Tag Archives: Cross-contamination

Why Aren’t People More Allergy Aware?

Help me, Help you.

It’s important to take a step back from our daily lives and gain some perspective. Whether it’s to gain a new respect for your surroundings, or a better understanding of someone else’s life choices, it makes us all a better, well-rounded society that appreciates the differences we all possess.

I’m well aware that the severity of food allergies is not something most people deal with on a daily basis. The reality that a trace amount of food or sheer inhalation can affect someone so physically is a reality many live with, but not all. Over 2.5 million Canadians self-report having at least one food allergy. Yet, there sometimes seems to be an overwhelming lack of allergy awareness or compassion in society today. I usually try to brush this off, with fleeting thoughts circling the idea of “you don’t live with it every day, so of course you don’t know”; but the more I am exposed to people who aren’t aware of allergies, the more I realize it’s not necessarily that they are unaware. It may be that they are simply misinformed on the subject.

I truly believe the road to knowledge is paved with curiosity and an open mind. In order to help people who aren’t allergy aware better understand our food allergies, we need to squash three common misconceptions surrounding them. I summarize these below.

  1. Cross-contamin… what?
  2. In my opinion, the biggest misconception hindering allergy awareness is the use of the term cross contamination. The main point being:

    Cross-contamination is when “a small amount of a food allergen gets into another food accidentally, or when it is present in saliva, on a surface or on an object.”

    For example, when a knife is used to cut an egg and is only wiped off, rather than cleaned with soap, the use of this knife on something else could cause a reaction to someone with an egg allergy. Personally, cross-contamination is the scariest aspect of my food allergy. It pulls me into the depths of anxiety and has me second-guessing everything on my fork.

    Someone else’s kitchen can be a scary place. I rarely eat food when I don’t know how or where it’s prepared. If someone is prepping food for me, I urge them to ensure no cross-contamination happens from using the same utensils or bowls. I do my best to express the dangers of foods touching other foods but one thing that is completely out my control is the cross-contamination of utensils and objects around me. Doorknobs, handrails, etc. anything you touch I may also touch; and that is something I don’t think many people are aware of. My suggestion is a simple one: just be aware of your surroundings. Whether you’re in public, at a dinner party, or at a friend’s house; be aware of what you’ve eaten and what you’re touching. If you’re not sure, the safe bet is to wash your hands or even your mouth. Trust me, your food allergy friends will thank you! Plus it‘s an overall healthy and good hygiene practice.

    1. False news about allergies:

    I always tell anyone prepping my food about my allergies in great detail, whether it be in someone’s home or at a restaurant. I stress the severity of them and ensure I talk to those in charge. It’s these steps that help me feel safe when dining out. I think when it comes to the misconception or lack of awareness with food allergies, it is people abusing the word allergen. I can’t express the importance of telling others about your food allergy. However, disliking a food, hating a certain taste, or not wanting a certain food on your plate does not qualify as an allergy. By creating a misconception about food allergies, preparations, or brushing off the severity of it causes a miscommunication and could lead to a potentially fatal mistake for those who actually have a food allergy. I understand not liking food (I hate cauliflower) but calling it an allergen isn’t fair to your friend who deals with a food allergy every day. You can ask for substitutes, exclude things, or choose not to get a dish, just please don’t mislead people about your reasons why.

    1. This week in the movies…

    The last reason I think there isn’t more allergy awareness, is the portrayal of food allergies in movies and in pop culture. It often shows sensationalized medical measures like swelling up like a blowfish, “funny” hives, awkward situations, or misrepresentation of administering an auto-injector, it’s hard for those not living with a food allergy to spot a reaction in real life. The truth is, allergic reactions come in many forms and being able to identify and react to those symptoms is important.  An allergic reaction can affect several areas of the body and can present itself in many forms(3). Helping those around us understand how to identify and treat an allergic reaction helps everyone gain some perspective and respect for the severity of food allergies. If you’re unsure, it’s simple- just ask. Ask your friend or family member to explain their signs and symptoms. Come up with a plan of action, and make sure you know where there auto-injector is. Everyone likes the good-guy-hero in the movies. If you train hard and learn the signs, symptoms, and emergency protocol, that could be you!

-Arianne K

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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.

New Years Allergy Scare and Lessons Learned

My friends and I always try to do something to celebrate the New Year. I feel like it’s just such a fun night to enjoy out with your friends/family. Two years ago, my friends and I planned to go to Niagara Falls for New Year’s. We were so prepared; we booked everything way in advance, purchased our tickets for our New Year’s party, and figured out who was driving. The group I was going with was a very responsible group and they had all known me since elementary school, so they were very familiar with my food allergies. We were all so psyched to go to Niagara!

