Tag Archives: Communication

Why All the Anti-Allergy Public Backlash?

Ah, I see you’ve met someone who isn’t entirely sympathetic or has a very archaic view of a food allergy. It doesn’t matter what point you are at in life or where you are in the world, it’s bound to happen. It’s hard not to get angry and fight fire with fire, but sometimes you have to be the bigger person, count to ten and try your best to explain.

A story: I was recently on a plane heading back to Canada after a wonderful vacation. Being the prepared person that I am, I had informed the airline of my food allergy and was allowed to board early to wipe my seat down and speak with the flight crew. As people began to board (my family included), the flight attendant came over to us and created a sort of buffer zone, informing those around me they had to refrain from ordering or eating anything with peanuts/tree nuts. Great, right? Apparently not, because not even Captain America’s shield could save me from the daggers the woman in front of me was throwing. When the flight attendants came around with the food cart an hour later she tried to order something with tree nuts and was angry when she couldn’t. She turned around and shook her head at me while muttering to herself that people like me shouldn’t fly.

So, what’s the deal with anti-allergy backlash? I’ve had my share (as I’m sure many have) of negative responses and backlash regarding my food allergies. People can be callous or have little respect when it comes to things they don’t understand or don’t want to understand. It’s not something you can control, and it’s not something you wished upon a star for, but people seem to lash out regardless. It might be the restrictions on where you can enjoy your favourite snack or what you can put in your child’s lunchbox for school that has people so upset. The reality is, parents have to deal with the very real reality that a simple food can cause serious harm. Their kids then turn into adults who are hyper aware of their food and surroundings because of this constant threat. Trust me, being an adult with a food allergy is no walk in the park. It leaves me with more questions about my food than the ending of Sixth Sense.

If I can stand on a soapbox for a second, I urge you to cast your doubt and negative feelings aside for people who have little understanding of a food allergy. I instead ask you to extend the olive branch and help them understand the seriousness of a food allergy. Implore them to put themselves in your shoes. Think of yourself at a hockey game, enjoying the rush of a crowd cheering, your favourite player skating down the ice on a breakaway, you catch your breath, not because of the shot, but because from the corner of your eye you see someone eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor. Try to imagine the very real and scary aspect of the situation. You ask kindly and respectfully that they refrain from throwing shells or eating beside you. As that person, instead of jumping straight to anger for not being able to enjoy the salty snack, try sympathy for a situation they physically can’t alter or change but you can. You have the opportunity to be the winning player in that game, there may not be a trophy or medal in the end but know that you’ll have the eternal gratitude of someone.

If you’re interested in knowing more about allergy backlash check out the articles below.

– Arianne.K

http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/food-allergy-backlash-grows-1/

http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/hot-topics-food-allergy-backlash/

In a Perfect Food Allergy World…

In a perfect world people that grow, harvest, package, process, and cook food would be completely open and honest about their ingredients. They would know which products were produced where, and with a touch of a button, people with food allergies would easily be able to look up which products were potentially cross-contaminated.

For those inexperienced to the world of food allergies, you might think we’ve already arrived in that perfect world. Here in Canada, labelling laws require that companies clearly indicate the presence of priority allergens in their ingredient list. In 2012, new laws came into effect to try and make those lists easier to read- for example, if a milk derivative such as casein was used in a product, the manufacturer had to start listing “milk” in their lists.

However, we still have a long way to go. For those at-risk for anaphylaxis, one of the most concerning loopholes is the lack of mandatory cross-contamination declarations. Most companies have some sort of protocols in place for thoroughly washing equipment between products, but it’s often automated and isn’t guaranteed. Some ingredients can easily spread through air, for example powders like wheat flours. Cooking oils can create fine mist, and sulphites can be added as a gas to help prevent spices from clumping. Once theses airborne particles settle, they could easily cross-contaminate other products made simultaneously in the same factory. This can happen in people’s homes, too, cross-contaminating a kitchen over time in the same way that dust leaves a fine powder on everything. Surprisingly, however, the requirement to declare possible sources of cross-contamination for priority allergens is completely optional for companies. This is one of the nightmares for those with severe allergies, since it means you have to call each company individually and find out if they have chosen to mention that they use your allergen in the same factory or not.

