Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Potential Nut Allergy Nightmare at the Museum

With the early onset of winter-like weather in Chicago (and around the country) I imagine that many of us are trying to find ways to entertain the kids indoors. Last Monday (day off the for Columbus Day holiday), my family ventured out to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for a family field trip. We had a great time but I was reminded--yet again--that you can't be too careful when it comes to nut allergies on the road.

Of course, food is always a concern on any day trip, since at least one meal will have to be eaten away from home. In the early days of my daughter's nut allergy diagnosis, I was definitely a lot less prepared for the kind of thing I encountered at the Museum's "Brain Food Court." I hadn't visited the museum in a while, so when I researched their in-house restaurant offerings, I saw that they now had a food court.

As a veteran Nut-Free Mom, I had already packed my daughter a complete lunch in our insulated "Thermos tote"--kind of like an insulated purse. You can buy them at Target. A placemat really is a nice thing to have on hand when using a community table at a place where lots of kids are visiting. Because as all of us know by now, "lots of kids" = peanut butter. And since PB is sticky, the more sensitive allergy sufferers may react if they get some of this onto their hands or in their food. My daughter has had reactions in cafeteria-like settings, so she really feels more confident with a placemat--I highly recommend it! What an easy way to set your minds at ease so you can enjoy lunch.

To cut down on the amount of stuff I needed to lug around the museum, my husband and I decided to buy lunch for the rest of us on site. As I went through the deli line (a generally safe place for nut-allergic people) I discovered that they served PB & J. I was curious to see if they separated the PB from the other foods, since PotBelly's and Panera seem to do this.

Here's what I found: a huge, much-used and messy open container of peanut butter practically spilling over onto about 3 other open containers that surrounded it. Truly a nut allergy nightmare if you hadn't thought to pack a lunch beforehand, especially if you were a tourist, for example. Even though I confront this type of thing (as many of you do) almost every day, it really bothered me. This is a world-class science museum catering to kids and lots of school groups, after all. They should "get" cross-contact even if they plan to serve PB. For example, Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview, Illinois has Kim & Scott's Pretzel's ( a nut-free bakery) as their in-house dining option. The place is completely nut-free and peanut butter-free--especially nice since the kids use interactive buttons, levers, etc. If Kohl Children's Museum can have nut-free dining, then anyone can.

You can imagine how glad I was that I didn't have to choose a food from the food court for my daughter. I wasn't able to see all of the other offerings at the food court, since the place was packed, but I didn't have a lot of confidence that I would have gotten a nut-free meal there based on what I saw at the deli.

The museum turned out to be an educational place in more ways than one! I share this story to remind all of us, especially those of us newer to nut allergies, that it really pays to pack a lunch and a placemat when you can. Plus, reminding your kids (especially younger kids) to wipe off their hands after using an interactive exhibit is a great idea.


Linda Coss said...

Another issue at interactive museums is that the exhibits themselves might contain allergens. Years ago I encountered a "dig for dinosaur bones" exhibit where the "sand" was actually ground-up walnut shells!

Bottom line: you just can't be too careful.

Anonymous said...

We usualy stick to pizza in the MSI cafeteria which has not presented itself to be a food allergy problem. That said, one visit three of the four members of our family has sausage pizza followed by what I can only assume was a nasty case of food poisoning because it struck us all at once. Have not eaten in their cafeteria since but Love the Museum of Science and Industry.

Jenny said...

Linda, that's a great point you bring up. Thank you!

Museums are wonderful for our kids, but we have to be on the lookout for safety since food is often an issue.

jenny said...

I agree, a world-class museum like the way they like to carry themselves, should be much more aware of this. I am so glad to read to post as I am not the only "crazy mom" out there to check into museums. St. Louis art museum, for example, I had checked with the restaurants and cafe there... over the phone, they said : " what is peanut allergy?" and after I inquired further... turns out everything is fried and made with peanut oil. That was just a year ago.... stay away from them.

Amy said...

At our most recent trip to the Kohl Children's Museum we got some bad news. Kim and Jeff's Twisting Cafe is moving into Chicago, and COSI has replaced them at the museum. COSI serves PB&J so if you are planning on going to the museum, you may want to bring a lunch now.

Jenny said...


NO!!! I didn't know that. We haven't been there in awhile and I didn't know that COSI was moving in.

To me their nut-free eatery was one of the best things about the Kohl. I'm sorry to hear that news. Thanks for the update.

Jenny--Never feel you are a "crazy mom" when you question a facility and their food. It's something you've got to do and it would be crazy not to. I really want all the moms dealing with allergies to be unapologetic about it--it's not our fault and it's our duty to be careful.

kelly said...

don't worry guys, kim and scott's pretzels will be moving to a location in the city tbd...another great peanut free cafe. kim and scott are dear friends of mine, and they were sad to leave kohl's as well. but onward and upward! sorry to hear about your experience at the museum jenny....oh how i feel your pain....