Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Great Nut-Free Baking Debate

Lately, the issue of "nut-free" baking has been cropping up in my life. Specifically, people without nut allergies in their families who volunteer to do nut-free baking for my child, (for a party or dinner.) My daughter recently attended a party that featured two adorable summer cakes: a sand castle cake and a watermelon shaped cake. The mom who made them is a wonderful lady and she offered to make them "safe" for my daughter. But I told her not to worry--I'd bring a treat. I felt a little bad, but I know they have peanut butter in their house. So I skipped it.

I did an entire post on "nut-free baking for the non-allergic" awhile back and in theory, it can be done. But, deep down, do we, as "nut-free moms" trust other people to "get it?" I've been examining this idea and I'm sorry to say, I'm not sure that I do.

There are just so many variables. Do the bakers use peanut butter--is it in their house? Did the spoon they used to mix the batter previously touch peanut butter? Were the baking tins washed thoroughly enough to remove all traces of allergens? How about the oven? The cooking surfaces? The cutting boards, mixing bowls, etc. The other ingredients--did someone stick a knife in peanut butter and then a knife in the butter? And on and on it goes.

There's a scene in the episode of the PBS series "Arthur" where Binky Barnes had nut allergies. He has a nightmare about dealing with his food allergies and, when questioning the cafeteria lady (I forget her name) about a food, she says: "It was made with an egg from a chicken who once dreamed of a peanut." I sometimes feel like that's how I'm coming across, but I really feel like I have to be completely satisfied with how someone prepared something before my daughter can get a bite.

I personally feel squeamish when someone else bakes something that my daughter ends up eating--though she has done so, without incident, such as homemade (so good!) pumpkin pie during visits to my in-laws at Thanksgiving. VERY occasionally she'll have a piece of homemade birthday cake at a party of a close family friend who has been over all the details with me. But that's pretty rare.

What about all of you? Do you trust informed people to bake for your kids? Or just skip it all together? I'd love to hear your feelings on this.

BTW, THANK YOU to everyone who participated in my tag. It was fun!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Still No News...Quick Summer Update!

Due to the posts I received, I can see I'm not alone in my frustration with regard to food labels. Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz was exactly right when she suggested the "gourmet retailer" had the initials W & S in their name!!

I have sent them a follow-up e-mail and am waiting for a response.

Now, to be a complete "motherly type" I want to remind everyone about the fact that school is starting soon (I know, I know! Like you need reminding ...) and we all need to update our EpiPen prescriptions. My daughter needs several at school and several at home and a bunch of her Epis just expired. So I thought I would give a little reminder to all of you.

Luckily, I have so many that we're covered. And for everyone that has moved, like me, don't forget the new Medic Alert bracelet with updated info. My daughter's new school requires one, in fact. (A good thing, I think.)

OK, that's all for now. I'm on a writing deadline!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Update on Wacky Allergy Labels...A Whole Lotta Nada

Sorry to say, I did not get a very satisfactory response to my e-mail query on the confusing food allergy labels I encountered recently. Their corporate customer service e-mailed me that, in order to get information about a specific product, I need to ask the retail stores what is in their food.

Well, actually that's not what I asked. I didn't want to know about specific products, necessarily. I can read a label--so can all of you. We're skilled in that. My question to the store was: how do you go about determining what allergens you list on your labels? They chose not to answer that. Also, I highly doubt that the retail store workers would have the knowledge I was looking for, that is, how is the food processed and who determines how it's labeled a certain way and why.

So I am posing the question to them again and see what I get.

Just thought I'd let you know! Also, what's up with all the gluten-free stuff at Trader Joe's? I'm glad they are acknowledging gluten allergies but almost everything at TJ contains peanuts or tree nuts. And I love that place. Just be careful when you shop there...it's super-nutty!

Well, that's a whole other story! :) Hopefully, I'll get to the bottom of the allergy labels at the "gourmet food and cookware retailer." Everybody probably knows who that is, right?

Wish me luck! And all of you who are speaking up and asking questions at stores and restaurants, THANK YOU! We are making progress, I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is It Me, Or Are Allergy Labels Getting Way Wackier???

OK, I do appreciate companies that label possible food allergens, but I'm starting to get suspicious about some of them.