It gets harder if your allergen is not a “priority allergen.” Let’s not forget that people can be allergic to any food! In Canada, the priority allergens are determined by the top 10 most common food allergens. That said, just because other food allergies are rare doesn’t mean they can’t cause severe reactions. Let me be the example here: my most serious allergic reactions have been caused by cherries and black pepper! There are situations when companies aren’t required to list those as an ingredient, let alone mention the risk of cross-contamination. As a result, my absolute favourite products and companies are those that take the time to list every single ingredient on the label, instead of hiding ingredients in vague statements such as “flavours” or “spices.” Some statements are misleading, too- “artificial flavours” is listed when there is any combination of flavours where most of the flavours are synthetically derived. They can still mix in the natural extracts, however, which was a frequent source of hives for me before I realized what was happening. Now, as a rule I simply don’t buy or use anything pre-packaged unless I’ve contacted the company. Whether that’s food, toothpaste, or even shampoo- if there’s a chance I might swallow it by accident, I need to know that none of my many allergens are present!

So then how do we deal with making labels more helpful for consumers with food allergies, while not overwhelming the packaging with the text of the ingredients? Some products that handle labelling well use the following techniques:

  • Less text because of fewer ingredients. You also have the added advantage of higher quality products if there are fewer additives. Plus there’s the entertainment factor- I turn into a crazed fan girl screaming with delight when I find products with only one ingredient listed.
  • Folded lists of ingredients hidden behind stickers. These are very common in the hygiene industry, where there are simply too many ingredients to list them all in a readable sized font. At least they’re all attached to the product, though!
  • Complete ingredient lists in plain language. It’s like a breath of fresh air when companies actually list every ingredient. I recognize that companies may want to be able to keep certain things proprietary, but honestly- the competition could theoretically decode most of the ingredients with lab testing… and the average consumer is more interested in the convenience of not having to make it themselves!
  • Special Quick Response (QR) Codes with links to online ingredient information. This is usually in addition to the ingredient lists, but adds extra information vital to the allergic consumer like a detailed chart about cross-contamination risks.
  • Contact information on the package, and staff who know product ingredients. I am 100% more likely to buy a product on the spot if I can reach someone knowledgeable while I’m at the store. I am also highly appreciative of companies who respond to my emailed queries with thorough answers.

At the end of the day, we don’t live in a perfect world. There are no perfect companies nor process that can make guarantees for all allergens. Someday, ingredient labelling may become obsolete as new technologies are being developed for consumer food allergen detection tests. But until the day when we can all afford our newly invented hand-held tricorders, I’ll be relying on companies with honesty, integrity, and a deep sense of pride in sharing with the world the quality of what they make. Here’s to hoping those companies flourish and multiply!

– Janice H.

Note to Self: Trust Yourself More. Note to Everyone Else: Trust Me Less!

Trust isn’t something that comes easily for those of us with food allergies. Once diagnosed with a severe food allergy, you learn to avoid your allergens at all costs. Ideally, we live with a certain amount of healthy paranoia- because if we’re not paying attention to what we’re eating and what else it has touched… then it’s possible we might accidentally ingest what we don’t intend. Sometimes at parties I feel like Gollum, hovering over the place setting that I just painstakingly re-washed and set with my food… Mine… My precioussssss!

The problem is that while I need that self-doubt around my food… I don’t need it when I’m actually having a serious reaction. One would expect that, having had well over a dozen serious allergic reactions in my adult life thus far, I’d be completely comfortable and confident in knowing what exactly is going on. Yet half the time, I doubt myself. I ignore my symptoms and pretend like nothing’s wrong in spite of feeling absolutely horrid.

I think that tendency to want to ignore my body might very well be encoded into my DNA… My paternal grandmother wrote in her diary that on a day she felt sick, she *only* made three shirts before breakfast. My mom realized a few years back that she was able to ignore her pain so well that it caused nausea. After I broke my back, I started to notice that my colleagues who knew me well would ask me if I was feeling alright about 30 minutes before I noticed the agony I was in. I suppose that has translated into my food allergies as well- I’ll notice that I’m itchy and hot, of course, but I make any excuse to classify that symptom as something normal. I don’t want to admit a reaction to myself until I can’t stop itching, or I start having difficulty breathing, or I find myself camped out in the bathroom. I NEED to learn to trust myself more. I know the signs and symptoms of a reaction. I just need to learn to touch base with myself and have the courage to admit (and accept) what’s going on!

On the flip side… I need you to trust me less. During most of my severe allergic reactions, I’ve been a complete and total idiot. I think it’s actually part of the reaction, but I just stop thinking rationally. This can look like strange behaviours on my part, like not calling for help on the work two-way radio after an asthma attack had me collapsing on the floor… or ignoring the EpiPen® in my waist belt to go and find a different one upstairs before actually following medical advice to administer it. It’s like I’m watching from far away. I know it’s illogical and dangerous behaviour, but I’m not usually able to counteract it.

