Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The FDA Just Keeps Getting Nuttier

A news report published today warns U.S. consumers about a possible salmonella outbreak affecting pistachios.

We avoid these tree nuts anyway--they're one of my daughter's "top 5" foods to avoid. But come on--what is going on? How can any of us feel safe to eat anything anymore, much less those of us with food allergies who rely so heavily on accurate labels and safe food practices.

The only silver lining is that this type of outbreak makes the non-allergic take time to think that foods can cause severe, immediate illness and even death. For some reason, that is not something people readily accept with regard to food allergies. But with salmonella? Many more people will be sitting up and taking notice.

Also, the fact that these outbreaks are being found in nuts? So ironic to me. Especially when I think of some of the more lame arguments we read/hear about that say we are making FA up in our heads. For ex., how many times have you all heard this one: "Allergies to nuts can't be real or at least so common. We didn't have nut allergies when I was in school."

Now apply the same "logic" to the recent salmonella outbreaks. Doesn't sound very good, does it? Just because something didn't occur in the past with foods doesn't mean it can't happen now.

The lesson is to eat minimally processed, whole foods as much as you can. Obviously, FDA practices need a major overhaul. And, ironically, it might be salmonella outbreaks in nuts that finally get some positive changes made.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Is It a Cold or a Seasonal Allergy: That Is the Question

I was all set to do my "kids are back at school" happy dance this afternoon after the youngest is back at afternoon kindergarten later today, but it looks like that will have to wait for another day or even two.

Yes, it's that time of year again. The trees are budding like crazy, the green shoots are coming up and is that a flower peeking out of the recent Chicago snowstorm? Lots of pollen in the air combined with crazy cold temps and snow has created chaos in my household. Three of us, my food-allergic daughter included, are suffering allergy symptoms and are on allergy meds for the past few weeks now. In my case, I'm fine after the trees finish "budding." The other two have ongoing symptoms all season. Seasonal allergies and asthma often coincide with food allergies, so many of you will have the same problem I'm about to describe.

My daughter appears to be either suffering really bad allergy symptoms or has caught the head cold that's going around. It's now time to experience my yearly dilemma: is it allergies or a "real" cold? Symptoms like stuffiness, sneezing, fatigue are pretty much the same for either a cold or seasonal allergies. Then we've got the whole "Is your throat itchy or scratchy? (A fine distinction, trust me.) "Do you have a fever?" And the dreaded "How do you feel today?"

My daughter is sick of answering these questions as well as experiencing these symptoms. She recently switched to Allegra (the other stuff was making her too sleepy in the a.m.) and seemed fine. But then she was up all last night sneezing with "an itchy throat." Is it a cold or allergies? Up until about an hour ago, I truly had no clue.

I'm right about 50/50 on this question, which means sometimes she is home from school with allergies and sometimes she is sent to school with a cold (which, believing in "health karma" I try very hard not to do. You know, if I don't send my sick kid to school, you won't either. I know it doesn't really work like that but it makes me feel better to think about it that way.)

Today, it looks like I was right about the cold. My daughter is upstairs passed out which would definitely not happen if she were not truly ill. She just doesn't sleep during the day--during the daytime hours, in fact, she resembles Tigger. Extremely bouncy, literally and figuratively.

The "allergy vs. cold" dance is just beginning as allergy season is just now moving into its heyday according to our allergist. And since I'm in Chicago, head cold season lasts pretty much all year long.

It's a game of odds...today it looks like guessed correctly that my daughter has a true illness. Or it could be that Allegra doesn't work for her? Or it doesn't work for her AND she has a cold? Or the pollen count is just really, really obnoxious today? I better polish my mother's intuition skills because I'm really going to need them now!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Allergy Info Weekend Coming Up in Chicago!

By now many of you have heard of the THRIVE Allergy Expo coming to Chicago April 18 and 19th at McCormick Place. This is the only allergy expo in North America!

The Expo will have a variety of presentations and info about doctors, treatments and allergy-friendly products. There will also be much time devoted to celiac disease and gluten-free living, as well as resources for dealing with environmental allergies.

As a special incentive to Nut-Free Mom Blog readers, you can receive a discount on tickets when you use code: nutfreemom (all one word) when ordering.

