Monday, March 29, 2010

The Nut-Free Mom Inbox....Allergy-Friendly Vacation Destinations

This is the first question of my new "inbox" feature (formerly know as the "mailbag" feature but that's so last decade) and I think it applies to many of you.

Q. Do you know a good place to travel with food allergies? We don't want to go to Disney. Jolie, Illinois.

A. No vacation destination can be promoted as 100% safe. That's because there are just too many variables. And while many people have written to me about their wonderful Disney experiences (and we have yet to go---but plan to very soon), even there you have to let everyone and anyone know about your allergies well in advance before your visit.

So while I don't have a list of allergy-friendly destinations at my disposal, I do have some recommendations that have worked for my family. We have braved a few family vacations with severe food allergies and the number one thing I can say about it is there is no such thing as too much planning ahead.

For example, last year we visited a Wisconsin resort we'd been to before--only to find out that one of the on-site American restaurants had recently been replaced by a BBQ joint that used 100% peanut oil for just about everything. We were able to eat at other on-site restaurants and had a few more available to us off-site but that just goes to show that you even if you thought a place was allergy-friendly before, you must call and find out what the food situation is each and every time. In this sense, going on vacation is no different than dining out at home. Careful vigilance is always required.

Here are some more tips on deciding if a vacation destination is allergy-friendly:

Try to get lodgings that have a small kitchenette or at least a refrigerator.
Relying on restaurant food 24/7 can take a toll on families trying to manage food allergies. Having the option of serving allergic family members at least some meals or snacks prepared by you is going to cut down on risk factors and give you less to worry about.

Don't go anywhere too remote. If an allergic reaction happens, how soon can your child get to a hospital? This should be a factor in planning where you will go and where you will stay during your trip.

Be prepared with chef cards for restaurants. FAAN and AllerNotes offer chef cards (also in languages other than English) which can be really helpful whether you are traveling abroad or staying in the U.S.

Will this destination be easy or difficult in terms of avoiding food allergens? If you want to relax and have fun, you definitely don't want to be facing a food allergy minefield each day. For this reason, my family needs to think about the local food. In the American South, peanuts, tree nuts and peanut oil are used--a lot. If we're going there, we need to be extra careful. Think about local foods and if you can find enough safe places to eat at that destination.

Can you drive to the vacation spot? This is huge for nut allergies because of all the airplane risks regarding peanuts and tree nuts in-flight. Avoiding airplanes will not only be cheaper but it will cut down on your stress--always good when going on a vacay!

No matter where you go, you can never take a vacation from vigilance. It's tempting to throw caution to the wind on vacation. After all, you're there to relax. However, planning ahead with regard to what to feed a food-allergic child means never letting your guard down. The more prepared you are before you leave, the more fun you'll have.

OK, readers. That's my two cents. Now let me ask you--where do you find your allergy-friendly family vacation spots? Besides Disney! :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food Allergy Guidelines and You - Make Your Voice Heard

Since many of you e-mail me and want to know what you can do personally to help the cause of people with food allergies, here's a chance to help your voice get heard! The National Institute of Health seeks to create guidelines for management of food allergy and they are looking for public comment.

Here's the press release. Click on the links in the release to offer your comments and help with national guidelines that will be followed by physicians.

Public Comment Sought On Draft Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, is seeking public comment on draft Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy. The public comment period is open for 60 days beginning March 5 and ending May 3. Health care professionals and interested members of the public are encouraged to review the guidelines and participate in the open comment period by visiting the NIAID Food Allergy Clinical Guidelines public comment Web site.

"Food allergy is an important public health problem that affects millions of Americans, and may be increasing in prevalence," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "These draft guidelines provide information to a wide variety of health care professionals about how to diagnose and manage food allergy, and treat acute food allergy reactions."

The guidelines are based on an independent, systematic review of the scientific and clinical food allergy literature. Information gathered from the literature review was incorporated into a full report on the state-of-the-science in food allergy that will be made available after the publication of the final guidelines.

