A Wolf-Pack Mentality: The Buddy System and your Allergies

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When it comes to growing up with a severe food allergy, or even growing into one like I did, an important thing to remember is that you don’t always have to do everything yourself. Over the years, I’ve inadvertently learned to use a buddy system with my peanut and tree nut allergies. I never formally decided it would be a good idea. It just sort of happened and, since it works so well for me, I thought I’d share my experiences with you.

When I was diagnosed with my allergies at the age of nine, I felt pretty helpless. Many foods I once enjoyed were now off limits. I was nervous about eating at friends’ houses or at birthday parties. However, as I (and my mother, who deserves much of the credit) educated my friends about how to manage the risks involved with food allergies, they seemed to absorb the information and promote it. My close group of friends growing up soon became my first-line of defence against potentially dangerous allergy situations. They were always the first to mention the severity of my allergies at restaurants. I never asked them to do this and I always mention my allergies when I go out even if no one else does; but they cared about my well-being and wanted to look out for me. To quote The Hangover movie, we became a “wolf-pack.” And, whenever one of my friends was around, I knew they would look out for me. They were all shown how to properly administer an auto-injector, knew where mine was located, and knew the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis. So my wolf-pack was always ready to jump in if I ever had a reaction (which, thankfully, I still haven’t had yet)! If you’re not convinced about the buddy system, let me share a few stories to show you what I mean.

When I was about ten, I was riding the bus to school. One of the students on the bus started to taunt my brother and I about our peanut allergies. As if words weren’t enough, he proceeded to take out a peanut butter sandwich and wave it in our faces. All the while he laughed and teased us. At some point, one of my friends stood up, grabbed the sandwich, and threw it out the window to end the threat. He kept his cool and, when we arrived at school, he was the first to tell the principal what had happened. Needless to say, the bully was suspended and never taunted us again.

Another time, when I was 18, I went to a New Year’s Eve party with my wolf-pack. It was at a friend’s house (whom I wasn’t too close with but knew from school). I knew the host didn’t know about my allergy because I never had the chance to talk to him about it; so I was a little nervous about what snacks would be laid out. When we got there, I was taking in the scene and my best friend popped around the corner with a serious look on his face. He told me not to go into the room he just came out of because there was a big plate of peanuts and cashews. Right after telling me this, he ran upstairs to talk to the host and his parents about my allergy. Minutes later, the plate was removed and the whole room was cleaned with all-purpose cleaner! I really couldn’t believe how accommodating everyone was and how quick my buddy was at managing the peanut risk.

In either of the above examples, I could have managed my allergy on my own; but the point I want to make is that, sometimes, it’s just easier to have a wolf-pack of friends to share the load. It’s a really good feeling when you know someone’s always got your back and is looking out for you. So what do you think? Do you have any wolf-pack experiences you want to share? If you don’t already have a buddy system, do you think it could potentially work for you? Post a comment below and let’s share some stories!

Dylan

Living with Allergies in Canada: Canadian Laws

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Currently, Canada has several laws in place to help people with allergies stay safe in various forms. The following two laws are the most important currently in place in Canada to keep those with anaphylaxis safe in both school and consumer environments.

Food Allergen Labeling:

Canada’s food allergy labelling has continued to be evaluated and adapted over the years. Gathering input from key stakeholders, Health Canada most recently made food production safer by publishing two separate Amendments to the Allergen Labeling Regulations, 2008 and 2011, to the Canadian Gazette. Both encouraged public comments from Canadian citizens that were then taken into consideration and formulated into the later amendment. These laws are put in place to help consumers decide on the best possible products for their allergen needs.

The Canadian food allergen labeling regulation came into force on August 4, 2012. This law requires prepackaged foods to list all priority allergens, including ones that are included in “component” ingredients such as “spices” or “seasonings”. Health Canada has a specific page on their website dedicated to informing the Canadian public about possible cross-contamination in foods that may not be labeled. Since the new law has been put into action, they are proactive on social media in terms of attempting to inform key stakeholders such as companies, consumers, and advertisers, about any issues related to labeling in Canada.