Click here to get the full schedule: http://www.thriveallergyexpo.com/

Plus, on April 18 in Chicago, FAAN will be presenting it's the annual FAAN conference: "Take Action to Prevent Reactions." It's a full day of info, networking and bonding with other food-allergic individuals and their families. This is the first year I will attend and I'm looking forward to it. I hope to see some of you there! FAAN members pay $85 per ticket--that includes all sessions plus lunch. You can get meals to fit a special diet if you give them 2 weeks notice. No kids under 11 allowed, though, so you'll have to find someone to watch the little ones, but I think it's worth it.

Apparently, Chicago is the place to be in April if you're interested in food allergies. FAAN is also hosting a conference in Tarrytown, NY on May 9th, so head there if you're an East Coast allergy parent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Safety Tattoos for Nut-Free Kids!

Well, if ever I needed proof that nut allergies are on the rise and that nut-allergic consumers are on companies' radar screens, this is it. I just received a One Step Ahead catalog that contains "Safety Tattoos with a Purpose" for young children. In addition to tattoos that can be personalized to include kids phone numbers, they also sell tattoos that say "No Nuts, Please!" The tattoo has a peanut in a red circle with a line through it--the universal symbol for "not allowed."

What a great product for those of us with very young children who can't always communicate their allergy needs when out and about. I can envision using these on field trips or special outings with preschoolers or toddlers. The temporary tattoos then wipe off when they're no longer needed.

No one wants to single their kids out in a negative way, but products like this seem almost as fun for kids to use as they are useful. I don't know about you but my kids have always loved temporary tattoos.

Just a note: I tried to find these online but was unable to. However, when I called the customer service number they assured me that the tattoos are in stock as of today! The item number is 15164 for "Tattoos with a Purpose": specify the nut-free tattoos. The customer service number is: 1-800-279-8440. They are a busy company, so you may need to call a few times before you reach a live person! :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Illinois House Passes Food Allergy Legislation for Schools

I was thrilled to read this news story about how food allergy legislation recently passed in the Illinois House of Representatives. Now the bill goes onto the state senate.

The bill will advocate that all schools need a food allergy action to follow for food allergy emergencies. Even though parents still would have a hand in their child's own food allergy action plan, there would be no need, if this bill passes the Senate, for Illinois parents to be trailblazers on policy simply because they want to send their food-allergic child to school.

I've had to be a "trailblazer" at school and luckily I've had good results for my efforts, but how wonderful if other parents would know that food allergies and action plans were already on the school's radar screen as a matter of course. That's a whole lot more than many of us have had up until now.

For info about who your state reps are, click this link and scroll down. You'll be able to find your district and reps.

Sample letters to send to reps and state senators can be found at FAAN's
"Advocacy" portion of their web site.

And if you're not an Illinois resident, how about proposing a plan like this to your reps?

Friday, March 20, 2009

How One School District Handles Peanut Allergies

Here's an interesting story about how a school district in the Chicago suburbs is handling peanuts for its allergic students.

Their policy is to limit, but not ban them. I'm for this policy for numerous reasons, even though I used to be for a peanut ban. It's kind of easy to find yourself supporting one after watching your child go into anaphylactic shock.

But through the years, I've seen that limiting is best--mainly because it's the most realistic. And also because it's very hard to enforce a total ban on peanuts--as the "Brothers and Sisters" episode on ABC (see previous post) illustrates. It doesn't seem to be a necessary step as kids get older--but limiting peanuts in classroom activities and peanut-free tables are a must.

That said, I'm absolutely in favor of total peanut bans in preschools and day care centers, simply because small kids are notorious for their messy food habits and the risk is too great. Most allergists agree.

This is a very passionate issue for people on both sides, but I think this school district made a good compromise. See what you think.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Just Tell Your Teacher It's Soybutter"

Well, it looks like peanut/nut allergies are becoming part of the American cultural psyche alright. But in what way?

I got a lot of comments and e-mails from readers to let me know about the ABC show Brothers and Sisters that opened (I didn't see the show) with a harried mom trying to pass off "peanut butter" as soy or sunbutter for her child's school lunch. When the child protested that she attended a peanut-free school, the mom's reply? "Your brother ate all the turkey. Just tell your teacher it's soy butter."

