Focusing on food allergies

Published 12:41 pm Monday, May 15, 2023

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May is an important month for many, full of proms and graduations. However, it is also an important month to me for another reason; it is National Food Allergy Awareness Month. This year the Food Allergy Research and Education Organization (FARE) is amping up efforts to provide education to the public with its 31-Mile Walk Challenge in May for the Food Allergy Awareness Fundraiser. I am participating in this event to help raise funds for food allergy research.

FARE states that more than 85 million Americans have life-threatening food allergies. Every three minutes, someone in our country is rushed to the emergency department for a food allergy reaction. Allergic reactions run the gamut from hives or upset stomachs to those, like in my case, that are life-threatening anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis occurs within moments to several hours after exposure to the allergen and can be a deadly allergic response. It can affect breathing, circulation and cause shock and death. 

The FDA now recognizes nine top significant allergens. Fortunately, all my allergens except one are part of this list which helps me identify allergens I need to avoid. The top nine are milk, egg, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and sesame. 

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A wheat allergy is the most common in children that many outgrow by the time they become a teenager. I am allergic to tree nuts and shellfish, so I validate that every product that comes in contact with my body is free of those allergens. I need to examine every spice, food, or cooking oil to ensure they do not contain or have not been processed on the same equipment as something containing my allergens. This product examination seems straightforward until you consider every item used in a restaurant meal. The keto diet’s popularity has made this even more difficult as more companies are utilizing nuts as a keto-friendly alternative ingredient.

I examine lotions, shampoos, lip balms, makeup, and other items I use on my body to validate they are free of allergens. I will never forget when my husband used a new chapstick product and kissed me, and we found ourselves in the emergency room shortly after that. 

 Now that is a kiss to remember! 

Though the FDA requires manufacturers of US products to list if their product contains one of the top nine allergens, it is not law to disclose equipment used to process allergens for other products. Imagine buying a candy bar for your nut-allergic child that you evaluate by the label as safe and not containing nuts. When they eat it, they have a reaction that causes them to go to the emergency department. And when you reach out to the manufacturer and learn they also process other candy and foods with nuts on the same equipment. This fear is the reality for many food-allergic families. We are advocating that this be changed.

I share this education with you, hoping you’ll understand when your child has to take “special” treats to school because of an allergic child. Likewise, if a flight attendant asks you to put away your nut-containing snacks because an allergic individual is nearby, you will kindly support people.

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