Sabrina’s Law:

2) Sabrina’s Law was created in 2005 and implemented in 2006 to protect students in public schools from allergen risks. The law requires Ontario schools to put anaphylaxis policies in place at every school to protect students. This is a break through law with the aim to ensure that students at-risk for anaphylaxis will feel as safe as possible while attending school. The sad fact is that this law came to be as a result of the tragic passing of Sabrina Shannon in 2003. If you would like to learn more about these laws, or see how the Canadian Government is adapting to better inform and protect people with severe food allergies please visit the following websites:

Sabrina Shannon Law: http://www.anaphylaxis.ca/en/resources/sabrinas_law.html

Health Canada:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/allergen/index-eng.php

Arianne

 

 

 

Alcohol and Allergies

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At some point or another, we’ve all found ourselves in an establishment where the drafts are cold and glasses are never empty. You could be staring down a glass of beer or casually enjoying a glass of wine. That being said, there are important things you should know when it comes to drinking alcohol when you have food allergies.

Some of the key tips discussed are ‘common sense’ whether you have a food allergy or not. Always know your limit and never play with the line between social drinking over consumption. When you are in control, your night can remain fun rather than hazy. Knowing when to say ‘enough is enough’ is the key to enjoying your night out not having any regrets. Never accept drinks from strangers and always make sure you watch your bartender make your drinks in a crowded bar.

Always be aware of your surroundings, know where you are, who you are drinking with, and always have an escape plan home. A safe, planned ride home goes a long way toward having an easy night with few worries.

Now, when you’re discussing food allergies and alcohol, you have to understand that there are two things to think about. Your allergens can be hiding in different liquors, cocktails, or you could have a very real alcohol allergy or intolerance. Regardless of what your ‘poison’ is, being aware of what you’re consuming is the first step toward understanding and taking control of your food allergies

Alcohol Allergy:

An alcohol allergy or intolerance is caused by the body’s inability to break down alcohol. Given that alcohol allergies are rare, the more likely culprits are the grains sulphites, and preservatives found in many wines, beers, and liquors. A simple way to determine if you have an alcohol allergy is to get tested. A skin-based prick test (much like the one for other allergens) is administered and the skins reaction is the key to determining the severity or existence of the allergy.

If you’re worried you may have an alcohol allergy the common symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Abdomen pain
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Itchy or inflamed skin
  • Hives
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Runny nose

Take into consideration what type of alcohol you’re consuming and how much if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Take this information to your allergist and discuss your options

Drinking with a preexisting Food Allergy:

If you have food allergies, you are likely already pretty good at expressing the seriousness of them. The precautions you should take are similar whether you’re out eating or partaking in a night of drinking. Take some time to research different alcohols and what their ingredients are; you will be surprised how many allergens are hiding in plain sight.

There are more options available now more than ever if you’re looking for alcohol that is gluten free. Some vodkas that are triple distilled are safe for gluten intolerance and numerous beer companies are releasing gluten-free beer. Check with the manufacturer directly to be sure.

After you’ve researched what alcohols are safe for your specific food allergies, you’re ready to sit down and enjoy a drink.  If you’re drinking at an establishment, consider a few things. Make sure you know the ingredients of your choice of mixed drink; you never know what could be hiding in that delicious looking beverage. If you happen to be somewhere that also has food, as always, make sure you inform your server and the bartender mixing your drink of your allergy. Stick to what you know and like. Experimenting and finding a new favorite drink is fine; but always make sure it is safe. Try and stay with one drink for the night. Mixing drinks is a recipe for a rough morning and, besides, it’s safer knowing exactly what you’re drinking. Of course, remember to bring your auto-injector with you on your night out.

A night shared with friends and/or family can be a memory you’ll treasure forever.  People come together for drinks and food. In order to embrace that feeling, and take in those memories, take precautions with your food allergies. Remembering a few simple guidelines, and taking time to research not only your allergens but your preferences, can help you enjoy your night out. So raise a glass to health and happiness and have a good night.

Cheers,

 

Arianne

 

Labeling Laws, Travel, and Making the Safe Choice

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Have you ever purchased one product over another simply based upon which country the product was made in? I have. One thing that concerns me is the fact that not all countries have the same labeling laws. Canada now has stricter labeling laws than it once did. This has forced many Canadian manufacturers to label whether their products contain any of the top 11 priority allergens. I have wanted to buy certain chocolate bars in the past; but I have worried about the fact that the same company also, for example, made chocolate bars with almonds as well.

There are some countries where labeling laws have different requirements, especially when it comes to precautionary label warnings such as “may contain” or “made in a facility that also processes…” statements. I tend to stick to products that are from either Canada or the U.S. as I feel more comfortable with the labeling in North America. I’ve had reactions to soy (undeclared) in some products from other countries and it has led me to be far more careful about what I buy and who I buy the product from. When in doubt, I have always emailed or called the company and asked for specific ingredient lists and about the practices they use to avoid cross-contamination (if they make products I am allergic to). When in your own country, it is, naturally, easier to find products that are safe for you to consume and with labels you can trust.

