away to school is the first time they will be living on their own and away from parents. This will test your ability to be truly independent in managing your allergies as you won’t have your friends or family from home to be there for support. Take this time to learn how to live safely with your allergies all on your own!

– Lindsay S.

*Webinar: Managing food allergy in college/university

June 25 @ 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT

Join us for a lively webinar led by a panel of post-secondary students with food allergies as they impart their tips and best practices for managing food allergy in college/university settings.

Register today!

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Checking it Twice: Adventures in Dining

It was a beautiful Saturday in July. The sun was shining, there was a breeze in the air, and Ottawa was looking particularly beautiful.

It had started off as a great day, and when a group of friends and I decided to venture down the street to one of my favourite restaurants in the city, I thought nothing of it. I usually call ahead to most places to ensure its safety, but this particular restaurant was consistently safe, I had even had discussions with the owner about allergens, so I felt confident just showing up on a lazy Saturday to have drinks and appetizers.

Business Celebrate Cheerful Enjoyment Festive ConceptAs we were seated I immediately noticed new menus and the twinge of anxiety chimed in; maybe I should have called ahead. As our server took our drink orders my heart sank and my stomach lunged into my throat. Staring me in the face was a burger compiled of pure nuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans encrusted with sesame seeds. Literally a burger constructed of all my worst, most severe allergens. I almost dropped my drink in shock. This was a safe place, my favourite place to eat in the city, literally down the street from my home! it had always been safe and now without warning it all changed. I had several emotions stirring inside me: Guilt because I choose this place. My friends had just ordered their drinks and barely had a second to enjoy them. Fear because of cross-contamination and the idea that those allergens were lurking around so openly. Anger because a place I trusted and felt confident in had let me down. It took my trust and broke it. And lastly, disappointed, not in the restaurant but in myself. I allowed myself to be lulled into a sense of security and familiarity and let my guard down.

Luckily, I was with people I trusted and who knew my food allergies well and noticed the burger a few seconds after me. I asked the server about the food preparation and she informed me that it wasn’t prepped in a special area and cross-contamination was a very real possibility. My friends asked me what I wanted to do, and we collectively paid our bills and left.

I could have let that experience ruin my attitude towards restaurants and new experiences, letting myself become bitter or scared of new things, or even places I felt safe. Instead, I let it be a very stern reminder that it’s okay to have trust, but you constantly have to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Even though I may have eaten there a million times or been there before, you always have to ensure it’s still safe. I now try to always call ahead or check their website before going out. It may be tedious but it’s a small task to do to ensure a safe meal.

– Arianne K.

Travelling to Spain with Food Allergies

Hola! Como estas? Spain is a beautiful country to visit filled with lots of culture, history and delicious food! If you prepare in advance and are aware of the common cuisine, your trip to Spain should be enjoyable despite your food allergies.

Depending on where in Spain you are going, locals will know variable levels of English. In major cities like Barcelona and Madrid, many people who work at restaurants are able to speak fairly good English. However, if you are getting into smaller more coastal towns you may find that it is harder for people to understand you. It is a good idea when travelling anywhere with a foreign language to get allergy statement cards. There are a variety of websites where you can order cards that translate common sayings such as “Does this food contain ‘your allergen?’” This can make the language barrier a lot easier for you to work with. It is also important to look up the Spanish words for your allergen so that you are able to read packages if you are buying your own food. Here are some examples: Peanut = Mani, Shellfish = Mariscos, Milk = Leche.

Woman touristSpanish cuisine includes a wide variety of dishes from paella to tapas. Seafood and shellfish are very common in Spain, especially when visiting coastal towns. There are definitely options that do not contain these, but if you have an allergy to these foods you should be very aware of what you are eating. If fish is being cooked or fried in the same oil or in the same area as other foods, you should clarify the risks of cross-contamination with the restaurant staff. Tapas are very common fare in Spain, with some restaurants being dedicated to only serving this type of food. Tapas are kind of like appetizers and there are many options to choose from. When eating tapas just be careful to check exactly what the ingredients are, as you typically just pick them out buffet-style and do not have a menu describing what is in each dish.

Overall travelling to Spain is absolutely amazing and I highly recommend it! There are amazing sights to see and delicious foods to try. There is no reason why you can’t go there and eat safely with your food allergies – you just need to be actively ensuring you are safe!

– Lindsay S.

 

Adios amigos!