This is unfortunate to say the least, but I could name several examples of peanut or food allergies being used as a punchline on TV and in films (or in books). Apparently, it's just hilarious or just a silly inconvenience for some folks who don't deal with it on a daily basis. And that's kind of understandable--many people don't get what it's all about!

Still, many, many moms and dads of non-allergic kids will comply with a peanut ban and for that, we all thank you. But as this TV episode illustrates, this is purely an "honor system" policy. Are peanut bans always the best way to go? (FAAN doesn't think so. Most doctors don't think so. Many food allergy parents do--who can blame them?) Who'd have thought that a fictional TV series would throw the harsh light of reality onto this issue?

But I'm glad to report that I have some good news about the cultural perceptions of nut allergies. I recently posted about culinary mystery writer Joanna Fluke who alerted her readers about peanut/nut allergies in two recipes that appeared in her bestseller: "Cream Puff Murder."

I wrote to her, thanked her for allergy awareness and asked if she had personal experience with food allergies. I got a reply from her husband who is currently handling her correspondence (apparently the author just back from a book tour and is really sick!) Here's what he said:

"We find the peanut allergy really scary considering the American love of peanut butter. It has gotten a lot of press of late. There was a TV piece the other night about a program for building a tolerance that the story said shows much promise. One never knows about medical things on the evening news. I'd ask my doctor." (How right he is about the latter!)

So, it's a mixed bag as it always is for food allergies. Public perceptions take a long time to change. All we can do is keep plugging away and educating those around us. And it does work--eventually. Don't give up.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

President Obama Names New FDA Head, Calls Food Safety System a "Hazard to Public Health"

Right around the inauguration, I posted a blog entry wondering if the new Prez would take on the current, broken and ineffective FDA system of reviewing food safety.

Looks like he's going to give it a go.

Check out the MSNBC.com article and link below for some encouraging news on this front:

"Obama: Food safety system is health 'hazard' President Barack Obama says the nation's decades-old food safety system is a "hazard to public health" and in need of an overhaul."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What About Me? Siblings of Special Needs Kids Article Link

My fellow writer and blogger (and writing class bud) Tiffani Hill-Patterson wrote this article about the sibs of special needs kids for Birmingham Parent Magazine.

Often, we need to make accomodations for our food-allergic kids that may negatively affect their non-allergic sibs (like skipping the ice cream parlor or what have you). We need to make sure that our non-allergic children get extra attention now and then, or get to visit an off-limits place without their sibling once in a while.

For example, my youngest daughter is extremely supportive of her sister and is always on "nut patrol" for her, but she really wants to eat at IHOP. At 6 years old, the "big, fluffy pancakes" seem like the ultimate treat to her. We normally avoid breakfast places like this--too many tree nuts. So my husband or I are planning to take our younger daughter to IHOP on her own this weekend.

Since I have one allergic child and one who is not, the "What About Me?" story hit home for me and I imagine it will for many of you. The balancing act isn't easy--but it's very important to make sure we keep things as "fair" as possible.

In her article, Tiffani explores a lot of the same stuff we go through as FA parents. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Food Allergies and "The Empathy Gap"

I was listening to my local NPR station today, WBEZ in Chicago and heard a very interesting discussion about empathy and public policy.

While the author of a book called "The Empathy Gap" did not mention food allergies, his arguments could be applied to the peanuts on airplanes debate as well as to the idea of banning food/peanuts in the classroom.

On this blog, we've often discussed how empathy plays a role in how food allergies are perceived and the public policy that surrounds the issue. I've also said (along with some of you) that peanut bans in any venue are hard to come by because Americans value rugged individualism and the notion of "freedom" above all else.

Today's radio discussion covered these exact issues very eloquently: I hope you'll listen if you have time.

Also, if you live in Chicago, WBEZ is currently having their fundraiser. If you can, send them some $$ by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Northwest Airlines/AFAA Meeting Update Re: Peanuts on Airplanes

I received the following e-mail regarding the AFAA meeting with Northwest Airlines regarding their decision to reinstate peanuts as the in-flight snack.

