Tag Archives: Groceries

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.

Advertisements

Growing up and Growing out of a Food Allergy

 

Beautiful girl is looking at unhealthy donut with appetite. It is situated on a table. Isolated on a white background

I’ve always maintained that while food allergies are an important part of me, they are not something that defines me. That being said, when you grow up avoiding certain foods because of food allergies it is a pretty big moment when you find out that you are no longer allergic to a specific food. Not to mention the new doors that are opened in terms of experiencing new food options. Though I may be dating myself, I can still remember the first food allergen I ever grew out of. It was 17 years ago… and I was six years old. I had grown out of my milk allergy after doing a “challenge test” at my allergist’s clinic and I had just successfully drank an entire cup of milk. My mom then thought that the next step to celebrate this momentous occasion was to give me chocolate for the first time— after tasting, I proceeded to comment on how gross it tasted.

Luckily my taste buds for chocolate have changed. I would have to wait 16 years, but I have also been lucky enough to grow out of another food allergy. My entire life I have been allergic to peanuts as well as tree nuts, but after another visit to my allergist this past fall I was determined to not be allergic to any tree nuts! While my peanut allergy remains life-threatening, I found this to be an exciting change in what I am able to include in my diet.

The first couple of times that I included tree nuts in my diet, I always had a friend or family member with me and it felt very strange to be eating a food I spent my entire life avoiding at all costs. However, it didn’t take me long to discover Nutella and I almost finished an entire jar in one weekend (with help of course…). Over time, it felt less strange to include tree nuts in my diet, and it probably made my friends more uneasy to see me eat tree nuts than it did for me.  When I reached this point, it ended up being fun to discover all the different tree nuts that I could eat, how I could use them in recipes, and finding different menu items I could have that before I had to avoid. For example, I also have an egg and wheat allergy. A lot of vegan foods that I eat are egg-free and luckily, tend to be gluten-free as well. Vegan recipes, however, commonly use different tree nuts as a key ingredient, so I no longer had to be worried about missing an ingredient such as cashew butter, almond flour, or crushed walnuts! It also took me a while to get out of the habit when giving my “allergy speech” to waiters at restaurants to just say “wheat, eggs, and peanuts” instead of “all nuts” when I was stating my food allergies. But this, like with all things, practice definitely makes perfect!

Despite having a new world of foods to try with the elimination of my tree nut allergy, I still found my vigilance has to be up in terms of avoiding the risk of cross contamination with peanuts. Depending on what tree nuts and tree nut products I end up buying at the grocery store “may contain traces of peanuts” is often still included on the label— making strict ingredient label monitoring a must! As well, I have to make sure while talking to individuals about my food allergies, including waiters at restaurants, to stress that my allergy to peanuts is life-threatening and cross contamination is a big risk.

While I still have to be on my food allergy “A-game,” growing out of an allergy can involve a lot of excitement and new food discovery! Have you ever grown out of a food allergy?  If so, how was the transition of incorporating this food into your diet, and what things did you still have to be careful about?

– Caitlyn P.

A Food Allergy Camper’s Guide to…Camping!

canoe 2

I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned camper; but I have definitely had my fair share of outdoor adventures and know how to handle my food allergy in the wild. The following is a collection of my best advice and tips for you to consider before setting out on your own big outdoor adventure.

  • Remember to pack extra auto-injectors with your first aid kit. Then, when you have your extra ones, pack another (just in case); and keep them on you at all times.
  • Train your group (if you’re travelling with one) about how to properly administer your auto-injector and make sure they feel confident with it before heading out.
  • FOOD! I would say this is the most important thing to remember to pack (not just because I love food). It is very important to pack food that you can feel safe eating when you go camping. If someone else in your group is in charge of buying the food, make sure they are well aware of the severity of your food allergy. If you are backpack camping in the wild, I would recommend accompanying that person or even volunteering to buy the food yourself. This will improve your safety and comfort when you hit the trails!
  • Wear your medical identification.
  • Pack appropriately. If you are aware that plants carrying your allergen are present in the area, it might be wise to pack long pants and shirts in case you go on a hike. This will help protect your skin from contact with your allergen.
  • Keep contact information with you or with your gear. It may also be useful to add some contact information for nearby establishments to get in contact should an emergency arise.
  • Bio-degradable soap. This is probably a step most people overlook when packing for a camping trip—especially when you have to travel light. Washing your hands with soap is the best way to rid your skin of allergens after contact. So, when the nearest hospital is nowhere close, this is an important item; and you should always wash before meals!
  • Have fun! Always keep safety in the back of your mind while camping; but remember that it is just as important to relax and have some fun!