So when I DO come to you and admit I’m having a reaction, or when you notice I’m behaving very oddly… I need you to doubt me. If I’m curled up in a ball, refusing to answer questions, or just saying “I don’t know” repeatedly when you ask if I’m alright? Those are REALLY good clues that I need your help. Ask clear, yes or no questions, and point out my symptoms to me. If I finally admit in a quiet voice that yes, I think I need to be checked out? That’s your cue to call 9-1-1 and get me checked out! It’s never a convenient time to go to the hospital, so you can expect that I will be hesitant. I might be trying to talk myself out of it even as I struggle to breathe, so take a deep breath. Be courageous. Be ready to help me give myself the auto-injector if I need it. Honestly, it doesn’t hurt and it really does make me feel better almost instantly!

Then again, if I’m rationally able to articulate why I don’t think this is a serious reaction, I’m probably fine, and you won’t need to chase me down the street with an auto-injector! (That’s my brother-in-law’s standard question to help figure out if my reaction is mild or not: “Should I chase you with your EpiPen®?” LOL yikes.)

– Janice H.

That Time my Friends Realized the Seriousness of my Food Allergies

One summer afternoon a few years back, my family and I were invited to our family friend’s house for one of our many summer barbeques. I especially love going to their place because they are amazing hostesses, and I always feel comfortable eating at their house. Teresa, the mother, always goes the extra mile to make sure I can eat all the food she prepares and that I’m not missing out on anything – even the dessert!

One of the many side dishes was a delicious summery looking salad which included mixed greens, fruit, and dried cranberries. I always get excited to eat an ingredient-rich salad that’s safe for me, since I typically don’t order salads when eating out due too potential cross-contamination with tree nuts. Toward the end of eating my delicious plate of food I began to feel something in my throat that I have never felt before. My throat felt like something was scratching it, as if a piece of something was stuck. My family and friends immediately noticed that I was repeatedly coughing and attended to me, watching my every move, ready to use my EpiPen®. I explained what I was feeling and we all began to look at the plates in front of us. Teresa, who prepared the salad, immediately ran to the pantry to grab the package of cranberries she included in the salad. We read the ingredients and that was it. It said may contain traces of tree nuts. Luckily, I wasn’t having difficulty breathing, I didn’t have hives, and I wasn’t feeling any other symptoms. My symptoms did not progress over the next few minutes, and I felt back to normal after about ten minutes. This was a scenario where I should have used my EpiPen®, but looking back I realize how difficult it is to decide in the midst of a reaction.

This was a moment of realization for all of us. The scared and worried look on my friends’ faces said it all. They couldn’t believe that as much as a tiny particle of my allergen, a trace amount, caused me to have a reaction. Teresa was so shocked that she forgot to check the ingredients on the package, since she is always sure to never use bulk ingredients when she cooks for me. Accidents happen and this was a lesson for all of us.

Fortunately, this was the only reaction I have experienced after the initial reaction I had when I was two years old and I have never had to use my EpiPen®. Not only was it a moment of realization for my friends, but it was also a reminder for me to always triple check the ingredients of the food I’m eating no matter who is serving it to me.

– Michelle D.

Barbados in Peanut-Free Shell

Your footprints disappear in white sand behind you as clear turquoise water laps gently against your toes. The air smells warm, the breeze carries tranquil scents and the sights offer endless blue horizons and lush green gullies. It’s hard to have any worries when you’re surrounded by such beauty, but the reality of having a severe food allergy is and it follows you anywhere you go.

I had the opportunity to travel to a slice of paradise last year when visiting the Caribbean island of Barbados. My family and I stayed at a condo-style facility where I had the opportunity to make most of my own food, which is an ideal situation for anyone who, like me, is at-risk for anaphylaxis to several foods. I thought I would find issues with food labeling laws or lack of information available when it comes to prepackaged foods. I was surprised to walk into a grocery store to see both North American brands that I am more comfortable with and precautionary labelling (e.g. “may contain”) on other brands. As well, an abundance of fresh foods like meats, vegetables, and fruits gave me variety in what I chose to eat. I was also shocked to see separate sections for all tree nuts away from the produce, along with closing bags and wash stations, a feature that I’ve never seen at a grocery store! It was amazing to see food allergy safety protocol outside of my home. It put my worries at ease and I felt safer and more comfortable.

Having bags that zip shut, and a place to wash or disinfect your hands is an idea worth considering for other grocery stores internationally. Whether it be for sanitary reasons, or food allergy safety, it’s a protocol I wish more would adapt. All of this made cooking on our vacation no sweat but I was still looking forward to trying the local foods and spirits.

