Tag Archives: Complacency

Required Reading: Remembering to Read the Label, Even When You’re Comfortable…

Everyone always tells you, never visit the grocery store when you’re hungry. With a rumble in your stomach, everything on the shelves can start to look delicious. From chips, to cookies, to mashed potatoes, you’d buy just about anything to sate the hungry in your stomach. Satisfying your “hangrier” self can be a bit tricky when you have multiple food allergies. A grocery store can suddenly become a library of required reading with a hefty test at the end before you can go home and eat.

With so many labels to read and so much fine print to understand, it’s easy to get complacent and glance over ingredients with glazed eyes. Sometimes we can become too comfortable when it comes to brands or foods we’ve known and used for some time. My thought process in a store has bounced between, “it’s always been safe,” or “I’ve never had an issue with their other products,” and regrettably even, “this looks good I’ll read it later.” I’ve been guilty of making the mistake of throwing a commonly used brand product into my basket without reading the label, assuming it will be fine. However, a recent experience with a familiar brand taught me to take the few extra seconds no matter how busy I am, and always read the ingredients no matter what.

A crumbling experience: There is a brand of crackers I’ve trusted for as long as I can remember. Normally when I go grocery shopping I read every boxed or canned item I put in my basket. This routine started by my mom who would let me read ingredient labels after her and would quiz me about what’s safe, what isn’t and why. But that day, for a myriad of reasons and silly excuses I grabbed a box of crackers, a new flavour that looked good and put it in my basket. I went on my way busily preparing for a potluck the next day. For some reason, I didn’t even think twice about reading the ingredients for the crackers in my basket. I assumed, like all other flavours from the brand, that it was safe, and you know what they say when you assume… I got the other items to make a yummy dip to pair with my box of crackers and went on my way.

It wasn’t until the next day when I was plating the crackers, mere minutes before my guest arrived that I noticed something odd about these crackers. On the outside, they seemed fine but once cracked open there were seeds, sesame seeds to be exact, something I am allergic to and something that had never been on or in this brand of crackers before. I was dumbfounded and frankly disappointed with myself for not reading the ingredients list beforehand. After that night, and narrowly avoiding a reaction, I promised myself no matter how comfortable or familiar, I will always read every label and ingredient before I buy anything.

I was able to avoid a reaction that night but found myself wondering how many times I may have put myself at risk in the past because I forgot to read ingredients or was overly comfortable with a brand. As we get older, day-to-day errands can be overwhelming and sometimes reading every label in the grocery store can seem like a task you seriously just don’t want to do. When you’re stressed and hungry, you want to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. Even when we’re in a hurry though, it’s important to take an extra 10 seconds and read labels to ensure the foods you’re buying are safe. I always try and think of it along the same lines as the precautions I would take when dining out. I would personally never eat anywhere without researching, calling ahead and always ensuring the kitchen is aware and capable to handle cross-contamination. The same rules and precautions should be applied to our kitchens and shopping experiences.

As an allergy community we’re always looking for new and safe brands to add to our pantries. If we take the time, do some research and find safe products, we’ll have a better, and safer cooking experience. Creating culinary treats can challenge us to experiment in the kitchen in the best ways, so don’t let a little label reading stop you from cooking up a delicious meal.

Bon appetit!

– Arianne K.

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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.

The Dangers of Complacency with a Food Allergy: The Black Bear Tale

This past spring, two friends and I went interior camping near Gravenhurst. We found a really cool map online of an unmaintained provincial park that is essentially a big playground waiting to be explored by camping geeks like us. We prepared for weeks, slowly purchasing new gear, mapping out potential routes, acquiring additional auto-injectors, and discussing all the great trails waiting for us. As the big day grew closer, we began planning out our menu. This is where things can get tricky. I am at-risk for anaphylaxis for peanuts and tree nuts and my other friend, let’s call him Ted, is at-risk for anaphylaxis for peanuts, tree nuts, raw fruits and vegetables, and salmon. Luckily some of our allergens cross-over so we went with some of our staple foods that were easy to carry: Noodles, rice, oatmeal, chips, etc. Before long, we had our menu completed, our food purchased, and our bags packed. We didn’t think twice about the food since we ate them all the time and felt confident that what we had was safe to eat.

