Tag Archives: Workplace health and safety

Adults and Allergies in the Workplace

As an almost thirty year old, I’ve been dealing with allergies in the workplace for about half of my life. From my first job in fast food, to my current job in an office setting, having a severe allergy and a career can be challenging.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily), when I was a kid, there were posters plastered all over the school with my picture on them, along with a little slogan about the fact that I’m allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. Unfortunately, this route is much less effective, and much more embarrassing in an office of 250 people. Lunchrooms and cubicles can be full of people eating allergens. It’s especially difficult to focus when the scent of your allergens lingers throughout the office. However, as a working adult, I can’t just go home every time someone walks by with a sandwich, or when I see someone eating a protein bar. In a large office setting, it’s next to impossible to keep track of who is eating what, and where they’re eating it. As adults working with other adults, it’s important to have a plan that’s both realistic, and effective at keeping you safe.

So how does one deal with allergens in the workplace? It is a good idea to let the people you work directly with about your allergies as they might be more than willing to help you feel more comfortable. In my situation within a large company, you learn to work around everyone else. If groups of people are sitting in the lunchroom consuming my allergens, I politely remove myself from the lunchroom, and find an allergen free place to eat your lunch where I’ll feel more comfortable. If at a colleague’s cubicle, and there is a nut-filled protein bar at their desk, I make sure to not touch their desk during any of my visits. If you’re in a profession where you’re meeting new people, and shaking hands constantly, washing your hands often is a great idea. You never know what type of allergens someone has touched.

Sanitation is also a key component when you’re trying to avoid an allergic reaction in the workplace. If many people work in your direct workspace, it’s important to sanitize and clean the desk area regularly. Wiping down everything from countertops, to telephones, to door handles, and even pens can help in keeping you safe. Washing your hands is also an important aspect to staying safe in the workplace. I always keep antibacterial hand sanitizer at my desk, and ensure I wash my hands regularly throughout the day.

Staying safe from allergens in the workplace can be a challenging ordeal at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will easily become a part of your regular routine.

– Rachel MacCarl

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Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.  

Allergies and Eating on Campus 

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When you enter your University or College years, there’s a lot to initially think about with new schedules, new friends, new living quarters and, of course, new food! I’d like to take a few minutes to share my experiences about eating food on campus to help relieve some of the worries you may or may not have about feeding yourself over the next few years.

First thing is first. Always ask about what foods are safe for you to eat. Cafeterias can be found in a lot of residences and this will likely be the main place that students like you will eat every day. Tell the front-line servers about your food allergy as well as the supervisor or manager. In a place that you could end up eating every day, it’s a good idea for the staff to know your face, the severity of your allergy, and how they can avoid cross-contamination of foods. If they don’t understand something, explain it to them. It may just be a simple case of the staff using different wording than you’re used to using. In the end, stick with your gut feeling! If they just don’t seem to understand the severity of your allergy, or if there is too much food with your allergen nearby to feel comfortable, move on to another cafeteria or restaurant. There are always many options for food on campus.

Another thing you can do is look for restaurant franchises. These are places that use the same menus, food items, and food policies from restaurant to restaurant. Try to locate places you have felt comfortable eating at prior to University or College and eat there. However, just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean the food is necessarily allergen-free or that cross-contamination hasn’t become a habit at this location. Always, always, always ask before you eat! It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Now, what about kitchens? There’s a lot to consider when shared kitchens are involved. Shared kitchens in residence can quite frankly get very messy very quick. It only takes a few messy people (and believe me, there’s always one) to make everyone else’s cooking experience a frustrating one. The good news is that you can prepare for this and avoid potentially dangerous situations. My advice is to keep your food in your bedroom with you. This help keeps the food safe from potential cross-contamination and safe from other people taking it. If you can get your hands on a mini fridge, go for it! These are very handy and give you the chance to keep fresh foods fresh without the worries of someone else eating or touching your food! It’s also smart to keep a few plates, bowls, utensils, and maybe a pot or pan with you in your room. This way, you can cook and eat off of equipment you know is clean and safe from your allergen. If this isn’t an option, invest in some dish soap and a cloth and always clean the cooking equipment before you prepare a meal.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to teach the people on your floor about your allergy. If this makes you uncomfortable, ask your Don or residence life staff to host a meeting and explain the severity of food allergies without mentioning your name. It is their job to ensure your safety; so speaking up and getting their help can be very beneficial. If you’re lucky, and get a private kitchen or a semi-private kitchen and only have to share with one other person, your job just got a whole lot easier! It’s easier to manage food and cooking equipment when only one or two other people are sharing it with you.

I know there are many different things to consider while eating on campus; but just be confident, careful, and enjoy the experience!

Dylan B.

 

Dining with Clients and Cayenne: Guest Post by Patricia J. Pawlak

Pat (dining with cayenne allergy)

 

I have been fortunate enough to have a career where I traveled the world and had to entertain. For me, there is something exhilarating about sitting down with clients for a culinary experience, getting to know them, and knowing you may have to close a deal. In that situation, you want to stay focused and be charming. Nothing zaps the energy out of a dining experience more then having the focus of the evening on your food allergy. I dread the drama of it all and my clients enduring the waiter/ kitchen sprint because of my food allergies.

