Eating Out With Allergies: Asking the Right Questions

Fritto_Di_Porcini

Rule #1: There are never too many questions you can ask about food you are about to consume. That was the number one lesson my parents instilled in me about eating out.

I have been allergic to peanuts since I was 16 months old. My parents started teaching me very young to be vocal about my allergies regardless of where I was. To this day, I have no idea how they let me go to kindergarten by myself, knowing I could unknowingly put my allergen into my mouth. Yet, here I am, turning 28 next month and have yet to have an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts since I was 16 months old. It might seem crazy. But I am insanely vigilant to avoid risks when at all possible.

I suggest following the follow basic precautions when choosing to dine out (or eating with family and friends):

1) Carry your auto-injector: Always, always, always carry your auto-injector. This cannot be stressed enough. There are so many sad stories about individuals who did not have their auto-injector with them to treat a reaction.

2) Call before you go: After checking the menu online, call the restaurant and ask to speak with someone from the kitchen. Find out if they use your allergen in the kitchen. If so, ask what dishes. If they do say ‘yes’, I always ask how they deal with cross-contamination and if they can use fresh utensils and ingredients when preparing my food. Just the other day, I had a chef actually thank me for calling to ask before coming. He mentioned that he wished more people would do that.

3) Don’t be afraid to speak up: I usually scan the menu as soon as I get to the restaurant and pick out an option to eat. When my dining companions and I order drinks, I ask my server to check my selected meal with the kitchen in regards to my allergies. This way, I do not feel awkward making my friends or family wait when checking about my allergies. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable dining at the establishment you chose, it is okay to say no to eating there.

4) Plan ahead: I always carry snacks and plan where I am going to eat as best possible. If I cannot plan that for various reasons, then I try to select a restaurant specializing in a food type that I generally can eat (for me that’s Italian and Greek).

5) Alternate planning: If you plan to cook a meal with friends, this does not mitigate the odds of cross-contamination. Always mention your allergies and take whatever precautions you need to in order to stay safe; I get that this can feel like a burden. But your friends will understand.

Eating out with allergies does not need to hamper your fun. As with managing every other avenue of life with allergies, be smart!

Joanna

Advertisements

Risky Business—When to Say No to Foods

800px-Caution_sign_on_ski_slope

It is my personal view that having food allergies is a 24/7 responsibility. The main person responsible for your own personal safety is you.  This is in no way a negative thing; but it can pose some added challenges in different everyday situations.  When opportunities to experiment with eating foods that you are unsure of arise, and if there is ever any doubt as to the safeness of the food, I find it is best to just say no.

Now I realize ‘just saying no’ is much more easily said than done.  One of the best examples I can think of is saying no to foods that ‘may contain’ different allergens.  Personally, I have peanut, tree nut, wheat, and egg allergies. I commonly find that many different food labels will ‘may contain’ one of these allergens. And, I will admit, at times I feeling frustrated with how this can limit food choices.  It’s important to take a step back when contemplating trying these ‘may contain’ items.  One must evaluate if the risk is actually worth the severe reaction that could be brought on.  I also find it helpful to determine if there are any other safe alternatives to what food I was looking to buy or any better safe food replacements.  One way of doing this is seeking out options at health food stores which have a lot of different great food alternatives for people with dietary restrictions; however, it still is important to make sure whatever item you are looking at is still safe—many may still contain various allergens.

I personally find eating out can be another situation when it can be difficult to ‘just say no’ to different foods.  When eating out with large groups, it can be easy to find yourself in a situation where friends might want to share and sample various dishes at the table. But this can be risky if you have food allergies.  When ordering your own meal, it’s important to inform the kitchen of your allergies and the importance of avoiding cross contamination. The same precautions, however, will not be taken with any of the other meals being served to that table aside from your own. It may be tempting to try someone else’s meal. Yet I find it best to always reevaluate the risk and acknowledge how having an allergic reaction during a night out would be a lot worst than missing out on a sample of food.

I find that always comparing the risks and (for lack of a better word) inconveniences of having an allergic reaction are helpful in making the decision to say ‘no’ to risky food choices.  A specific example I have of this includes when I was travelling to Europe for the first time.  My first day was in London, England. I will admit, while I was enjoying all the sight seeing and normal joys of travelling, when it came to find a place for lunch I found myself being overly cautious picking a safe food to eat. The last thing I wanted was to have an allergic reaction on my first day of holidays in a foreign country. I also found it hard since I was travelling with friends and they were very interested in experimenting with new foods at foreign restaurants I wasn’t familiar with.  I have travelled abroad since and each time I make sure to do research ahead of time on safe food choices abroad. I also never run short of safe snacks, which I bring along, that make it easier to avoid risky foods without having to go hungry! In the end, while it may be tempting at the time to experiment with different foods, it’s also important to take a very careful look at the risks that are involved and realize it’s okay to ‘just say no’.

Caitlyn

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

1024px-Canis_lupus_in_quebec

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

120px-Golden_gavel_3

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

800px-Brugal_11

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

120px-N_icon_law_and_crime

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

Lepidocolaptes_angustirostris_-Argentina-8

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

By Food Allergy Canada