Tag Archives: Dylan B.

Food Allergy Awareness at the Office

In the past calendar year, I have started two new jobs in office settings. In both cases, I tried to initiate conversations about my food allergies as early as possible without overwhelming my new co-workers. Instead of providing a number of tips, I am going to share a couple of stories from my experiences and hopefully you will be able to draw lessons from them to apply to your new job.

My first new job was a fresh, new start with new co-workers after nearly 4 years at a different company. With this fresh start, I wanted to be diligent with my food allergy awareness and education. I met with the Human Resources Manager and discussed the severity of my peanut and tree nut allergy. Rather than demand an allergen-safe environment, I shared my general management strategies with her and assured her that I will practice safe eating procedures. I quickly learned at orientation that the company provided snacks and had a pantry that was always well-stocked for the employees. After meeting with the HR Manager, I read the ingredients of all provided snacks and made a mental note of which snacks were safe for me, and which were not. I then cleaned my new office cubicle (including the keyboard and mouse) with soap and water to reduce the risk of cross-contamination from previous usage. The company itself was very accommodating of my food allergy and my manager even went so far as buying only peanut/tree nut safe snacks so that I would feel more comfortable in our work space. Pretty cool eh? This experience just goes to show how something as simple as being open about your food allergy can open so many doors.

In my second new job, I took the same approach and told my new manager about my food allergies on day one. The topic came up at lunch, which was a great time to break the ice on a topic that can make some people feel quite awkward. She was luckily also very accommodating and made sure to send an email to the rest of my new team to inform them of my food allergies. The tricky part about this job is that it revolves around teaching others about good health strategies, which includes healthy eating. For the most part, tree nuts are an easy snack suggestion as they are a great source of healthy fats and nutrients. My challenge moving forward will be to ensure I implement safe food preparation practices on my own since I cannot expect everyone to avoid these snacks just for me (especially when my team and I promote tree nuts as a healthy snack!).

One take home message that I’ve learned through these experiences is that being open with an employer can be extremely beneficial to ensuring my safety, but the onus is ultimately on me to keep myself safe at the end of the day. As long as I keep my immediate working environment clean, have my auto-injectors accessible, wash my hands before eating, and let others know about my food allergy, I can feel confident that I have done all I can do to feel comfortable and focused when I am at the office.

– Dylan B.

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Cross-Contamination at the Grocery Store

Eating out can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you have multiple food allergies. As with most food allergic people, I find comfort in making my own food in my own house as I am confident that I have a clean food preparation space and that the food I make will be allergen-safe. If eating in and doing your own meal preparation is in your wheel house, have you ever thought about cross-contamination at the grocery store? It’s a real threat and definitely something to consider when shopping.

I bet this is something many of us notice but never really acknowledge. The truth is, this can be a big risk! Take for example, the photos I took below. In the first photo, I was about to buy some fresh asparagus for dinner when I stopped and saw the pistachio bags directly beside. A few of the bags had tears in the packaging, likely from a stock employee accidentally cutting them with their box cutter to open the box of pistachio bags. The display shelves were basically touching so how could I guarantee there was no cross-contamination? I couldn’t. In the second photo, I wanted to buy some figs but there were open containers of chestnuts, walnuts, and assorted nuts directly beside and even touching the fig packaging. In the third photo, the fresh fruit I wanted to buy were directly beside an open container of tree nuts. 

If these examples make you a little nervous about grocery shopping, my advice would be to harness that energy to help you focus on reducing your risk of cross-contamination. Here are some simple tips I use:

  • Try to stay away from produce directly beside your allergen if it is loose and unpackaged.
  • Bring your own bags from home (reduce, reuse, recycle!)
  • Always bag your produce – think about all the food that travels over the check-out conveyor belt…it’s not worth the risk of cross-contamination at that stage either.
  • Always wash your produce with soap and water whenever possible.

In the majority of cases, grocery shopping will be a safe venture for obtaining allergen-friendly foods. My objective with this blog post was simply to raise the awareness of risks involved in daily life that many of us overlook. Hopefully shedding light on this subject will help all of us become a little safer with the management of our food allergies. Good luck and let me know if you have had a similar experience at the grocery store!

– Dylan B.

From Food Allergies Suck to Food Allergies Rock!

Annoyed woman plugging ears with fingers doesn't want to listenI’ve found that there can be a lot of negativity revolving around food allergies. “Oh, you can’t eat peanut butter? Your life must suck!” “What?! You have to carry that thing around all the time? That’s brutal.” “Well if you can’t eat this, what can you eat?”

While the negativity can be quite overwhelming at times, I don’t really understand why it happens in the first place. What difference does it make to someone else’s life if I can’t eat something with peanuts or tree nuts in it? My life does not suck because I can’t eat Nutella or peanut butter. In fact, I think my life is better because I can’t eat those things. On the one hand, I remind everyone that because of my risk for anaphylaxis with peanuts and tree nuts, I avoid plenty of baked goods and sweets that my otherwise very sweet tooth would indulge in daily! This keeps me much healthier and in better shape. I’ve also tried peanut butter when I underwent an oral allergy test and full disclosure, I did not like the taste AT ALL.