Please note that they are still taking survey responses until March 15th. Use the link within this post--if you continue to have link problems, let me know. Hopefully you won't! :)

Peanuts on Airplanes Survey garners 500 responses in 3 days!

The survey, which is still open, also elicited nearly 250 comments that were printed and given to Northwest/Delta Airlines and U.S. Congressional Members, and will be given to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.AFAA plans to share the survey results with national food allergy organizations and medical associations, and with AFAA readers.

The article Peanuts on Airplanes can be seen in AFAA's January/February Food Allergy E-magazine. The issue also has links to other food allergy articles.

Peanut-Snacks on Airplanes - An Update from the Anaphylaxis & Food Allergy Association of MN (AFAA)
Negotiations Begin with NWA/DeltaAn AFAA delegation - consisting of medical director Dr. Allan Stillerman, AFAA Executive Director Nona Narvaez, retired Star Tribune Travel Editor Catherine Watson, and Minnesota State Senator Jim Carlson - met with the Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Northwest/Delta Airlines on Friday, March 6th. Also attending the meeting was an aide from U.S. Representative Oberstar's office.The delegation presented medical information about food allergies; letters, comments, and e-mails from over 270 people; preliminary results of the Peanuts on Airplanes survey; and an extensive list of policy recommendations for the airline to adopt."

AFAA's goal is to create safer flying conditions for food allergic passengers, and there are a number of improvements that can be adopted by airlines," said Dr. Stillerman, "including - but not limited to - reduction of the presence of peanut allergens on the aircraft." Some of the provisions advocated by AFAA received favorable reception at the meeting, but all provisions are being evaluated internally by the airline before they officially respond."This is the first step in negotiations with the airline," explained Ms. Narvaez. " We will meet again with the airlines to discuss progress on our policy goals."

In the meantime AFAA representatives will continue working with Senator Klobuchar's and Representative Oberstar's staff on this issue, and will keep Minnesota Legislators apprised of developments.Interested individuals and families are encouraged to take the Peanuts on Airplanes survey, which is open through March 16th, when final results will be tallied. Final results will be shared with policymakers, the airline, the media, and other organizations.

More than 600 people have taken the Peanuts on Airplanes survey. Their comments and the preliminary results of the survey were shared with Northwest/Delta Airlines, with U.S. Congressional Members, and with the Minnesota Legislature. Final results of the survey will be distributed after the survey closes.

Your opinion Matters!AFAA is encouraging all food allergic individuals and family members to participate in a survey and forward it to others affected by food allergens on airflights. The survey results will be helpful information to relay to the airlines in AFAA's efforts to influence them to accommodate passengers with food allergies.AFAA is also continuing to collect e-mails and letters to deliver directly to the airline and to the U.S. Department of Transportation Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

You are encouraged to submit your opinions and share your experiences on the survey page or at airplanes@minnesotafoodallergy.org. Or click http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e2h2368hfrsnb0e0/start

The survey will be open until midnight, March 15th.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dining Out This Weekend? Check Out These Restaurant Tips from Allergic Girl

Since it's the weekend, I thought I would include this wonderfully informative link about dining out from Sloane Miller, aka Allergic Girl.

Once you or your child receives a diagnosis of life-threatening food allergy, eating at a restaurant doesn't seem so fun and it isn't carefree anymore. I still go to restaurants with my daughter and strive for normalcy, but sometimes I feel hyper vigilant about the whole thing and it really takes away from the "fun, relaxing" aspect. Which is kind of the whole point of dining out!

This video link was created by the the Culinary Institute of America (The CIA, to you foodies out there) and underwritten by the National Peanut Board. Sloane, an awesome food allergy advocate and consultant, was asked to participate.

I hope you take the time to view the entire video. Sloane speaks from experience about what it's like to love restaurants and food, but to be limited by food allergies. Her tips are helpful to newbies as well as people who've been dealing with food allergies for years.

Just because you have food limitations doesn't mean you don't love food and restaurants. When we show up at (reputable) restaurants, we show chefs and restaurant owners that we are a growing population that needs to be accommodated.

Sometimes staying home seems easier--but take if from Sloane: You can have a great restaurant experience if you do your homework, follow your own gut instincts and ask a few questions, making sure you connect with the restaurant manager and the chef, if possible.