Travelling with Food Allergies to Mexico

I just recently came home from my first solo (without Mom and Dad) all-inclusive vacation to Mexico with my friends. I was super excited, but also anxious because of my food allergies. I was concerned that it would be difficult for me to eat in Mexico as a result of my food allergies.map of Mexico close-up image

Whether travelling with your friends or family, preparation can make your trip safe and enjoyable. I cannot stress enough that communication and preparation are key. My trip was absolutely amazing and I feel like it was partly because my family and I prepared so much in advance in regards to my food allergies. These are some of the things I did to prepare for my vacation:

  1. Before I even booked my vacation, I did some research as to what countries have decent hospitals. In case something was to happen, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t two hours away from a main hospital. I booked Cancun, Mexico because the resort I stayed at was only 15 minutes away from a main hospital.
  2. One week before leaving, I called both the resort and the airline I was flying with. The airline immediately wrote a note on my file and discussed ways in which they could accommodate me during my flight. When we were boarding at the airport, I made sure that I reminded the airline crew about my food allergy in case there was any miscommunication when I had previously called. I also packed food for my flight. You honestly don’t want to take the risk by eating unknown food.
  3. I booked an appointment with my allergist that I made sure fell within a month of my departure so I could speak to him about prescriptions I should take along with me. I knew one or two EpiPens® wouldn’t be enough for a trip, so I asked to get prescribed more. I wanted to be prepared with extra EpiPens® in case an accident did happen. My allergist also recommended buying Benadryl® for the trip.
  4. I knew someone from Mexico, so before my departure, I asked her to write me a letter outlining my food allergies that I could carry around the resort. The letter basically said, in Spanish, that I had life-threatening food allergies, as well as a list carefully outlining each item that I was allergic to. I then made sure to speak to the chef before ordering at any restaurant. I gave him/her the note, and then they told me the accommodations that they would make for me.

To be honest, the translated note was probably the most important thing I could have done for myself on the trip. Every single chef thanked me for bringing them the note because it made it so much clearer to them what was going on and what they had to do to deal with it. I would 10,000% recommend bringing a translated note. The resort was so accommodating; it amazed me. It made such a difference to my trip that they were so great with accommodating my food allergies.

A trip with food allergies can definitely be daunting, but as long as you prepare in advance, you will have the time of your life.

– Giulia C.

Food Allergies at Hockey Games

Being Canadian and growing up in a family that both plays and loves hockey, I have been to my fair share of hockey games throughout my life. Whether it is at a local rink watching my brothers play or watching the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, I have always enjoyed the classic Canadian sport. At most hockey arenas, food is typically served, which brings an inherent risk for those with allergies, but if you make sure you play it safe you can enjoy a hockey night in Canada live in action.

I can only speak to my NHL game experience here in Toronto so make sure you check out your local arena before attending a game!

  1. There are a lot of options for food

Most arenas will have a wide variety of fast food options for you to choose from. They can range from your classic hot dogs and pizza to poutine and gourmet burgers. There are typically stands that are owned by the arena itself and often common fast food chains will have booths there as well. Therefore, you should have lots to choose from and might have some familiar brands that you know are safe to eat from.

  1. Plan ahead

If you know you won’t have a meal at home prior to attending the game, take a quick look at the website of the arena you are going to. Most of them will have information on their food services and will list what food vendors are there. This can help you plan an allergy-friendly meal in advance.

A bowl of popcorn with a glass of soda at a sports game.

  1. See if you can bring your own food

A simple internet search should give you some helpful information about food allergies at the arena. For example, the Air Canada Centre has a page on their website stating that fans with food allergies are permitted to bring their own food in and warn that they do sell peanuts in the arena.

  1. Be on the look out

Peanuts are not only a very common allergen, they are also commonly found at sporting events. Since most venues will likely not be peanut-free, if you are allergic to peanuts make sure to take a quick scan of the area around you to see if anybody is eating them. You are attending any game at your own risk, but if you are with a group of friends you can ask to switch seats to keep you away from any nuts.

  1. Have fun!

Going to watch the good ol’ hockey game is all about having fun and supporting your home team. Don’t let your food allergies limit you from attending a game!

– Lindsay S.

Travelling Across the Pond to England and Ireland with a Food Allergy

Hello mates! This summer I travelled across the pond to the beautiful, historically rich countries of England and Ireland, where I spent two weeks sightseeing with my family. As they were English-speaking countries, travelling with a food allergy was much easier since there was no language barrier to overcome when communicating my allergies. That being said, I still needed to take precautions, starting with flights and accommodations.

Silhouette of passenger in an airport lounge waiting for flight aircraft

Beforehand, I called the airline to advise them that I would be travelling with them and they kindly noted my allergies and set up a buffer zone, which allowed me to feel comfortable and safe over the duration of the flight. I truly appreciate that airlines are putting more procedures in place and are taking precautions to accommodate allergic-individuals. I recommend that you too check the different airline policies prior to booking. I also made sure to pack lots of food and snacks for the flight as well as extra snacks for the remainder of my trip, such as granola bars and individually packed oatmeal. Most importantly, I packed four Epi-Pens®. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, especially when you are overseas.