Secondly, because of my food allergies I have learned so much about food, restaurant hospitality, travelling, airlines, baking, cooking, and especially about myself, that I would have never learned otherwise. My food allergy has opened more doors of opportunity than I could have possibly imagined when my 9-year-old self was told he was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

Teamwork meeting concept
For the most part, I am a very positive person. I pride myself on seeing the good in most situations. It’s not always easy to be positive when people around you always seem to pick out the negative aspects of life with a food allergy. My suggestion is to consider the fact that these people may simply not know anything about food allergies and their comments are simply ignorance. Take the opportunity to spread awareness and teach them about the positive aspects of food allergies. I think there’s something to be said about maintaining a positive outlook on food allergies. Positivity is contagious! Maybe your return comments will help them see why their comments were unjustified and why life with a food allergy really isn’t so bad after all.

– Dylan B.

The Anxiety of Never Having an Allergic Reaction

As someone who has been immersed in the food allergy world for most my life, I’ve read and heard a lot about anxiety with food allergies. However, most of the attention has always been on anxiety after experiencing an allergic reaction. As an example, my brother has had three major reactions to peanuts or tree nuts where he had to use his epinephrine auto-injector. After each of these reactions, he was very hesitant to eat out or try any new foods for fear that they might trigger another reaction. One of my best friends grew into his food allergies after the age of 20 and has since experienced at least 11 severe allergic reactions, some of which required the use of multiple epinephrine auto-injectors and very close calls in getting to the hospital. Needless to say, his anxiety when eating in a social setting is quite high!

My own anxiety about my food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts feels quite different. I’m technically at-risk for anaphylaxis. I’ve been tested every other year for as long as I can remember and the result is always the same. The peanut bump always swells up like a balloon. That being said, I’ve been extremely fortunate and never experienced an allergic reaction. I know the signs and symptoms only through what I’ve read, heard, or seen. I’ve never physically or mentally experienced what a reaction actually feels like but I still get anxious at times.

man with stressed face expression brain melting into linesI’ll give you an example. Around the holiday season, people like to share baked goods with me at the physiotherapy clinic I work for. I know baked goods are potentially risky for someone with a peanut/tree nut allergy so I always triple check ingredients and ask about the risk for cross-contamination. Only when I feel 100% confident that the treat is allergen-safe, will I take a bite. Well on one particular instance, a patient brought in brownies. I asked about each and every ingredient, was taken through the steps required to make them, and was assured they were “nut-free” because she had a nephew who had the same allergy. From the protocol I made for myself, the brownies passed every test. So I took a bite. It was delicious! I thought about how I could easily eat the entire batch and not think twice about it.

Then, I heard the patient chatting with another patient about Belgian chocolate that she bought from a bulk food store. Bulk food? Belgian chocolate? One red flag went up. She continued to talk about how that chocolate was so good that she put it in the brownies. Another red flag went up. As she turned to me, she asked if I could taste that chocolate. All I could think about was the risk of cross-contamination from the bulk food store. As a rule, I never eat “may contain peanuts or tree nuts” products because any risk is too much risk for me. So in the moment, I simply nodded my reply, set down the rest of my brownie and left the clinic to go on my lunch. As I drove, I checked my signs and symptoms a hundred times thinking that I was likely to react. I was shaking and had put myself into an anxious fit! An hour passed, then two, then three, and I realized I must have been lucky this time.

It may have been an over reaction on my part but I still think I had reason to feel anxious. The unknown, especially when it comes to food, can be quite nerve-wracking. I also think that maybe my own anxiety stems from the fact that I’ve had to administer an epinephrine auto-injector on both my brother and my best friend. Maybe it stems from the fact that I have seen the fear in my friend’s face when he was experiencing his most severe allergic reaction. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to slow my breathing, calm my thoughts, and focus on what is actually happening, not what I think could happen. This strategy has helped me conquer food-related anxiety multiple times and I consider myself very lucky to be 17 years without an allergic reaction (knock on wood!!)

– Dylan B.

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Now Calling: New Blog Writers!

 

Retro human hand with the finger pointing or gesturing towards you. Vintage hipster illustration isolated on white background

Are you a blogger? Do you enjoy writing about intriguing topics and sparking conversation amongst your peers? Would you like to be part of a one-of-a-kind team that is leading the way for other adults with food allergies just like you?

The Adults with Allergies Blog is looking to expand its team for 2017 to make it bigger and better than ever! We are looking for more stories, more advice, and more tips to help others live safely and confidently with allergies. Having food allergies is not a necessity but knowledge and/or experience with them would be considered an asset.

If you are interested, please contact us (https://adultswithallergies.com/contact/). The following link can also be used to find the application form (note #7): http://foodallergycanada.ca/get-involved/volunteer/

We look forward to hearing from you!

– Dylan (Blog Editor)

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.