I know some of us have had reactions while dining out and when that happens, it's tempting to avoid restaurants altogether. This video really helped me learn how to approach eating establishments and I hope it helps you! Let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Peanut Survey--More Probs with the Link!

Hi everybody,

Well, this is certainly the most frustrating link I've ever been sent! :)

Try pasting the link (that I list in my previous post from yesterday) directly into your browser. That may do the trick.

If anyone has the answer to this weird technical difficulty, please let us know. The meeting takes place this Friday! Thanks for trying everybody--give it another go, if you can!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Peanut Survey Link Difficulties

Some of us are having trouble with the airplane and peanuts survey link. Apparently, they have "built-in" a device so that you can't retake it.

I had trouble at first myself. It said I had taken the survey when I hadn't taken it.

Everybody, please try this link: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e2h2368hfrsnb0e0/a01b0frw8uqrr/questions

Hopefully, this one will work for you. Sorry about that!!

Don't Want Peanuts and Tree Nuts and Airplanes? Here's Your Chance to Say So!

Here's a chance to speak directly to Northwest about their new peanuts/tree nuts snack policy. Take this survey about food allergies and airplanes.

Please make your voice heard by participating in this important survey! This is our chance to tell the powers that be how much it means to avoid these snacks on a flight. As one article recently put it: "It's Hard to Walk Away at 30,000 Feet."

The survey is sponsored by the Anaphylaxis & Food Allergy Association of MN (AFAA). Here's a portion of the e-mail they've been sending to the food allergy groups:

"Peanut-Snacks on AirplanesAn Update from the Anaphylaxis & Food Allergy Association of MN (AFAA)

This Week:Your opinion Matters! A delegation consisting of members of AFAA's Board of Directors - including medical director Dr. Allan Stillerman - will be meeting directly with Northwest/Delta Airlines this week.An aide from U.S. Representative Oberstar's will participate in the meeting, and possibly an aide from U.S. Senator Klobuchar's office. (Both members of Congress represent Minnesota on their respective transportation committees.)"We want to give voice to those affected by this policy change," said AFAA Executive Director, Nona Narvaez."

By taking the survey, you will help a major airline understand why serving nuts for a snack is a backward step in the wrong direction. It's not worth the risk and it's not the only snack food out there. Times have changed--they have to change with them.

Thanks for participating everybody! I'll let you know what happens.
Also, if you go to Facebook you can join "You Don't Need Nuts to Fly," a growing advocacy and awareness group. Thanks again!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Peanut Allergy Awareness...In a Culinary Mystery??

I'll admit--I like a light culinary "cozy" mystery now and then (especially when I'm feeling low and/or stuffed up with a cold, like recently). As someone who loves to bake, I've dipped into the best-selling Joanna Fluke culinary mysteries from time to time. Her heroine runs a cookie shop (an urban fantasy of mine), so you can imagine that there are plenty of nut-filled recipes in Ms. Fluke's books (as there are in any books that touch on baking, for that matter.)

Could this be progress? While on a Target run to buy more cold medicine I started flipping through Joanna Fluke's latest paperback "The Cream Puff Murder." I was amazed to find that twice the author cautioned people to be careful about--you guessed it--nuts!

In one recipe, she asks the cook to make sure that none of the guests have peanut allergies if they plan to use certain ingredients, and in another, she offers alternative ingredients in case "your family can't have nuts."

I was surprised--and gratified--to see this in a bestseller with recipes because I've never seen it before! I don't know if the author has personal experience with nut allergies, but I'm e-mailing her and thanking her for the awareness.

Usually, when I come across mention of nut allergies in popular literature, it's used as "proof" that the person is either a) a nerd or b) high-maintenance. Or, in some cases, slipping an allergic character peanuts is a way to get rid of them, such as in The DaVinci Code and also in Joanne Harris's "Gentleman and Players" --a great book, BTW, but with an unpleasant peanut allergy scene.

Seeing a nice "heads up" to cooks regarding peanut allergies directed at the masses was a breath of fresh air.

It also makes me think that the general public is getting the idea that peanut allergies are increasingly common and need to be addressed, recent backlash stories notwithstanding.