Here's what set me off most recently: I received a bunch of BBQ spices from a popular gourmet food/cookware retailer as a gift last weekend. Each spice blend was emblazoned with a label claiming that it was processed on equipment that had previously come into contact with ALL of the "top 8" food allergens.

This same store sells colored sugars (for decorating cakes and cookies) that are also labeled as coming into contact with ALL top 8 food allergens.

Call me crazy but since when does colored sugar get processed on the same equipment as shellfish???

I think you probably know where I'm going with this. Fearing liability, certain companies are now proclaiming that all of their food products contain every top food allergen in an attempt to scare off allergic consumers. In other words, they are not reporting responsibly or truthfully on the contents of their foods. They are including allergy labels only to exclude allergic consumers. They don't wanna get sued, people, and so they're taking it to the extreme.

In a response to one of my previous posts, one mom said a similar situation happened to her at Olive Garden restaurants--they claimed that all of their food may contain peanuts. Unlikely??? You bet. But there it is. Who among us wants to take the risk? Still, I think we're being taken for a ride.

I've got an e-mail into the gourmet retailer quizzing them on their allergy labels. I'll let you know what they say.

Frustrating! We don't want to be uninformed about potential allergens but some of these places are taking it too far. And it feels discriminatory to me.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nut-Free Mom Newbies--Welcome to Our Nutty, Wonderful Community!

Over the past several weeks, I've received several e-mails and blog comments from mothers who are facing new peanut and tree nut allergy diagnoses in their young children. Even though I've now been in the "trenches" of food allergies for more than 4 years, I still vividly recall how I felt when I first found out about my daughter's life-threatening allergy to nuts.

It was one of the scariest times of my life. I felt certain that I wasn't cut out for the job. The first year I had a roller coaster of emotions. One day, I'd be very optimistic about handling my daughter's health problem. The next day, I'd feel so negative about the whole thing I wondered how our family would ever be normal.

Here's the good news for all of you facing this for the first time: you can do this. There is nothing like a mother's love to override obstacles. I'd be willing to bet that all of you will dig deep inside yourselves, like I have, to make sure that you give your child their best possible life despite the fact that you have to watch their every bite of food.

You'll wake up one day and realize that having a food-allergic child does not seem like such a crisis. You'll know you can do it and your child, as they get older, will be able to cope and have confidence, too.

My best advice is to stay positive. My allergist always tells us to keep life as normal as possible--even while we have to be cautious. Travel, eat in restaurants, go places. Let your child go to Girl Scout camp or stay overnight with a friend.

Of course, you have to take precautions. You can't be lax and everybody--teachers, grandparents, babysitters and other parents of the kids your child plays with will need to know how to use the EpiPen. But if you teach your child how to stand up for themselves and how to avoid certain foods, that's half the battle already.

The resources I have listed to the right of my blog have been invaluable to me in this journey and for those of you new to nut allergies, I suggest you take a look.

The other big thing to remember is that you're so not alone. When I first discovered my daughter's food allergy, it seemed like nobody was very familiar with it. Now it's rare if I meet someone who doesn't have at least some experience with it. Things are changing for the better, but we still have to be vocal for our kids.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for this blog and wish all of you the best of luck as we work through the "nut allergy maze" together.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

How's Summer Going So Far?

With Independence Day just passed, most of us have our summer plans and kids' activities in full swing. So I wondered how it's going for you? How have your food allergy plans been working at camp, play dates, swim lessons, day care and other activities outside of the home? Have you skipped anything or modified anything due to your child's food allergies?

For example, I enrolled my daughter in an activity that had the option of having them stay for lunch. They had sessions with or without the lunch option, but the program stays the same. (For the record, the organization has a strict No Peanut Butter policy.)

I decided to have her attend the "no lunch" session almost without thought. It just seems easier to me, especially since school is such a constant struggle with food issues all year long. Later, I wondered if maybe I should have let her do the lunch option (it would have kept her there an extra hour each day--and we moms know how much we crave that extra hour!) but I didn't want to even introduce the risk. That just feels better to me.

The good news is we're going out, doing the things we want to do and have incorporated caution into our lives so much already that it doesn't seem like a big deal to skip certain foods or modify certain activities like the one I just mentioned. That's gotta be good, right?

I'm curious to know what other compromises you've made this summer and how they've worked out for you.