I have developed such an intolerance to all capsicum, i.e. cayenne, paprika and cumin, that my throat closes up, I start to shake and then, within 10/15 minutes, I actually projectile vomit. It comes on so quickly, violently and unexpectedly that, even during a lunch, I was rushed to the hospital projectiling (as I ruined my new red silk suit).

After several of these rushed trips to the ER, I finally went to an allergy specialist who diagnosed my malaise as the worst possible allergic reaction one can suffer and still survive.

Thanks to Emeril, and the influx of some certain cuisines, most restaurants have infused, charged, and drilled their menus with chili, cayenne, and paprika and made it impossible for me to dine in many restaurants. I have discovered that even the nicest restaurants now marinate all their meat, fish, and chicken dishes with some form of capsicum. That means even a chicken salad is off limits and watch those candied pecans; they have chili on them now.  For some reason, many restaurant salad dressings have cayenne or paprika—even a simple Caesar dressing.  Deserts, from cheesecake to tiramisu, are now spiked with cayenne.  I have even been served strawberries with a “surprise.” Thankfully, I asked what the surprise was or the restaurant would have been surprised! I have gone to restaurants and not been able to have any dish on the menu.

My strategy now is to check out a menu first before I suggest a restaurant for business.  I ignored my own advice last week; I went to a good sushi restaurant thinking that I would not have to bring up my food allergy in front of my clients. To my chagrin, I opened the menu and the first sushi listed was “Jalapeño Sushi” and, along down the line of the menu, most had heat. I had no other choice but to have the proverbial conversation to make sure what dishes I could eat.

The frustration lies not only in its increase of use but in its use in dishes that historically never had any form of heat.  Even when I order a dish that couldn’t possibly have cayenne, Fettuccini Alfredo, I have had it come with cayenne sprinkled all over.  I have asked for plain poached fish (“nothing on it, plain, please”) trying to be discreet. And the fish came covered in chili flakes. When I explained finally that I had an allergy, I was told “You don’t know what good is!” This is not about taste, this is about health and, in my opinion, our taste buds are being hijacked by all this heat!

I am meeting more and more people daily who are developing this allergy due to the proliferation of this spice.  Hopefully, chefs will begin to take notice and will begin to create more interesting dishes instead of just throwing in the heat.
Patricia

Securing Allergy-Safe Lunchrooms at Work: The How-to Guide

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So how exactly do you get an allergy-safe lunchroom at work? The bad news is there aren’t really any resources out there that give you a step-by-step guide to securing one. Now, that wasn’t meant to be a lead up to me saying here’s my step-by-step guide. I, however, have successfully made multiple lunchrooms peanut/tree nut free, and generally allergy-safe, at different jobs over the years. From that experience, I will share tips and give some advice that you can apply to your job-site and hopefully make your lunchroom more allergy-friendly.

First thing to do is ask. If you never ask, you will never make any progress; you will begin and end with no results. This step may seem too simple; but, sometimes just asking really is the most effective strategy. When you ask for an allergy-safe lunchroom at work, be prepared. Questions about the severity of your allergy will arise. Your boss is probably just asking these questions to better understand your situation. Be sure to express all of your concerns and clearly explain the importance of feeling safe around food at work. Suggest helpful solutions, whether this is a peanut/nut-free lunchroom, or specific communal cooking ware designated for allergen-free cooking. It really depends upon your comfort level.

Secondly, educate your co-workers. Many people have grown up oblivious to the world of food allergies. It is this type of person who may, at first, be resistant to having an allergy-friendly lunchroom at work. The best approach is to educate! Teach everyone about the signs, symptoms, and severity of food allergies in general before narrowing in on your specific situation. It might be helpful to bring this up at a staff meeting where everyone is present in the room to hear your concerns. If this sounds intimidating, ask your boss whether they can address it at an upcoming staff meeting. You can also open the discussion up to co-workers and ask if anyone else has a food allergy or knows someone with a food allergy. Chances are someone will; this could help give you support in the pursuit of an allergy-safe lunchroom.

Thirdly, stay positive! Positivity is contagious (in my opinion). If you hit a speed bump in the road, you don’t turn around and say “I give up.” You slow down and keep driving. The same idea applies to this process. Stay positive, do what you can, and keep pushing for that lunchroom!

Lastly, you can always contact the company’s Human Resources department and explain your concerns. The members of this department are trained to help bring staff concerns forward and work on a feasible solution. It may require a little back-and-forth communication; but something important like this is worth putting in a little extra effort.

These tips may not entirely secure an allergy-safe lunchroom; but, if you’ve done everything in your power, then at least you can say you tried! I’d be willing to bet that a reasonable solution will be found if you keep an open mind and never give up on what you want. Have you had successes or challenges putting an allergy-friendly lunchroom into place in your workplace? Comment below!

