Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Consumer Alert! Food Allergens Show Up in the Nuttiest Places

If you're dealing with nut allergies, you know about checking for ingredients in food of course, but it doesn't stop there. Shampoo, lotion, cosmetics, sunscreen, hand soap--they all can contain nut ingredients.

Most of us are aware of those dangers, once we've read a few labels and seen how prevalent nut ingredients are in all sorts of products. Still, I came across a few new ones while perusing my FAAN newsletter. It just goes to show you--always check labels no matter what!

A few of the unusual products sited for food allergens:

Looseleaf tea -- nut allergens on the ingredients label

Packaged popcorn -- fish mentioned on the ingredients label

A type of multivitamin -- peanut mentioned on the label

Here are a couple of more that I've gleaned in my travels:

Beanbag chair filling--sometimes can contain peanut shells

Pet food, especially small rodent food and birdseed--often contains peanut ingredients

I'm sure you've encountered others, so if you have some "out there" ones of your own, please share then with us!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gluten-Free Pasta Follow-Up

A while back I blogged about gluten-free pasta and how it sometimes contains a protein called lupin that can cause reactions in nut-allergic people. I wondered if this is something we should look out for in restaurants, etc.

Well, I have some more info, thanks to my fellow allergy blogger and writing buddy who let me know the name of the gluten-free pasta that contains the lupin ingredient. It's called Bi-Aglut. Also, she found this at a conference for people with celiac disease and the people she spoke with there were also concerned about this pasta's potential to cause allergic reactions in those with nut allergies. In other words, it seems that many gluten-free eaters are aware and that's great!

It doesn't sound like this pasta is widely used in restaurants, but if you are at a restaurant that touts gluten-free entrees, you may want to ask.

Also, if you have friends that are eating gluten-free, maybe skip the pasta when you eat with them or at least take a peek at the package.

We still need to be careful of the gluten-free pasta, but at least it's probably not a huge issue for us--yet! :)

If anyone has any questions, let me know and I'll see what other information I can uncover.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing You a Warm, Wonderful Allergy-Free Holiday!

Just a quick note to wish you all a wonderful allergy-free holiday!

I appreciate your readership, the great allergy tips that you share and the warm show of support that you show to me and your fellow food allergy parents and sufferers all year long.

My best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

I'm looking forward to hearing about your holiday success stories and helpful tips very soon. You can expect lots more from me as well.

Best to you and yours!
The Nut-Free Mom

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Food Allergies Tackled in December Issue of Kiwi Magazine

Before it goes off the stands, check out the December 2008 issue of Kiwi Magazine featuring great food allergy tips from Gina Clowes of Allergy Moms.

The best thing about this article is that it talks to non-allergic families as well, and gives them tips for dealing sensitively with food-allergic kids. It's a great, short but thorough and well-written piece.

If you haven't checked out Allergy Moms yet, you really should. It's a treasure trove of great food allergy info and advocacy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Food Pulled From Shelves After Tribune Investigation

The Chicago Tribune has produced yet another groundbreaking food allergy story on the front page of today's paper. Read it here.

After their food allergy investigation series, stores are now pulling items off the shelves that have undeclared food allergens.

When I read the article, I wasn't surprised that one source was quoted as saying "If I had food allergies, I wouldn't eat imported foods." I've blogged in the past about my family's avoidance of imported foods for our child, and it looks like that concern is not unfounded.

Also, imported or "fancy gourmet" foods are frequently served at holiday parties, so use caution. It's another great reason to bring a couple of your own dishes to the celebrations you attend.

The really scary part is that out of 50 foods the Tribune tested for this story, 26 of them had undeclared food allergens. Lesson learned: be aware of what is a high-risk food for your particular allergy. Educate yourself so that you are not only relying on labels and what the people who work at a given store are telling you. The buck stops with us.

The other thing I liked about the story is that it did not focus much on nut allergies--it talked about milk and gluten allergies. The reason I'm glad about this is that many times in the press and in our daily lives, folks concerned about nut allergies aren't taken seriously. Talking about the other "top 8" shows how widespread the problem really is.

