Tag Archives: Allergy Legislation

Bringing Food to Restaurants

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One of the realities of living with severe allergies is the limited exposure to many restaurants. Although you can make plans to eat-out by speaking to the appropriate restaurant staff, most restaurants cannot completely guarantee an allergen-free meal. If you are faced with an important event that cannot be missed, or if you are travelling abroad, bringing your own food to a restaurant may be a safer alternative. I personally love to travel and, in some cases, have had to bring my own food to restaurants. Below, I’ll briefly outline my experiences (positive and negative) in doing this.

When I was younger, I always felt awkward or “out of place” when bringing food to restaurants. In some cases, restaurants will not even allow you to bring your own food. I found this to be the case in Europe. I remember going on a guided tour of Budapest with my parents. I knew I had to bring my own food because explaining my allergy would be too difficult given the language barrier. When my parents and I arrived at the restaurant, we were immediately told that I was not allowed to bring “outside food” into the restaurant (which left me feeling awkward and embarrassed). I think my key learning from that experience was flexibility. Although these situations can be difficult, you have to find ways to make it work in a given situation. You can try going to another restaurant, or find a public space where you can feel comfortable eating your own meal.

Although I’ve had some negative experiences, I’ve also had many positive experiences at restaurants. Most restaurants in the United States and Canada understand the implications of food allergies. If they cannot provide a solution, most will try to accommodate you in the best way possible. That being said, more expensive or “prestigious” restaurants may have the “no outside food” policy in place. However, you should typically have no trouble at family restaurants or more casual buffets. In any case, it would be wise to call in advance to make sure that the restaurant that you choose allows outside food.

Further, you need to treat each restaurant excursion on a case-by-case basis. If you have to bring your own food because there is no other alternative, then bring it. Remember, your health and well-being are your first priorities! Never put yourself in a dangerous situation for the sake of convenience.

Saverio M.

Instructing Others About How to Read Food Labels

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Having grown up with food allergies, I found that a special skill I acquired from a very young age was the ability to carefully read food ingredient labels.  I sometimes joked that, as a child, I read more labels than I did books (which when I think about it is very true!).  That being said, for people who don’t have food allergies, reading ingredient labels to make sure they don’t contain specific food allergens can be a complicated task to navigate.

There are helpful tips that can be given to those less experienced with reading ingredient labels; these  can help them successfully identify what foods are or are not allergen free.  The first important step is to identify what allergens need to be avoided. Canada has new labelling guidelines that require manufacturers to use simple language when referring to priority allergens. Become familiar with these new guidelines at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/allergen/index-eng.php

It can also be useful to have knowledge about what types of foods typically contain what allergens.  For example, some ice creams, while typically a no–go for people with dairy allergies, may also pose a problem for some people with egg or nut allergies.  Being able to identify what allergens are commonly found in what foods comes over time  along with a general knowledge about what purpose different food allergens serve in different food products (i.e. egg as a binder or wheat flour as a thickener).  That being said, the ingredient label is always the best way to verify what is in your food.

When instructing someone about how to read an ingredient label, after making sure they know what allergens they are looking for, ensure that the label is read VERY carefully.  This includes ensuring that the person who is reading the label is able to identify EACH ingredient listed.  If they are ever unsure, it is always a good idea to consult the person with the allergy to determine if listed ingredients are safe.  It also is never a bad idea to re-read (or re- re-read!) the label so one can confidently say that the ingredient list doesn’t contain any allergens.

Another thing to look out for when reading food labels is to identify if the label lists any allergens that MIGHT be found in the food product.  These food allergen warnings are most commonly listed directly below the ingredient list and commonly say something along the lines of “This product MAY CONTAIN” or is produced in the “SAME FACILITY” or on the “SAME MACHINE” as certain allergens.   While it is not definite that these foods contain these allergens, eating these items still poses a huge risk (and why risk it, right?).  It is also important to make sure that whoever is reading the ingredient label understands that any food that ‘May Contain’ an allergen should best be treated as if it still contains that allergen (and therefore avoided).

Last, but not least, while it’s important for those around to be educated about reading ingredient labels, you are still the primary person responsible for ensuring that you are staying safe and avoiding food allergens. Always personally ensure that you are able to eat questionable foods before taking a risk.

 Caitlyn P. 

 

 

 

 

Food Allergies and the Transition to University Life

University Students laptop
If you have a food allergy, the transition to university can be a pretty daunting experience. In high school, you were likely surrounded by people who had known you well for many years and teachers who knew your name. In university, the chances of this happening again are quite slim. Most classes contain 400+ students and, unless you manage to schedule time to meet with your professors multiple times, they likely won’t know your name let alone your food allergy. So what’s the good news? The good news is that you prepared for this ahead of time and are ready for the new challenge of independence! In case you’re still in the preparation phase, I’ve put together a few things to think about and look for within your new environment.

Let’s start with the dorm life. Many first year dorms or residences contain a lot of shared bedrooms where the room is shared with a roommate. Every school is different so be sure to scope out possible residence options when you apply to that school. Also, be sure to educate your roommate (if you have one) and all new friends about your food allergies and the proper administration of your auto-injector. You are definitely going to eat in your room, which means your roommate will also eat there. With this in mind, your safety is paramount. If your roommate doesn’t understand the severity of your food allergy, speak with the residence life staff and ask them to help you explain it. Also, don’t be afraid to make special room requests when applying or even after being accepted to a university. You can ask to be placed in an allergy-friendly room or ask for a solo room to ensure your safety.

Next up, cafeteria food. If you are living in a residence with no shared kitchen, you will likely be eating a lot of campus food. Treat this experience as you would going to a local restaurant. Explain the severity of your food allergy to the food staff and ask if they serve any food that may contain your allergen(s). Then ask to speak with a manager or supervisor to ensure you will be looked after for that day and every day in the next year. Ask if the staff know what cross-contamination means and whether or not there is any risk of this with their food. Lastly, stick with your gut feeling. If you feel uneasy about eating at a particular cafeteria or restaurant, move on! There are plenty of other options on campus to fill your stomach.

Another thing to look into for your university is anaphylaxis policies. These can be quite difficult to navigate and find. Even if your school does have policies for food allergies, they are likely to appear on a continuum from either very diverse to cover every food allergy to very specific where less-severe allergies may be overlooked. These are worth taking the time to look into as it may inform a lot of your food choices on campus. If you find that food allergy policies do not exist at your university, you might want to join a university council or speak with a campus political leader to try to put a new policy in place. These people are working to make the student experience more positive; so don’t be afraid to ask! They will almost always do everything they can to help.

Last but not least, parties. By now, you’ve likely been exposed to parties and have learned a few things about managing your food allergy in a party atmosphere. However, at university and college, alcoholic drinks tend to make an appearance. This may be a new obstacle for you and, if it is, remember to keep a level head. If you notice that a drinking game has people sharing cups, it is a good idea to avoid playing that game since you don’t know what these people ate earlier in the day. It could have been your food allergen! Also, stick to drinks you know to be safe for you. There are many different types of alcoholic beverages out there and some contain almond extract, hazelnut, dairy, etcetera. So stay aware and stay safe.

This may seem like a lot to look out for when also trying to manage the new challenges of course work; but remember that you are independent and are ready to conquer university!

Dylan B.

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