 

Dylan

 

Dating and Allergies – A Practical Approach

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In two weeks, my partner and I will be celebrating our 3 year anniversary! Being in a serious, long-term relationship, I no longer worry as much about my allergies when I am with him. When we go out to the restaurant, he’s also watching the kitchen staff and wondering whether or not the waiter/waitress truly understands how serious my allergies are. He’s always got my back! When we are planning “date night,” we call restaurants ahead of time or make plans that don’t revolve around eating out.

Dating with food allergies can seem terrifying for many people. When I was a teenager, I outright refused to date because I was too scared of trusting a boy with my life. I felt that waiting until I met someone I thought I could trust, and who completely understood the severity of my allergies, was the right thing for me to do. I always took out my auto-injector on the first date and explained how it worked, when I would need it, etcetera. Doing this made me feel safer. Having said that, everyone is different. Dating is supposed to be fun and you should therefore do things you feel safe doing.

Talking about food allergies and the auto-injector:

Explaining your allergies, the severity of them, and showing dates how to use your (epinephrine) auto-injector is very important. It is ultimately up to you as to when you want to talk to them about it and show someone you are dating your injector. Personally I feel that, because food allergies are life-threatening, it is extremely important that others know right away what “the deal” is. This is not intended to scare them; but it is intended to show them that you are confident with your allergies, know how to manage them, and that you know what to do if something were to happen. Most people will feel better knowing what to do if something were to happen (especially if you reassure them that you take extra precautions and know how to manage them).

What to do on a date:

If you have food allergies, or perhaps your girlfriend or boyfriend has food allergies, you might be wondering what to do on a date. How do you make the date safe? Here are a few ideas. Not included below is the obvious food date (breakfast, lunch or dinner). If you are going to meet for food, then make sure you go to a place you feel safe. If you feel like trying a new place, call them ahead of time and make sure you feel safe with their menu and their precautions with your allergies.

  • Picnic – Bring safe food and spend the afternoon at the park, by the lake, or on the beach
  • Tea/coffee- Tea/coffee dates are always fun. Try new cafes in the area!
  • Mini-Golf – Who doesn’t like mini-golf! J
  • Go-karts – Speed! And no food! Or you could always bring your own snacks.
  • Wine tasting – Another fun one. You could always bring a few safe snacks for yourself.
  • Bike rides – You could even head for a picnic! Or go for a nice ride together. Maybe even rent a tandem bike for fun!
  • Aquariums, Museums, Art Galleries.

There are so many things you could do without even going to a restaurant or getting food. Get creative. Rent a canoe or a paddle board and get out on the water! There are a lot of safe choices out there! Don’t let your allergies impact the fun you have on your dates! If he/she really likes you, your food allergies won’t stand in the way of that! Be yourself. Make the date a safe one so you don’t have to stress about having a reaction and can relax and enjoy the time with your date.

Erika

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

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When it comes to bringing up allergies in the workplace, I think a lot of us get nervous, anxious, or even just simply forget because of all the new information we are trying to learn at a new job. From my personal experience, the sooner I let my co-workers know about my severe peanut and tree nut allergies, the safer I feel at work. A few different strategies have worked for me in the past. I will share them with you here.

1)      I had the unique opportunity during an interview to mention my allergies. The question had something to do with describing a time when I had to deal with a high pressure situation and what I did. I decided to step outside the box and share two experiences. One was a workplace experience and the other was an allergy experience. I explained how my brother was having an anaphylactic reaction and, being allergic to nuts myself, I knew how to use the auto-injector and the steps that needed to be taken to help my brother. This turned out to be a simple way of opening up a conversation about allergies with a company that I would end up working for. Sometimes explaining your allergies before you even get the job can be useful and insightful for both parties. Even if you do not get the job, at least you can walk away knowing that you advocated for others with allergies who may work for that company in the future!

2)      Another strategy that I have used to tell my co-workers about my allergies is, essentially, the same calm, cool strategy I use when meeting new people. I mention my allergies and their severity casually, such as before a team meeting where donuts are provided: “No thank you. I’m severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.” This is almost always followed up with questions about what I can eat, where I keep my auto-injector, how to use it, and the list goes on. This is a simple, yet quite effective strategy.

3)      I have never done this; but I have heard of people emailing their boss to explain their allergies. From the abundance of emails everyone seems to go through in a day, I’m not sure this is the best strategy; but it has worked for some and maybe it will work for you! Just be sure to keep the email optimistic and informative in case your boss has never had any experiences with allergies before.

4)      A final method I have used is very blunt. I went straight to my new boss (the owner of the company) and explained my allergies to her. After my initial explanation, I asked if she had any questions and we entered into an informative dialogue back and forth for nearly twenty minutes. When we concluded, she took it upon herself to endorse a “peanut/nut free” unwritten policy where no peanut or tree nut containing food was allowed to be eaten in the office. I never asked for this exceptionally kind gesture; but my boss understood the severity of the allergy and would not take any risks. Based on my experiences, I find this strategy to be the most effective.

It may seem scary and nerve-wracking to put yourself in a place of vulnerability by explaining your allergy to co-workers in the workplace. Yet your safety is paramount. Take a deep breath and spread the word! You may be surprised how well your workplace takes your allergy information.

 

Dylan