Despite the fact they it appears they employ a legion of "nut-happy" food editors, this paper is making a big difference and the author of this article is a hero to all of us.

Better labeling and better manufacturing practices are what we've been waiting for--and stories like this will help us to get it.

Congrats to the writer, Sam Roe, for his helpful investigation!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Party Tips for Nut-Free Families

Holiday parties are in full swing now so I know that many of us are wondering how to cope and have fun at the same time.

To start with, my current FAAN newsletter called out several foods to look out for if you have peanut or tree nut allergies. Some are obvious, others not so much.

Here is their list: Holiday Foods that are High-Risk for Peanuts/Tree Nuts

Peanuts: Cheescake/Cookies/Meat marinade
Tree Nuts: Cake/Cookies/Pie and pie crust/Strudel
Also, here are a few of my own "watch-out" foods: gravy, chocolate, any type of sauce (sweet or savory), stuffing, casseroles

Please avoid desserts that you did not make. Did you know that 43% of food allergy reactions are caused by dessert foods? No matter how good it looks, no matter how much your kids want it--if you didn't make it, don't let them eat it. Desserts are so high-risk that it's just not worth it. Better put on your apron, Betty Crocker, and get baking. You'll thank yourself later!

Since you may be attending parties where you don't know the people well, you're going to have to be extra vigilant and flexible. Here are a few things to look out for:

Buffets. Lots of risk for cross-contamination here. Try to avoid having your child eat from a buffet, but if that's the hand your dealt, you can help the situation by asking the host or hostess if you can serve the allergic members of your family first. That way you minimize risk of contaminating food with serving spoons, etc.

Nuts in a bowl. Oh, boy I sure hate this one for so many reasons--cross-contamination and accidental ingestion when it comes to little ones, for example. But since this is a holiday entertaining staple, be prepared. If you have little children, ask the host/hostess if you can have the bowl placed where the child can't reach it. If you have very small kids, follow them around and point out that they can't have them. Make it a teachable moment.

Kisses. If you know a relative or friend just ate a big helping of a nut-filled food, ask them to kiss your child on the head or give them a hug instead of a big, wet cheek kiss. If you don't want to get into a big deal about the reason why, just tell them your child has a cold.

For the nut-free adults: Cocktails and coffee drinks. Hazelnut syrup, almond syrup, amaretto: these are just a few of the "unsafe" ingredients you'll find in a holiday cocktail. Ask for wine or bring ingredients for mixing one of your own specialities. Just don't cross-contaminate with the cocktail shaker.

Be a gracious guest and bring your own food and/or drink. You can't go wrong if you can contribute safe foods or drinks to the party spread. Your hosts will really appreciate it and you'll have more fun, too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Nut-Free Holiday Cookie Recipes

As promised, here are 2 nut-free (and one recipe is also egg- and gluten-free) holiday cookies that are simple to make and bring to a holiday gathering. This is kind of a long post, so I'll save the holiday tips for the next one.

The picture you see is a family favorite, "Snowballs." I came up with this recipe to replace the "Pecan balls" that my grandmother used to make at Christmas time. This recipe is based on a Greek butter cookie called "Kourambiethes." It's very unusual for a Greek cookie to be nut-free so these are a find! I skip the spirits usually called for in the recipe to make these more palatable to children, but if you like, add a tablespoon and a half of brandy or ouzo to the dough.

1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar + 2 tbsp, plus lots more for sprinkling on cookies
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 - 1 tsp pure orange extract (optional)
1 scant tsp salt

5-6 cups of all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer, beat softened butter until very light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and orange extract if using, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add flour a little at a time until soft dough is formed that can be handled easily. Taking about a teaspoonful at a time, (I use a tiny ice-cream scoop) roll into a small ball. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar while still hot.

Makes about 6 dozen.