Hopefully these tips help prepare you for your future adventures. Comment and tell me about your camping experiences. I definitely have a few great stories I’d love to share!

Dylan

 

Food Substitutes for Common Allergies

Cake Temptation

One of the most common responses I get from people when I tell them about my allergies is typically: “What do you even eat!?” I always find this funny to respond to; but I always reply with something along the lines of: “oh trust me, I eat.” I will admit that being allergic to wheat, eggs, and nuts can pose some limitations; though I realize not necessarily as many as others encounter with other allergies. There are, however, numerous food substitutions for allergens that allow you to not have a diet that is lacking important nutrients or yummy food options.

When trying to find replacements, in your cooking and baking, for common allergens, there are some commonly used options that are growing in popularity and can be found at many grocery and health food stores. Wheat flour is a very common in cooking and baking. This poses a challenge to those who have wheat allergies or gluten intolerances.  Numerous wheat-free flours are commonly available now for use. The challenge is getting an appropriate consistency with wheat free flour that best resembles regular wheat flour.  A combination of wheat- free flours is usually recommended to produce the best results when baking.  Different varieties of wheat-free flours include: white rice and brown rice flour, oat flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, and garbanzo (chick pea) flour.  Along with replacing wheat flour in cooking, there are many wheat-free products available in grocery stores and health food stores that include: breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, pizza doughs, etcetera. It is even more common to find gluten-free restaurant options and, with a little more searching, to find even restaurants and bakeries dedicated to being gluten free.

Dairy is another common allergen that is in many different foods. There are various possibilities for substitutions. For milk, there are a variety of dairy-free milks that are available. These include: soy, rice, hemp, almond, and coconut milk.  That being said, someone with nut allergies should exercise caution with almond and coconut milks depending upon their specific allergies.  For substituting butter, margarine may be an option for some; but many other foods are being used for butter in recipes which are considered to be ‘healthier options’.  This includes using coconut oil, applesauce, avocado, and canola oil in your baking in lieu of butter.  For substituting items such as yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese, dairy-free versions can be found at many health food stores and will often be made from a soy base.  Along with this, soy cheese and other vegan dairy-free cheeses are commonly sold; but these do not melt the same as regular cheese and, therefore, do not work in recipes where this is required.  Nutritional yeast is an item found in health food stores and it is a popular ingredient used in recipes requiring melted cheese (such as ‘mac and cheese’).

In terms of ice cream replacements, sorbet is a chilled dessert that doesn’t contain dairy. However, other dairy-free ice cream options are available—such as ice cream made with rice or coconut milk.

Egg can be a tricky allergen to replace in foods where it is the core ingredient; this is in dishes such as omelets and scrambled eggs.  Eggs are, however, key in baking either as a binder or leavening agent. But you can have various substitutes available that can also serve this purpose.  It is very common to find, in health food stores and some grocery stores, packaged egg replacer. This is a powder that, when mixed with milk, can be used specifically as a replacement for eggs in baking. Other egg substitutes that serve the ‘binding’ purpose in baking include: a half cup of mashed banana, ¼ cup of applesauce, 3-1/2 tablespoon gelatin blend or a ‘flax seed egg’ (1 tablespoon flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water, set for one minute).  For using eggs as a leavening agent, a good substitute can be combining 1- ½ table spoons of vegetable oil with 1-1/2 table spoons water and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Also see a blog post by Arianne which specifically talks about focusing on replacing eggs!

Peanut and nut allergies are extremely common and can make eating some Asian foods such as Thai a ‘no-go’. These allergies also get rid of the possibility of having that classic ‘go-to peanut butter-jelly sandwich’.  Some alternatives include a variety of ‘seed butters’ available that are made out of seeds such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. Soynut butter and peabutter are also common items now also found in grocery and health food stores.  Seeds can also be a great ingredient to use in salads and other dishes for a ‘nutty-like’ addition.