Before I eat anywhere whether it be at home in Canada or abroad, I always research several restaurants online and gather any information I can find. From menus and allergen information, to hopefully contacting the restaurant by email or phone, I like to be prepared when I dine out. If I’m travelling, I try to contact a restaurant beforehand and see what (if any) allergen policy they may have. My emails and phone calls always have the same message and questions. If there isn’t an email or contact, I try to contact the restaurant on social media like Facebook or Twitter with simple questions. In my experience, they’re usually great at responding but I was floored at the responses and multiple follow ups I received from several restaurants in Barbados. The moment that caught me off guard was the remembrance of me and my food allergy. I emailed a particular place about two weeks before our trip, after being assured it was safe, I made a reservation, and to my surprise the manager remembered my name and allergy when we arrived. She took time to get the chef to chat with me about my options and assured me he would personally make my meal. I haven’t felt that safe and confident in my meal choice since Walt Disney World, where the staff went above and beyond! The chef brought my meal out specifically and even made me a special dessert since none were safe on the menu.

It was such a nice surprise to be greeted this way. I never expected that level of involvement and assurance from the chef, not to mention the sheer acknowledgement of my name and allergen was enough to keep a smile on my face the entire meal. I never expected that level of involvement and allergen awareness when I entered that restaurant. Here in Canada, restaurants are great when it comes to food allergy awareness. One thing I think some could learn is the hospitality and comfort I was offered in that fateful place. The assurance of safety and knowledge in the kitchen and care from the chef and staff boosted my confidence in asking questions and voicing my concerns.

A travel advertisement once left you with the line “life wasn’t created here, but it was perfected.” When each day starts with crystal blue water and ends with picture perfect sunsets, it’s hard not to get swept away into the peace and beauty that is Barbados. When you have a food allergy, it can be hard not to let a black cloud hang over your head when travelling. Between the plane and being in a different location, it can cause serious anxiety regardless of where you are. It can also be easy to forget about or be less vigilant when it comes to your food allergy when you’re on vacation and already in a relaxed state of mind. Whether you’re the former or the later it’s important to plan ahead, do your research, and come prepared wherever you may be.

With less worry blocking your view, that black cloud can lift and you’ll be able to see that beautiful view of vacationing.

-Arianne K.

Be Our Guest: Dining at Walt Disney World

Let’s face it, we’ve all looked at a menu with hesitation. Wondering what limitations or substitutions await you. We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for the lines “made on the same grill, pre-made at another facility, or may have come into contact with.” It can be so discouraging that you almost want to wait to crack open that menu until you can talk with a server or chef. I’ve always held off on making decisions on ordering until I’ve spoken with someone, that is, until I stepped into the most magical place on earth and was handed a menu that helped me put away my worries and strife.

The Vacation Kingdom of the World. You don’t get a title like that without being a well-rounded, fine-tuned, working machine. Now full disclosure, I am no slouch when it comes to Walt Disney World (WDW). We started going to Disney in the early 90’s, a turbulent time in the family as we had my newly discovered risk-for-anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree-nuts and my brother’s newly discovered food allergy to eggs. With all these food allergies packed into one family, we decided to pack up a trailer and drive from Ontario, Canada to the great state of Florida (a three day excursion mind you) and camp at the Fort Wilderness Campground. This way, my mom and dad could be in charge of all the food we ate because I was terrified to eat anywhere other than my mom and Grandma’s house.

Now, it may not come to anyone’s surprise that The Walt Disney World Company has their food allergy game figured out, but at the time I was still scared, I didn’t have the self-confidence to try the food in the parks. That was until I turned 13. Things changed and I became more confident in myself and my food allergies, and was ready to try new dining adventures. I had my very first dining-out experience at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.

Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for WDW. In such a safe and welcoming environment, I could discuss my food allergies with an actual chef, who took the time to explain the menu and reassure me of their due diligence. It was this stepping stone that laid the ground work for me to become more confident in speaking about my food allergies in restaurants anywhere. I learned to look over menus carefully and talk to servers myself and ask the right
questions. Because their cast members were so well trained and prepared, it rubbed off on me and helped me understand the value and importance of taking this time to be sure of my food choice and feel safe about them.