The next recipe is from Living Without Magazine and it is egg-free, nut-free and gluten free. It is not dairy-free, but the magazine said you may substitute non-dairy ingredients for this cookie. Bring out your favorite holiday cookie cutters for this one.
Holiday Cut-Out Cookies
Makes 16 Cookies
¼ cup butter, canola oil spread or oleo, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
¾ cup brown rice flour
½ cup white rice flour
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour/starch
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons water or more
In a food processor, combine the butter, honey, sugar, vanilla and lemon peel and process for one minute.
Add the flours, potato starch, tapioca flour/starch, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and baking soda, blending until mixture forms large clumps. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula and blend until the mixture forms into a ball. (If needed, add more water, a tablespoon at a time.) Remove dough and shape it into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with baking spray or line it with parchment paper or non-stick baking liners.
Using half the dough at a time, roll dough out to ¼-inch thickness between sheets of floured waxed paper or plastic wrap. Keep remaining dough chilled until ready to use.
Cut rolled dough into desired shapes and place cookies on prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.
Bake cookies in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are set. Switch pan position half-way through baking for even heat distribution. Remove cookies from oven and wait two minutes before transferring to rack to cool.
When cool, decorate cookies with your favorite gluten-free icing and colored sprinkles.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's So Darn Cold...Some Questions Answered About the Activade Auto-Injector Pouch

Remember this protective Epi Pen pouch I blogged about awhile back? With the bitter cold in large parts of the country, I've had a few questions from readers about the thermal qualities of this pouch.

I e-mailed the company about this and this is what they had to say:

"The insulating properties of our Activeaide™ auto-injector pouches consist of a unique tri-layer construction which includes: An insulating thermo-silver inner liner, an insulating and shock absorbent foam and a tough, latex free outer layer We list this with a photo under FAQ's, here is the link: http://www.activeaide.com/us/frequently_asked_questions.html

They also wanted me to remind people that the pouch does not protect your Epi Pen overnight in a cold and/or hot car. Unless something has a heating and cooling system, eventually the item will be brought to the temperature of its environment. I view this pouch as I would an insulated lunch bag or Thermos and would treat it accordingly. I have been using it and I think it's great for car trips or outdoor activities--it does provide protection from the bone-chilling cold currently sweeping Chicago.

So in other words, use your common sense, but know that this pouch is going to protect your EpiPen from the elements longer than if you just placed it in a non-insulated bag.

Tomorrow I'll post two nut-free (one is egg and gluten-free) holiday cookie recipes and some more holiday party tips. See you then!!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Secretary of Food--We Need It for More Reasons than They Think

I read this interesting OpEd piece in the NY Times last week that proposed the need for a "Secretary of Food" in the new Presidential administration.

Well, yeah. We could really use one. And not only because agriculture is suffering, as outlined in the piece.

What about all of this craziness with food labeling? Clearly, the FDA is letting things slide, as we've all seen through recent news reports. Plus, the needs of the population are changing with regard to food. Food allergies are rising with alarming speed, as we all know. And there is research being done to determine if certain foods aggravate or even cause forms of autism. What about genetically-engineered foods? These are all new things that we deal with.

Of course, with the hard-hit economy, people are also going hungry. So yes, I would agree that time and talent needs to be devoted to food in the world we find ourselves living in these days.

I would love it if I knew that special effort were being devoted to the many ways that our consumption and production of food has changed. What do you all think?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beware of the Gluten-Free Pasta

Some of you may have heard of nut-allergic people having reactions to a certain kind of gluten-free pasta. I had heard of this a long time ago from another nut-allergy mom, but I had not done more research on this.

Then, just the other day, a gluten-free blogger friend of mine sent me this article link. Apparently, a protein called lupin is found in some types of imported gluten-free pasta, mainly from Italy and Spain.

This story is an eye-opener! I had little idea of how pasta could cause an allergic reaction in nut-allergic people until I read this. It is a confounding new development to me, since sometimes a plate of plain pasta is a good "go-to" meal to order for my daughter when we visit a restaurant. Now, I'm questioning if that's such a great idea.

