Monday, June 27, 2011

Food Allergies at the Supermarket: Be on Alert

You might think that shopping for food allergies at the supermarket is stressful simply because it entails lots of research and label reading on each product.

That's only part of it. Commenters on my Nut-Free Mom Facebook page reminded me recently of several other grocery shopping pitfalls with food allergies. This is something that I often struggled with when my daughter was very young and I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. If you are new to food allergies, you will want to be on alert at the supermarket if you've got young kids with allergies in tow.

Shopping carts. Because many parents give their kids food (PB & J being one such popular snack) to quiet them down for a shopping trip, you will want to wipe down the cart handle if you are placing a little on in the seat of the basket. Better yet, purchase a washable shopping cart cover (like these, available at Target) to protect the seat. The bonus of shopping cart covers is that you will also cut down on exposure to colds/flu and other lovely little baby and toddler germs. If your kids want to ride in those special grocery cart "cars" just give them a good wipe down before letting them get in. Bring the wipes and let them ride. You'll miss the days when they no longer want to do this...at least I think you will.

Food samples. If you don't have food allergies, free food samples may seem like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. However, if you or your child has food allergies, you will soon come to view this situation as "food pushing." Be on alert for these kindly but sometimes clueless folks--one mom who commented on my Facebook page said that, while on a recent grocery trip, somebody handed her peanut-allergic child a trail mix sample (contains peanuts!!) while her back was turned and she had to quickly wrench it from her child's hands. If this happens to you, please nicely tell the food sample rep that they might want to think twice before handing food out to children--your child has severe allergies. If this continues to be a problem, contact store management. They may need to issue these reminders as well.

The deli. My daughter doesn't have dairy allergies, so one of my kids' favorite things was to get the "free" piece of cheese when I made my deli order. That was OK for us--wouldn't be for many. Obviously, the deli counter can have all sorts of free items on offer that kids might be offered (or that might be in grabbing distance). I've seen crackers, mixed nuts, etc. all out for display at various supermarket delis.

The bakery. This one was always the heart breaker for us when my daughter was little. At SuperTarget, they offered my daughter cookies even as we passed by, quickly, on our way past the bakery items (supermarket bakery items are unsafe for nut allergies.) Kindly refuse and teach your child to refuse. Sometimes I would say "She has allergies" in the hope that it might deter them the next time.

Bulk bins. Candy, peanuts, and all types of other foods may be in kid-level bulk bins at the supermarket. Be on the lookout and be sure to remind your kids that bulk bins are "hands-off."

Believe it or not, the supermarket will not always be such a drag. It really helps to talk to even very young kids about not taking food from strangers because learning to nicely refuse foods is going to be a life-long skill.

Any food allergy pitfalls at your local supermarket? Let us know!

12 comments:

Nut free Dad said...

Another precaution although probably somewhat impossible to avoid but just something to think about is that at some delis you will find mortadella with pistachios in it. When sliced in a meat slicer it leaves open the possibility to cross contaminate.

Mary said...

I take the opportunity to show my daughter what the different types of nuts look like in the nut displays. I also point out to her what peanut butter looks like and different candies (like Snickers or Mr. Goodbars) just to be familiar with the packaging/labeling. So, the supermarket can be an excellent learning opportunity, too!

Anonymous said...

If the supermarket sells bulk peanuts (or other nuts) in the produce department, there's a cross contamination situation with the scales. Also, people can kind of be 'jerks" (this is a family blog so we'll use jerks) and toss their peanut shells into displays of oranges, etc. Pretty soon, the whole department is a hazard. While I always wash produce, it does deter me from letting my son select the fruits and vegetables himself.

Allergy Mom said...

In our local grocery stores we avoid any fruit that has been sliced in the store, such as watermelons, pineapple, and honeydew melons. The cream cheese dips and granola mixes used in the fruit trays cross contaminate the counter and utensils. Due to my daughter's nut and dairy allergies, any fruit we buy from the grocery store has to be whole or canned. Just thought others might find this information useful.

Kate said...

I don't want to sound like a total idiot, but can you do a post on why people with allergies generally consider all items from a grocery store bakery (such as store bought birthday cakes) off limits/unsafe. I think I get it, but I'm just wondering, is this one of those things where different families have different standards? e.g., one family might be comfortable reading the ingredients label and not seeing any nuts listed, whereas another family will not feel comfortable knowing that other items with nuts (e.g., peanut butter cookies) are prepared nearby? I think I have the same question regarding specialty candy shops. Thanks!

Kate said...

Re: the candy shop thing, this came to mind b/c my mom got my daughter a chocolate covered apricot from a fancy candy shop for Christmas and then when I said that I wasn't sure I felt comfortable giving it to her she said, "What? It's just chocoate an apricot."

Jenny said...

Kate, of course different families may have different standards,but bakeries are pretty cut and dried.

The items in a supermarket or store-front bakery have tons of cross-contact risk from the other bakery items that contain nuts.

Look closely at your local supermarket bakery and you may even seen a sign about allergens.

This has nothing to do with feeling comfortable about not seeing something on an ingredients label. Labels are notoriously incomplete, so many of us don't go by those only and we shouldn't. You have to consider the environment in which something is made. If you need more proof, visit a bakery and look at the offerings. See anything with nuts, peanuts, etc.? If the answer is yes, the bakery has the potential to contaminate your cake that doesn't have those items as an ingredient.

Bakery items and desserts are some of the most high-risk for nut allergy reactions, as is candy. I hope you are careful!

Jenny said...

Oh and that's not an idiotic question at all! So many people are concerned about the exact same thing. I wish that labels were more complete regarding cross contact risk, but until they are we have to be food detectives and figure out what is safe and what isn't. Thanks for your question and good luck! I may have a post about cross-contact somewhere, I'll check.

Jenny said...

Kate, sounds like you were the innocent victim of someone who thinks they know more about food allergies than you do, even though your're the one caring for the child with FA. Bascially, a chocolate covered apricot--any chocolate-covered fruit, in fact--is super high risk for nut allergies. I would have done the same thing you did and not felt comfortable giving it to my daughter. Basically, people mean well but it is tiring to always have to stand firm in the face of doubt from others. Thanks for sharing your story w/us!!

Anonymous said...

Another grocery store hazard is the check-out lane. My boys sit in the 'car shopping carts' which put them right at the candy level so they can grab/touch the nut-filled candy.

Kate said...

Thanks for your responses! I think I may need to bring some family members up to speed. I think they are used to reading labels on mass produced things, but not used to thinking about smaller production environments, like store front or grocery store bakeries, or candy shops. Intuitively I've been avoiding those things but just wanted to make sure I was fully comprehending the risk factor there. Thanks again!
-Kate

mom0810 said...

Last night at the grocery store, my checker was eating a CANDY BAR with nuts in it. She had the half-opened bar right there at the register! I made her use one of my wet ones to wipe her hands, and she was mad. The night before, I had checked my cart prior to putting food in it, as often, they have food stuck to them, and I didn't notice until checkout that there was a smashed cake in the bottom of my cart, way in the back, that I hadn't seen. I was very tempted to throw all the food away when I got home because I didn't know what had touched that spot since I didn't notice it until I unloaded the cart at checkout. I am thinking of buying my own shopping cart because these are just two instances of things like this happening...