Fast forward to January 2017. My partner Steve and I decided to travel down to WDW to ring in the New Year with the mouse. I am continually impressed with how restaurants treat food allergies, but I am knocked off my feet in awe of how the Walt Disney Company is changing the game when it comes to food allergies. When you’re planning a trip to WDW, it’s in your best interest to book dinner reservations in advance. Booking online is the first step in WDW’s food allergy preparedness. You have the option to fill out all your food allergies in detail before you even step foot in the restaurant.
When we finally arrived to our first dining reservation, I was greeted with the question, “who has the allergy in this party?” and then promptly handed an allergy-friendly menu. The menu had detailed dishes from appetizers to desserts, outlining all ingredients and what dishes were free of certain allergens. It’s hard to put into words how I felt in that moment. I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. It was the first time I was able to go through a menu with confidence before speaking with someone from the restaurant. When we placed our order, the server asked if I felt comfortable and if I needed to speak with a chef just in case. I couldn’t help but remember that shy 13-year-old, who blustered up the courage to talk with a chef about her food allergies. I was bursting with emotions thinking about how a tool such as this will help kids just like me build confidence and a voice when it comes to their food allergy. Instead of being presented with a bunch of no’s and off-limits, we finally have a menu that is full of options and
opportunities.

Remember, the onus is still on you to disclose all of your allergies and take all of the necessary precautions you would usually take at any restaurant. It’s hard to guarantee anything, but WDW gets pretty close in my books!

The Walt Disney World Company truly gets it. They understand the mental toll it takes to dine out with a food allergy regardless of being a confident adult, or a parent with their child. They’ve stream lined a process with 100% visibility from putting menu’s online, to informing the restaurant when you book a reservation, down to a beautiful allergy-friendly menu. They also have the opportunity to look over menu books at quick server restaurants, and give you the option to speak with a chef at buffet style dining halls in their resorts. It is magical for a lack of a better term, but I think the word fits nicely considering the location. Food allergy awareness has come a long way and WDW is certainly looking like a gold standard contender. They are continuously innovating and discovering new ways to ensure everyone has a safe and happy dining experience while on vacation.

-Arianne. K

May Contain the Following: Stress

This product may have come into contact with the following: How many times have you been in a grocery store aisle reading an ingredient list of a new product with excitement only to find these words at the very bottom like a disappointing end to a great story. It can hit you like a ton of bricks, or knock the wind right out of you. For lack of a better term, it’s a real bummer.

As you put the item back, it’s easy to get discouraged, angry, or upset. You may curse the product or the company but, in my opinion, I think we should feel the exact opposite. Every time I see this or similar wording I’m happy I live in a time and a place where information is readily available for allergen safety. After all, precautionary labelling is completely voluntary in Canada.

I have vivid memories from when I was young of my mom calling company after company attempting to get information about production lines, products in the vicinity, and other foods that the company made. She spent hours with a house phone (on a cord I might add) pressed against her ear with boxes of food, paper, and permanent markers sprawled out in front of her. Each time she got a complete answer she’d mark a or X on the box and then feverishly write down any other information they would give her. She did this for hours on end just to find out if certain products were safe for me to eat, or because I mentioned I wanted try, for instance, Fruit Roll-Up© (which I couldn’t) or PopTarts© (which I could). She scoured this new frontier called the Internet for any information she could find, from website FAQ’s to small forums made up of other parents. She, just like many others, was desperate for some clarity or visibility to make sure our cupboards and grocery store aisle didn’t become a scary place. She spent hours on hold, getting half-truths, rude comments, or no answers at all just to ensure my childhood was a little bit better. She was a brave explorer in in a time where precautionary labelling was in its infancy – just trying to make sense of it all.

30's woman on a serious phone call.Today, that amount of effort seems daunting and overwhelming. I can only image the anxiety and fear she had each time a new food came into our house. Now, with food allergies being more prevalent, and manufacturers taking more precautions with their products and labelling, more information is at my finger tips from a variety of sources. If I have questions, I can contact a company by email, hotline, or check out reviews from thousands of others in various online media sources like websites, social media, articles, etc. If all that doesn’t satisfy my craving for knowledge I can reach out and read the many online publications dedicated to food allergy safety (and I can do that through social media as well). But my first step will always be reading an ingredient list.

I encourage you to read Health Canada’s interview with Food Allergy Canada where they detail the most recent food allergy labelling guidelines:  http://foodallergycanada.ca/2016/10/5-questions-for-health-canada

The “may contain” label was introduced to warn people about potential allergens not listed in the ingredient list. This was done in case another food product during the production process could have come into contact, fallen into, been on the same production line, or any other incident that could have contaminated your product with an allergen. Although more and more companies are disclosing this information and becoming transparent on the true risks of their products, it is still important to do your research if you are unsure about a new food.

– Arianne K

For more information about food labelling, check out Food Allergy Canada’s website.