It becomes significantly trickier when you go to other countries, which have different labeling laws, regardless of the nature of your trip. Through experience, I have always found it important to look into national policies ahead of time. When traveling, I always bring a few snacks that I know are safe so I can limit the processed foods I will need to buy in a foreign country. Something as simple as tea could be unsafe if you have, for example, a soy allergy. Here in Canada, there are some brands which state “Contains soy.” This has always surprised me. From my perspective, tea is just dried fruits and leaves etcetera. So, when purchasing tea from other countries, I am a little hesitant. Some products will be safer than others. Ultimately, if you are traveling to another country, my biggest tip for you is to plan ahead. Find out about the country or countries’ labeling laws ahead of time. There is no harm in asking lots of questions! You are, as always, better safe than sorry.

 

Erika

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

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When it comes to bringing up allergies in the workplace, I think a lot of us get nervous, anxious, or even just simply forget because of all the new information we are trying to learn at a new job. From my personal experience, the sooner I let my co-workers know about my severe peanut and tree nut allergies, the safer I feel at work. A few different strategies have worked for me in the past. I will share them with you here.

1)      I had the unique opportunity during an interview to mention my allergies. The question had something to do with describing a time when I had to deal with a high pressure situation and what I did. I decided to step outside the box and share two experiences. One was a workplace experience and the other was an allergy experience. I explained how my brother was having an anaphylactic reaction and, being allergic to nuts myself, I knew how to use the auto-injector and the steps that needed to be taken to help my brother. This turned out to be a simple way of opening up a conversation about allergies with a company that I would end up working for. Sometimes explaining your allergies before you even get the job can be useful and insightful for both parties. Even if you do not get the job, at least you can walk away knowing that you advocated for others with allergies who may work for that company in the future!

2)      Another strategy that I have used to tell my co-workers about my allergies is, essentially, the same calm, cool strategy I use when meeting new people. I mention my allergies and their severity casually, such as before a team meeting where donuts are provided: “No thank you. I’m severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.” This is almost always followed up with questions about what I can eat, where I keep my auto-injector, how to use it, and the list goes on. This is a simple, yet quite effective strategy.

3)      I have never done this; but I have heard of people emailing their boss to explain their allergies. From the abundance of emails everyone seems to go through in a day, I’m not sure this is the best strategy; but it has worked for some and maybe it will work for you! Just be sure to keep the email optimistic and informative in case your boss has never had any experiences with allergies before.

4)      A final method I have used is very blunt. I went straight to my new boss (the owner of the company) and explained my allergies to her. After my initial explanation, I asked if she had any questions and we entered into an informative dialogue back and forth for nearly twenty minutes. When we concluded, she took it upon herself to endorse a “peanut/nut free” unwritten policy where no peanut or tree nut containing food was allowed to be eaten in the office. I never asked for this exceptionally kind gesture; but my boss understood the severity of the allergy and would not take any risks. Based on my experiences, I find this strategy to be the most effective.

It may seem scary and nerve-wracking to put yourself in a place of vulnerability by explaining your allergy to co-workers in the workplace. Yet your safety is paramount. Take a deep breath and spread the word! You may be surprised how well your workplace takes your allergy information.

 

Dylan

Saving Money Buying Groceries with Allergies

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There is a very good chance that, if you have food allergies or an intolerance, you will spend more money on groceries than others who do not. A recent US study led by allergist Dr. Ruchi Gupta assessed the economic impacts of food allergies. The authors noted increased spending on groceries for families with food allergic members. The results of this study were published September 16th 2013 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The authors state: “Food allergy places unique out-of-pocket cost burdens on families such as purchasing allergen-free foods” (http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleID=1738764). I have lived with life-threatening food allergies and intolerances all of my life. It has been tricky to balance a healthy diet without spending more money than my budget allows. Being a full-time university student was definitely the most challenging time to eat healthy and stay on budget. What made this time particularly tough was that I had just started avoiding wheat and gluten. I took on part-time work to help pay the bills because I was spending huge amounts of money on groceries. With time, I have found tricks to help keep the grocery bills lower and still eat healthy. It has been a work in progress and I have learned quite a bit along the way. I have shared a few tips below that may help you keep your grocery bills a little lower and allow you to save money for other hobbies or priorities.