Soy is a tricky allergen to avoid. As you might have noticed, it is commonly used as a ‘go-to’ for other allergen substitutes.  That being said, more and more soy-free options are becoming available.  With items such as vegan cheese gaining in popularity, it is possible to find a soy-free version for those also allergic to dairy.  Soy-free margarines are also sold; but it does take some time to find what stores are the most soy-free friendly.  Butter is also an option for this if you are not also allergic to dairy.  For replacing soy oil, canola oil as well as olive oil are good options.  Some foods such as soy sauce are inevitably hard to replace; but there is always the option of searching out recipes to create your own version.   There are also chickpea versions of miso available (which is traditionally made from fermented soybeans).

This just highlights some common allergens that have different food substitutes available.  I always like to look at avoiding my allergies as a way to find exciting new ways to prepare food and get creative!  Feel free to share and comment below with other foods you struggle to find substitutes for or ways you have been creative with your food allergies!!

Caitlyn P.

 

No Eggs, No Problem: Egg Substitutes

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.01.21 AM

Nothing says welcome home like the fresh smell of baked goods wafting from your kitchen. Cookies, pies, cakes, you name it, sound delicious.  But there is one sneaky ingredient lurking in all of those delicious baked goods that could cause major problems: eggs. Eggs are currently on the list of the most common food allergies in Canada; but that doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying delicious treats of every kind. For many treats, there are many alternatives to crunchy, chewy centers; but what about the very makeup of the treat? Eggs provide rise, moisture, and fill to many different kinds of recipes.  The following three items are my most sacred baking tips for the most delectable, unique baked goods you’ll find. These are recipes that your friends will beg you to tell them or demand you make when you bake.

1)  Yogurt

We all love chocolate chip cookies. They can be gooey and chewy or crunchy and satisfying. But what about those pesky eggs in the recipe?  Well, the purpose of the eggs in this particular recipe is to add moisture to the batter. To add a little kick to your already perfected chocolate chip cookies, try putting a table spoon of plain 1 percent yogurt for each egg called for in the recipe. The yogurt will supply the batter with enough moisture and add a delicious taste that will leave people wondering what that special ingredient is.

2)  Coconut Milk/Butter

It’s delicious, it’s sweet, it’s the perfect low-fat substitute for many baked goods. It provides excellent moisture to batters as well providing items like breads, cookies, and muffins, an extra sweet taste; so you can cut back on the sugar you add to your recipe. Coconut butter can be used in breads and muffins to add sweetness to things that also don’t require a lot of sugar. For each egg called for, use a tablespoon of butter or 1/3 cup of the milk. If you’re using the milk, make sure to add baking soda so your mixture isn’t too wet. If you feel like your batter is too wet, add some flour.

3) Baking Soda

Odorless, virtually-tasteless baking soda is a Godsend to those of us who bake without eggs. Why are they so great? It provides rise or lift to certain baked goods that need to stand to attention, like breads, cookies, muffins, cupcakes, and cakes. It has no taste (always make sure to check it so it hasn’t gone bad. If it has, it will have a very sour taste.) and it gives substantial lift without making your goods too dense or heavy. For each egg, add half a tablespoon of baking soda and a tablespoon of hot water together, mix separately, then add it to mixture.

Baking is fun, therapeutic, experimental, and has endless possibilities. Just because there are certain things we can’t put in our baked goods doesn’t mean we have to place limitations upon the things we bake. So get in the kitchen and see what you can create! Above is my favorite recipe for delicious chocolate-chip cookies. Enjoy, and happy baking!

Arianne K. 

Changing Ingredients and the Importance of Checking Even Your Daily Staples

512px-Searchtool_svg

It’s hard for me to pinpoint the age that I started to read. All I remember is that I was a swift reader upon entering the first grade. I do equate this to the fact that I had probably been reading ingredient labels well before your average fairytale (although I read those too)!

This act is as normal to me as opening a package. Whenever I eat, cook, or do anything involving a food item, a glance at the ingredients list  is just a part of the process. I am glad this has become a habit.

I remember one day when I was totally craving a fix of chocolate! I grabbed one of my favourite candy bars and, while waiting in line, took a look at the ingredients list. I questioned: “May contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts!?! Since when!?”