When it came to accommodations, I stayed in a “flat” as the British say, or an apartment-style room that contained a full kitchen. I also made sure to choose a flat that had a grocery store nearby so I would have easy accessibility to pick up essentials. I was greatly surprised to see that they pre-package all their fresh produce in addition to breads and other snacks. I was also surprised to see that all packaged food had extremely clear and detailed ingredient labels with priority allergens bolded. This definitely made me feel comfortable that the foods were safe, as they also clearly outlined which foods were not suitable for individuals with certain allergies. When travelling, I stick with making breakfast in the room and packing a lunch, so that I only have to worry about eating out once a day for dinner. Not only is this safer, but it’s also healthier, more cost-efficient, and less time-consuming! When it comes to eating out for dinner, I like to ask for the menu and look through the items, seeing if there is an option on the menu that’s allergy-safe. I soon learned that the menus at restaurants also made allergens easily seen as they used a universal coding system. Nevertheless, I still made sure to explain my allergies and the notion of cross-contamination to the servers and restaurant managers. I found that most restaurants and food service staff were aware of severe allergies, cross-contamination, dietary restrictions, and the precautions they need to take to ensure the safety of their customers. If I felt uneasy about a restaurant, my family and I simply relocated to another that we felt more comfortable with.

View of a vintage restaurant menu on a rustic wood background

Additionally, there are a few interesting things I encountered on this trip. While in the UK, I learned that traditionally, fish and chips are fried using peanut oil. Make sure to always ask the server what oil they use in their fryer before trying this traditional British dish. Also, while visiting popular tourist spots such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge, I noticed a lot of stands of the street selling roasted tree nuts. These stands were not enclosed, allowing the nuts to fall onto the surrounding area. My family and I made sure to keep an eye out for these stands to make sure I was a safe distance away from them. Also, be mindful of fellow tourists around you who may be eating the nuts and disposing the shells around them. This could lead to an unwanted cross-contamination scenario.

Furthermore, if you’re a coffee-enthusiast (like me), you’re aware of the increasing popularity of almond milk. I always make sure to ask the barista if they use almond milk before ordering, and let them know about my allergy and ask about potential cross-contamination. I was happy to find two coffee chains I could rely on, as they did not have almond milk on their menu: Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger. I also learned that Caffè Nero had a wide variety of pre-packed sandwiches with ingredient labels outlining the priority allergens in bold, just like the products in the grocery store. It was nice to be able to grab and treat myself to a peanut and tree nut-safe sandwich on-the-go. Having these allergy-friendly chains at my disposal was very convenient as I was guaranteed to find a location near any major tourist attraction.

Overall, travelling to England and Ireland with an allergy was very manageable, and I would definitely recommend adding them to your travel-list!

– Michelle D.

Capes, Tights, and Cowls: My Food Allergy Role Model

She doesn’t wear a cape, she doesn’t have a super power, my food allergy hero doesn’t even have a food allergy. Instead, she has logged countless hours of prep work, baking numerous birthday cakes for kids in classrooms she didn’t know, weekly loaves of bread, and so many cookies you could fill Lake Ontario with them. No, my allergy hero never had to use an auto-injector, but she carried one every day, went to yearly training, and taught others in schools and businesses. She was never at-risk for anaphylaxis but still to this day refuses to eat or keep peanuts or tree nuts in the house. She doesn’t need allergy testing, but she’s never missed an appointment in the past 20 some odd years. My hero then, now, and forever will be my mother, Sharon.

img_0623A woman who, without a second thought, dropped everything, switched gears, and transformed her and our family’s lives (and cupboards) when I was diagnosed allergies to peanuts and tree nuts at age three. She hasn’t looked back since.

Growing up with the risk for anaphylaxis was tough on me, but it started as an unimaginable journey for my mother. Suddenly the grocery store was a nightmare. No food seemed safe and if we didn’t know each and every ingredient of a product, forget about it. No restaurant seemed feasible anymore since we didn’t know what was going on in the kitchen. It looked like we as a family were lost, but not my mom. She took charge and decided that if nothing was safe, she would make it safe. And just like that our house was filled with baked goods, safe meals, and treats that I could reach for anytime and feel safe. To me, it was perfectly normal, I thought every kid had all these homemade foods in their home. I never saw my mother in the kitchen ‘till one in the morning cooking, baking, and worrying. I also assumed most kids had the choice of going home for lunch and that I was just lucky enough that my mom would come pick me up, and let me watch cartoons at home, then drop me back off at school. It never occurred to me that I had to go home because once the lunch boxes came out, our classroom was seen as a dangerous place to my mother.

My childhood for all I knew was normal, I never knew or realized the time, effort, and work my parents put into everyday to make me feel like a normal everyday kid or the tears she shed over the fears she had for me and my childhood. I never knew how special our situation was because she took the brunt of it upon herself and shielded me like a hero from the things that could hurt me, both physically and emotionally. To me it was the best childhood I could ask for, shrouded in a wonderful haze filled with memories of baking, specials meals just for me, and most importantly, love.

It is these reasons, and so many more that my mom is my food allergy hero. She’s brave, and kind, and was willing to give up everything for me so that I could be a normal, happy kid. Most people ask if I would ever give up my food allergies if I had the opportunity, and I always say no. First, they made me who I am today, and second they filled my childhood with so many wonderful, unique memories between me and my mom that I wouldn’t give any of it up for anything.

My food allergy hero may not need tights (unless she’s dressing up) and a cape, but she gives me inspiration every single day to live better, be kinder, and make the smallest differences in people’s lives because in the end, it’s the little things that matter.

-Arianne K