  1. Try to do a little more home cooking and baking. Products that are “allergen-free” or “free from the top 8 major allergens” can cost an “arm and a leg” and are often things you can make at home for a fraction of the price. It’s nice to have a treat every once in a while; however, some baked goods like muffins and cookies are definitely worth making at home and in the safety of your own kitchen. Pre-packaged foods that are allergen free can also be costly. I often like to try something new and then find or develop my own recipes to make a very similar meal at a fraction of the cost!
  2. Make a meal plan for the week.  By making a meal plan, you can do one-stop grocery shopping for the week. Trying to stick to one grocery shop per week means that you will likely spend less than if you went to go multiple times. It is also much easier to budget this way. List all the ingredients you will need to make each meal, once you have your meal plan, and you are ready to shop!
  3. Keep an eye on weekly flyers. Have a quick look at the flyer specific to the grocery store you usually go to before you make your meal plan for the week. If you see things on special, like meats or other products, plan your meals accordingly.
  4. Buy in larger quantities when you can. With allergies, buying in bulk can be really hard because the items they sell in bulk have avery high risk for cross-contamination. I never buy in bulk. I do, however, stock up on items when they are on sale and when, for example, a larger bag of rice is significantly cheaper than the regular size. Stock up on the staples if the discount is significant.
  5. Look out for coupons. Often brands will have coupons online or available with the purchase of their products. It may seem like a waste of time if you have coupons that are $1.00-$3.00, for instance, but it all adds up. I tend not to bother with the ones that are less than $1.00 off; but, again, everything counts when you are living on a tight budget.
  6. Make it and freeze extras. A jar of spaghetti sauce can run a few dollars at the grocery store. Buy some canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and add ground meat if you’d like to make a tasty homemade sauce that will cost you less and be just as tasty if not tastier that the store-bought brands! I like to make a double batch so I can freeze half of it for an easy dinner another night.

I’m sure you probably have some ideas of your own to save money. These are only a handful of the ones I use. Care to share a few of your own tips and tricks? How do you save money buying groceries with allergies? Share your ideas in the comments section so we can learn from each other.   Good luck!

Erika

How to Talk About Allergies in the Workplace: A Personal Perspective

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Author: Nicole K. I have worked at various businesses with distinct environments throughout my life. With that in mind, I would like to share some tips that have helped me manage my allergies. Below is my list of the top 5 things you should keep in mind when discussing allergies in the workplace. 

1)      Be Open Even if you think you are working in an industry where it is unlikely that you will encounter your allergens, you should inform your employer/employees. Let them know how severe your allergies can be and what to do in the event of an emergency. Realistically, employers want their staff to be safe, happy, and productive in the workplace.

2)      Have an Emergency Plan It is always a good idea to have an emergency plan in place in case an allergic reaction occurs in the workplace. Most employers have standard paperwork that requires employees to list their emergency contacts. This would be a great opportunity to discuss where you carry your auto-injector (e.g. purse, bag or pocket). Remember, a locker in the staff change room may not be the best idea. It may be inaccessible in the event of an emergency. Somewhere like a specific drawer or in a first aid kit (if available) would be a better option, however, carrying it with you at all times is most ideal. Remember to have a second dose available too.

3)      Plan Ahead for Special Events Say, for example, you hear about an annual employee picnic. Volunteer to be a member of the planning committee and assist with the organization of special events in the workplace. This involvement allows you to have more of a say regarding the menu and, ultimately, to ensure that there are some safe food options available for you and perhaps others! At the very least, you can make sure that the proper labelling of food is made a priority. If someone else is responsible for the planning, approach them and let them know about your allergens. I have found that, even when people appear to be overwhelmed with this information, offering to help them plan can alleviate any stress they may feel.

4)      Always Have a Back-up Plan Those of us with allergies always hope all of our food planning  comes together seamlessly. Yet that is not always the case! It is always important for you to have a back-up plan. If, for example, lunch is being catered at your workplace, I would recommend packing your own lunch. In the event of a miscommunication or error, you always want to make sure that you have something safe to eat. This can apply to festivities like staff potlucks, retirement parties, birthday celebrations, staff dinners, and staff socials (to name but a few).

5)      Discuss Any Concerns If there is any part of your job that you feel puts you at risk for an allergic reaction, talk to your supervisor immediately. You may encounter this situation if, for example, you work in the restaurant industry. It is easy to imagine a persistent feeling of discomfort as you wait and clear tables. One might find a way to minimize the risk of the reaction by wearing gloves, for example. Regardless of your approach, most employers will be more than willing to work together with you to find a suitable solution!

Best of luck,    

Nicole K.

By Food Allergy Canada