I remember having this incredibly bitter inner dialogue before reluctantly placing it back onto the shelf. A part of me was extremely disappointed, but another part  of me was relieved. If I hadn’t  checked the label, who knows what could have happened! I am lucky that the act of reading ingredients has become such an ingrained habit.

After reiterating the importance of checking labels, I must admit that there have been times that I have forgotten. I made a grave mistake once but I was very lucky with how the events played out. My most serious allergic reaction to date happened after eating a food before reading the ingredients. It was a food that I had eaten numerous times before. However, the “Holiday” version of this snack contained hazelnuts. I had wrongfully assumed the food was safe and landed myself in the hospital and on an IV on Christmas morning. The whole situation could have easily been avoided had I done the simple task of reading the label.

It is very important to always check the label. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve eaten that food, how much you trust the company, or whether or not it is an item that is unlikely to have come in contact with your allergen.

Please, check the label every single time. Have any of you had similar experiences with ingredients lists? Please comment below!

Nicole

Saving Money Buying Groceries with Allergies

Greek_grocery_vegetables

There is a very good chance that, if you have food allergies or an intolerance, you will spend more money on groceries than others who do not. A recent US study led by allergist Dr. Ruchi Gupta assessed the economic impacts of food allergies. The authors noted increased spending on groceries for families with food allergic members. The results of this study were published September 16th 2013 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The authors state: “Food allergy places unique out-of-pocket cost burdens on families such as purchasing allergen-free foods” (http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleID=1738764). I have lived with life-threatening food allergies and intolerances all of my life. It has been tricky to balance a healthy diet without spending more money than my budget allows. Being a full-time university student was definitely the most challenging time to eat healthy and stay on budget. What made this time particularly tough was that I had just started avoiding wheat and gluten. I took on part-time work to help pay the bills because I was spending huge amounts of money on groceries. With time, I have found tricks to help keep the grocery bills lower and still eat healthy. It has been a work in progress and I have learned quite a bit along the way. I have shared a few tips below that may help you keep your grocery bills a little lower and allow you to save money for other hobbies or priorities.

  1. Try to do a little more home cooking and baking. Products that are “allergen-free” or “free from the top 8 major allergens” can cost an “arm and a leg” and are often things you can make at home for a fraction of the price. It’s nice to have a treat every once in a while; however, some baked goods like muffins and cookies are definitely worth making at home and in the safety of your own kitchen. Pre-packaged foods that are allergen free can also be costly. I often like to try something new and then find or develop my own recipes to make a very similar meal at a fraction of the cost!
  2. Make a meal plan for the week.  By making a meal plan, you can do one-stop grocery shopping for the week. Trying to stick to one grocery shop per week means that you will likely spend less than if you went to go multiple times. It is also much easier to budget this way. List all the ingredients you will need to make each meal, once you have your meal plan, and you are ready to shop!
  3. Keep an eye on weekly flyers. Have a quick look at the flyer specific to the grocery store you usually go to before you make your meal plan for the week. If you see things on special, like meats or other products, plan your meals accordingly.
  4. Buy in larger quantities when you can. With allergies, buying in bulk can be really hard because the items they sell in bulk have avery high risk for cross-contamination. I never buy in bulk. I do, however, stock up on items when they are on sale and when, for example, a larger bag of rice is significantly cheaper than the regular size. Stock up on the staples if the discount is significant.
  5. Look out for coupons. Often brands will have coupons online or available with the purchase of their products. It may seem like a waste of time if you have coupons that are $1.00-$3.00, for instance, but it all adds up. I tend not to bother with the ones that are less than $1.00 off; but, again, everything counts when you are living on a tight budget.
  6. Make it and freeze extras. A jar of spaghetti sauce can run a few dollars at the grocery store. Buy some canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and add ground meat if you’d like to make a tasty homemade sauce that will cost you less and be just as tasty if not tastier that the store-bought brands! I like to make a double batch so I can freeze half of it for an easy dinner another night.

I’m sure you probably have some ideas of your own to save money. These are only a handful of the ones I use. Care to share a few of your own tips and tricks? How do you save money buying groceries with allergies? Share your ideas in the comments section so we can learn from each other.   Good luck!

Erika