I'm very unclear on how much gluten-free pasta is used in restaurants, and plan to do more research on this and will share my findings here. Some of our gluten-free readers may know more about this. If so, please let us know!

Nothing personal to our gluten-free friends out there :), but it seems to me that GF items often pose problems to the nut-allergic. If you have nut allergies in your family, be very careful with these products! Often, nuts can be used to "fill in the gaps" when wheat cannot be part of the recipe.

I don't think that we need to necessarily skip the pasta at a restaurant, but it certainly gives us more to think about. (Like we needed more, right?? :))

I certainly don't want to freak anyone out with this, but I wanted to make us all aware.
BTW, I just noticed that my last post was my 100th post! I can't believe it. Thanks to everybody who reads this blog and who posts here. I hope you're getting as much out of it as I am.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nut Allergy Friendly National Restaurant Chains Anyone??

I'm hoping you all can help me with this one. As I've blogged about before, I'm a bit cautious about dining out with my daughter, though we do have a few "go to" places we visit with some regularity.

The other day I received an e-mail from an adult who was recently diagnosed with nut allergies. They wondered if there are some good restaurant chains that they could use for the purpose of business lunches. I agree that restaurant chains can be a good choice--you know what you're dealing with menu-wise ahead of time.

When I go out for an adult dining experience these days, I usually don't look at whether or not it's nut-free. So this question really got me thinking.

Of course, I directed this reader to Allergic Girl's awesome blog, but she usually doesn't go to chains.

In my family's nut-free dining out we generally stick to Mediterrean cuisine and American grilled stuff like burgers and unsauced chicken, etc.

I know that many of you out there will have some good thoughts on this, so let me know. Any chains you like? Any you would avoid? I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Allergy-Free Recipe of the Month: Cranberry Orange Bread

This month, I'm proud to present this festive, seasonal recipe from Kelly of the Food Allergy Mama blog. Like me, Kelly is a Chicago-area resident and her site is fabulous if you are dealing with multiple food allergies, including nut and dairy allergies.

So many times you see cranberry or fruited bread recipes that are just loaded with nuts. Not so with this one! Enjoy and let us know how it turns out.
from Kelly of Food Allergy Mama
2 T. water
1 stick dairy free margarine, melted
2 c. orange juice
1 c. water
Grated zest of 1 orange
5 c. flour
2 ½ c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. whole cranberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray two 9 inch loaf pans with dairy free cooking spray. Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine 1 c. plus 2 T. water, melted margarine and orange juice. In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a wire whisk.

Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir just until moist. Fold in the cranberries and pour into the prepared pans. Bake 50-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Activeaide Auto Injector Pouch

I just got this new EpiPen carrier from Activeade, an Australian company that carries a variety of allergy-related accessories. In the interest of full disclosure, I was contacted by the company and asked to review the product. I've been looking for a product like this for awhile now, and I'm happy to say that it seems to be very useful.

I like it a lot better than my usual Ziploc bag approach--the EpiPen is better protected and easier to spot in my overloaded handbag.

The pouch is made from a light-weight, heavy duty material and it also has an padded thermal silver lining, to protect the medication from heat and cold.

A ring at the back (not pictured in the photo) allows you to clip it to a belt or hang it on a hook. The ring also allows you to attach an identification card (included) and there is room to store a small action plan card.

We recently used this product when my daughter attended a birthday party, and also when we went to visit relatives for the holidays. I like the bright color--easy to spot--and the thermal lining, especially with winter here. My daughter chose not to attach it to her body at the party, since it was a "gymnastics" party, but I still felt like the product would be easy for her to use that way, say, going on a Girl Scout outing or school field trip.

Another food allergy blogger, Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz commented on her use of this product recently and she had some good information about it. Click here for her comments.

You can also order a double wide EpiPen carrier, for carrying two Epis at one time, and there are more colors available too.

If you're interested, check the Activeaide website for ordering details. Even though this product arrived from Australia, I got it fairly quickly here in the States.

It's always great to find a new company that helps make allergic living a little bit easier! Let me know if anyone else orders this and what you think of it.