I’m a pretty frugal person when it comes to money, especially since I was still a student in University, so I assumed that my friends and I were going to eat at fast food restaurants for the majority of the time in Niagara. I actually love fast food restaurants as they are literally EVERYWHERE and I’m very familiar with what I can and can’t eat. On New Year’s eve though, my friends stopped by this lavish Italian restaurant just outside of our hotel. They made reservations for that evening, without even bothering to call me and ask me to come over and check the menu. When they arrived back at our room and told me our plans, I didn’t think much of it. I was more angry at the fact that I would be spending 30+ dollars on a dinner that I really didn’t care to eat. I would’ve much preferred something quick. I didn’t bother to go downstairs and check the place out because I just thought I’d investigate it when we went down there for dinner.


At dinner, the place was very accommodating of my food allergies. I spoke to the manager and he assured me that they were going to do everything they could to prevent any sort of cross-contamination from occurring. To avoid any miscommunication between myself and the staff, I ordered a very simple dish. However, around 3 hours later, I broke out in MASSIVE hives all over my body in the middle of our New Years party. My best friend and I went back to the room while everyone else stayed at the party.

 

Thankfully, nothing further happened, but the hives were definitely a downer on the evening. I’m not sure if they were from something I ate from the restaurant, but I had a feeling it was. Everything else I ate/drank that evening, I was very familiar with. That was the last time I will ever let my friends choose a restaurant before discussing it with me. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten there if I didn’t feel comfortable. Two years later, I’m no longer friends with any of the people I went to New Years with (besides the one girl I went back to the room with). I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid of speaking your mind and telling your friends what makes you comfortable/uncomfortable because IT’S YOUR HEALTH. 

 

Happy New Year,

 

– Giulia

Take Me Out to the Ball Game – But Don’t Buy Me Some Peanuts or Cracker Jacks!

 

Toronto, Canada - August 8, 2014: Aerial view of the Rogers Center a few hours before of a Blue Jays match

Going to a baseball game is a really fun summer time activity and is a great way to spend an afternoon with friends or family. Among the cheering crowds and home runs, however, there is often an element of risk for those with food allergies – especially those allergic to nuts. Every baseball game I have been to has many fans chomping on a big bag of peanuts and throwing their shells all over the ground. I have had more than one run-in with this and it can be a scary situation! Although there is a very slim chance of any of the nut proteins becoming aerosolized and you ingesting them causing a reaction, it is still anxiety provoking to be sitting with a pile of peanut shells at your feet. Many people will often avoid going to baseball games for this reason alone but if you are vigilant and careful you can still safely enjoy the game!

Before buying your tickets check to see if there is a special “nut-free” section at the stadium. In Toronto, they have special games throughout the season where they offer a nut-free zone for families to sit in where no nuts are allowed. Look at your local team’s website to see if there is a safer option for you.

Since the nuts can’t always be avoided, you need to be aware of your surroundings. When I first get to my seat I do a quick scan of those sitting beside me as well as the rows behind and in front of me to check for any peanuts. If I do see someone eating them I will work it out with my friends to ensure that I am sitting as far away as possible from the nuts.

Two young boys hoping to catch a fly ball at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game

You should also feel okay letting those around you know about your nut allergy. I have been in the situation where a man sitting two seats down from me beside my friend got a big bag of peanuts in the middle of the game. Before I even noticed my friend was kind enough to let the man know of my food allergies and asked if he could not throw his shells on the ground. He was extremely understanding and kept all of the shells contained.

If you plan on eating at the game, there are lots of options that can be allergen safe. The peanuts are almost always sold in a sealed bag so there is little to no risk of cross contamination. To ensure that you are eating safely though, it is best to eat your food in the concourse area just to make sure you aren’t ingesting any stray nut proteins that may be surrounding you. It is also important to wash your hands with soap and water before eating in case you may have touched surfaces that those eating peanuts have as well.

In the end you shouldn’t be avoiding the baseball game in fear of having a reaction! There are some easy ways to make the experience safe and if you are with friends and family who know about your allergies and you have your auto-injector, you should be just fine. So go on and enjoy the 7th inning stretch, do the wave, and cheer on the home team!

Lindsay S.

Don’t Eat the Butter Chicken: What I Learned from my Food Allergy Close Call

I was invited to watch a soccer game in a box at a local stadium.

It was a chance to network for a new job and I was feeling a little bit out of my element.

So I said yes to the butter chicken.

toned image of indian chicken curry with basmati rice

The idea of a meal prepared by an Executive Chef in a kitchen sounded safe to me.

I spoke with the Chef, read their ingredients list, and went over all the possible questions for cross contamination. Did you use a clean cutting board? Is there a designated area where you prepare the ingredients? The staff assured me that this was the standard dish they serve to food allergic guests.

I dabbed the sauce on my tongue with my finger before dipping my spoon into the dish (the classic eating-out test for me).

But seconds after the sauce touched my tongue I was administering my Epi-Pen® and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

The most terrifying part of the event was the ambulance ride.

The driver was stopped at a traffic light only a block away from the stadium when suddenly there was pounding on the side of the ambulance truck.