Entering the park was quite the experience. The road in starts as pavement, then turns to gravel, then abruptly turns into pot-holed, uneven dirt for several kilometers. Once we parked our car and took off down a trail, we soon realized we had missed the trail we wanted and had to double back. Whenever we stopped moving, the black fly army would swarm us and leave itchy reminders that this was their land. Clearly, we were off to a great start… The actual trail we wanted started as hardly more than a half foot of compact grass but regardless, we were finally on the trail and making up ground.

DSCN1407The scenery was beautiful! The trails meandered up and down, left and right, and popped us out on some really nice ridges overlooking forest and marsh below. This park was like a dream come true for us! We couldn’t believe we hadn’t discovered it earlier.

Anyway, that night we found a great little campsite beside a lake and stayed there for the night. The next day, we made some oatmeal and Ted had a packet of noodles and off we went down the trail to continue our exploration.

DSCN1410Flash forward about an hour later. We had been hiking through a dense forest that took us over a little stream and up a steep ridge. At the top of this ridge, we took a break to take in the incredible view of a marsh below and drink some water. Andy, the second friend, points down to the marsh and says, “Whoa! Look! A bear!” Lo and behold, there was a massive black bear trudging along the marsh in a line away from us where we had been hiking not even twenty minutes prior! We marvelled at catching this sight and probably got a little too loud because the bear turned and looked up the ridge towards us.

Bear in the morning on the loop in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.

We all paused, not knowing what to do next.

The bear seemed uninterested in climbing the steep ridge and continued to the other side of the marsh while we picked up our bags and continued to hike the ridge, still excited that we saw a bear!

About ten minutes later, Ted started to breathe heavily. He took out his puffer and took a couple puffs thinking it was just his asthma that sometimes flares up.

We continued our hike.

A few minutes later, Ted took a few more puffs which raised a few red flags in my head. We took another break near a split in the trail and he told us that his chest felt very heavy and his breathing felt oddly similar to one of his past anaphylactic reactions. Now all red flags were up!

We quickly looked at the map. Luckily there was a fork in the trail right beside us that led a kilometer straight back to our car. There was a river to the left and the marsh to the right. There was only one way to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention…the bear was last seen at the end of that trail. So now we had quite the scenario. Ted needed to get to the hospital and the only way to get there was down a trail blocked by a bear! …Are you kidding me?!

There was really no choice. We took out some pots, I had my hatchet, and we made as much noise as possible while we walked down the trail. The bush was so thick that we had no idea where the bear might be hiding so we kept our eyes peeled and kept moving.

No sign of the bear.

The car was now in sight and Ted’s breathing had gotten worse, so he took his auto-injector.

We loaded the car as fast as we could and I sped down the pot-hole road. I had only one thing on my mind: Drive Fast! The hospital was 45 minutes away and I wasn’t going to be the reason Ted didn’t make it there.

After he took the auto-injector, Ted’s symptoms didn’t get better but they weren’t worse either which was a good sign. After 35 minutes of winding roads, we made it to the hospital and everything turned out great. Ted was fine and we ended up going to a friend’s cottage nearby instead of braving the trails again.

We looked back at our food and meticulously read every ingredient twice. It turns out that the noodles that Ted insisted he ate daily may contain peanuts, tree nuts, AND fish. A triple threat for Ted!

The moral of the story is that it is easy to become complacent with food allergies. Reading the label can become so routine that we just trust that the ingredients of our favourite brands won’t change. Ted and I learned a very scary lesson that food ingredients should always be read multiple times no matter how often you buy a certain brand. Companies can change ingredients at any time. All it takes is you eating one package of “may contain” out of a thousand other times to trigger an anaphylactic reaction. It is never worth the risk. Do yourself a favour and always stay sharp with your food allergy. Be alert and stay safe.

– Dylan B.