Everybody has been talking about this story today and I really need to chime in. I first heard of it on The Food Allergy Mama's Facebook page. Then, today, I read the story in the Chicago Tribune and also got flooded with e-mails.
I feel sick about this. This did not need to happen. This poor girl's tragic death could have been prevented. Why did this happen?
The entire facts of the case aren't yet clear and I'm only discussing what I read in the news story. More may be revealed later. Mention was made of Chinese food served in the classroom which the girl apparently ate. Epinephrine autoinjectors, or lack of them, were also mentioned. It's not clear if this student had a food allergy emergency plan or not.
The news story tells how the school ordered in Chinese food after being assured, allegedly, by the restaurant, that the food would be peanut-free. OK, let's just stop right there. Chinese restaurant food can NEVER be safe for a peanut-allergic person. If you know anything about how Chinese food is prepared or its key ingredients, you know that it is off-limits to peanut-allergic people for good reason. Cross-contact will present problems even if actual ingredients do not. In fact, on the list our allergist gave us, Chinese and Asian foods are at the top of the "do not eat" list.
Food allergy education can save lives. For example: "peanut-free" does NOT mean "safe for life-threateningly allergic to peanuts." To many, many people, "peanut-free" means, simply, that the recipe does not contain actual peanuts. Maybe a restaurant, in good faith, says "peanut-free" when they don't understand that what the customer was really asking for was "safe for peanut allergy" or "no risk of cross-contact." Being clear is key. Please, please, be clear.
I've learned never to assume that restaurant staff understand what you mean. That's why you ask for the chef or manager about the meal and present your food allergy cards to the wait staff. Check out FAAN for these downloadable cards.
This story just makes me so fed up. It's not only schools or restaurants that need education, it's the general public. Parents of the school where this child died are now talking "peanut ban." But what good is a peanut ban if people are ordering in supposedly "peanut-free" Chinese food and then serving it to a peanut-allergic girl??? No good at all. Education is key. Education will save lives.
This could have been your child. This could have been my daughter. For all of you heading out to holiday celebrations, please take something positive from this horrific incident and stand firm about your child's food restrictions. Food allergies can be fatal, and it's tragic. Even more tragic is that a fatal reaction could have been prevented with simple knowledge.
My heart goes out to this family in their loss.