A dad was driving his teenage son to the hospital because he was going into anaphylactic shock. He wasn’t carrying his medication on him.

And he had also eaten the butter chicken.

Here’s what I learned from this close call:

  1. Auto-injectors like my Epi-Pen® are a painless tool that will save your life. This was the first time I administered my Epi-Pen® on myself. Before this, I was terrified. I would typically rush myself to the hospital after consuming lots of Benadryl®. Was it denial of being in anaphylactic shock? Fear of doing it wrong? I’m not sure. That moment made me realize how important administering an auto-injector is during a crisis.
  1. Don’t feel pressure to eat out just to feel included. In my professional life, I often have moments where I feel like I fit in and my food allergies don’t exist. I feel like we’re all equals, part of a team, working together to create something awesome. If your friends or colleagues respect and understand your food allergies, compromises can be made to tailor to your needs.
  1. Always have a buddy who knows where your medication is located, at any age. My wonderful friend rushed to my purse seconds after the spoon hit my tongue. She gave me my Epi-Pen® within one minute of the reaction starting. She knew I had severe food allergies and remained calm in the situation. She stayed with me in the hospital and reached out to my emergency contacts.Sketch illustration of two hands holding each other strongly
  2. If you trust a kitchen with preparing your food, request to have something made fresh for you with simple ingredients. Don’t go for the prepared butter chicken from the chef who isn’t working the shift anymore. If the kitchen passes your trust test, choose uncomplicated, simple food. A grilled chicken breast without sauce and one side veggie is much easier than a complex soup with a long list of possible contaminants.
  1. Despite your due diligence, mistakes can happen. The teen who also had a reaction to butter chicken was a season pass holder for the stadium. He always ate the butter chicken at games. But that day the chef used one different ingredient. We can’t predict these things and it’s part of what we live with every day.
  1. Always go to the hospital. I received a second dose of epinephrine when I arrived at the hospital. About two hours after arriving, while in the waiting room, I went into anaphylactic shock again. Always seek physician care even if you have used your Epi-Pen®.

Cashew paste. The morning chef used cashew paste and didn’t follow the kitchen’s recipe.

That night I learned a valuable lesson. We all know that eating brings people together, and in that stressful situation, I wanted to feel included. But it’s never worth the risk.

After that night, I promised myself to never again concede to the pressure to eat out in public.

Do you have any lessons from a close call to add?

– Catherine B.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: Recognizing the Signs of an Allergic Reaction

iStock_000020351292_SmallIt started with some hives. A few here or there, maybe on my arms or a bit on my chest. I never really thought much of it. To be clear, this all happened when I was living in residence at Algonquin College. The reason why I never really thought much of it was because the place where I was living was less than clean. The carpets seemed to be always dusty no matter how many times we vacuumed or dusted, there was permanent grime on the tiled floors, and the air quality was less than desirable. I thought it must have been my seasonal allergies or my dust allergy so I bought a dehumidifier and thought I would be done with it. But nope, my hives still came at least three a week. So I opted to start using a new shampoo and conditioner. Still nothing, they were persistent little buggers who would last for hours. Only now they seemed like they were spreading. I told myself it was because I was scratching them non-stop and that’s why they were spreading. I was starting to get fed up with these little red dots! I had changed so many aspects of my life and it was not getting any better.

I had never suspected it might be the food I was eating. Prior to going to college, I had contacted the school about the cafe in the residence. I was told it was safe for my peanut and tree nut allergy. The meals served in the cafe were mostly basic pastas and meat dishes that I had nothing to really worry about.

But when I started making notes of everything I did on the days I would get these hives, it always coincided with me eating meals at the cafe. Now, I was starting to get worried, why would they assure me it was safe if it wasn’t? When I spoke with the manager of the cafe in residence they told me they don’t use any peanuts or tree nuts or nut oils. But the containers they use they get from the big cafe on campus. He put me in touch with the manager and I was on my way.

At first it was hard to get a straight answer from them, but I finally got down to the nitty gritty and realized that the same pans used for the food in my cafe, were being used in various other parts of the cafe containing peanuts and tree nuts. They weren’t being cleaned well enough and the residue was affecting me enough to cause the hives.

I was stunned, annoyed, angry, and a million other emotions. How could such little residue cause such a big reaction? I’ve always known the dangers of cross contamination, but this took the cake. I should have paid more attention to the signs, and not brushed off the hives as something less serious. Hives are a pretty big sign that something is not right. It took a few months of continuous hives before I took matters into my own hands and found out why. The staff tried to assure me that they would take better precaution with food prep, but I was too scared from the hives to eat at the cafe anymore. I bought some allergen-safe foods to cook in my own room and said goodbye to the cafe.

I learned a very important lesson that year in college, never ignore a sign. However small or large, it is important to recognize when something is wrong and attempt to correct it.

– Arianne K.