As part of the process of developing the guidelines, NIAID brought together a coordinating committee that included representatives from 33 professional organizations, advocacy groups and federal agencies. The role of the coordinating committee was to appoint an expert panel, review drafts, approve the final guidelines and develop a plan to distribute the final guidelines. The expert panel, composed of 25 members with expertise from a variety of relevant clinical and scientific areas, wrote the draft guidelines.

The guidelines cover the following topics:

•Definition and prevalence of food allergy
•Natural history of food allergy and closely associated diseases
•Diagnosis of food allergy
•Management of non-acute allergic reactions to food
•Management of acute allergic reactions to food, including anaphylaxis, a severe, whole-body reaction
"These guidelines represent a major commitment on the part of many people and organizations working to improve the care of individuals with food allergy," says Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at NIAID. "The process of developing the guidelines has also helped us identify gaps in the current scientific knowledge that we can begin to address through future research."

All comments will be reviewed by the coordinating committee, expert panel and NIAID. Where appropriate, these comments will be used to develop final guidelines. The final guidelines are expected to be released by the fall of 2010.

More information on the development of the guidelines may be found at the NIAID Food Allergy Guidelines Web page at

For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Food Allergy-Friendly Summer Camp?

It's time to start thinking about summer camp and I am of the firm belief that kids with food allergies should be able to enjoy some type of camp experience. It can be scary for parents to let kids do this, but it can be really rewarding and a good means of boosting your child's self-esteem about their ability to handle their allergy in a variety of situations. If you're not comfortable with overnight, half-day or day camps are a good first step.

FAAN is going to be offering several nut-free summer camps for allergic kids and their siblings (whether allergic or not) in 2011. Limited locations will be available across the country.

My daughter attended Girl Scout day camp as well as an academic day camp and both experiences were wonderful. However, we needed to do our homework and get the staff ready to deal with food allergies.

Luckily, both camps had experience with the issue and the worst thing that happened was that my daughter scraped her foot on the bottom of the pool.

To get your allergic child prepared for camp, check the camp enrollment info for an allergy section. Many camps now have these, so provide detailed information.

Next, you'll want to have a discussion with the camp staff and/or director. How do they manage food during the day? Can your child bring their own? Does the camp serve peanut butter (or other possible food allergens) and if so, how do they keep allergic campers safe? Most camps with outdoor activities have an EMT or medical professional on site, so this person should also be given info about your child. If this is not the case, you'll want to ask about who knows how to use an EpiPen or an asthma inhaler. Again, most camps now offer this training but you always need to ask.

Here are some more summer camp links.

Best Allergy Sites has a great lineup of tips and also further links for you to explore.

FAAN offers a resource guide for parents who want to enroll allergic kids in camp.

Food Allergy Initiative provides wonderful tips and checklists.

For those of you with older kids who have attended camps or plan to attend camps, what have your experiences been like?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nut-Free Cupcakes at the Supermarket (No, Really!)

Life got very crazy last week so I did not have my usual output of blog posts, but now I'm back with some darn good news about the increasing availability of nut-free baked goods at the supermarket.

Here's the deal: a few weeks ago a Nut-Free Mom reader contacted me about mini cupcakes she'd found at a local Chicago supermarket chain, Jewel. (This chain is now owned by the Minnesota company, SuperValu).

The cupcakes in question arrive in packs of 12 and a sticker on either the front or back of the the packaging reads "Made in a Nut-Free Facility."

Of course, my question was, huh? They were still "Jewel Bakery Brand" so how could they be baked in a nut-free facility? I e-mailed Jewel with some questions and I received a phone call from from a wonderfully nice and knowledgeable woman in the corporate office. She explained that the cupcakes are produced in an outside bakery that is nut-free and that uses only safe, "nut-free" ingredients.

She did have a few cautions for me, however. The "nut-free facility" mini cupcakes currently available at Jewel stores only come in a 12-count pack. There is a tray of 30 mini-cupcakes that is not safe--it is repackaged at the store in the regular bakery, and so there is a risk of cross-contact. The regular sized cupcakes are also not safe--just the mini ones.

I was so impressed with the Jewel corporate office and their grasp of cross-contact and nut allergies in general. They provided me with complete product details and also let me know that because of the demand for nut-free bakery items they will probably be offering more selection in the future. By the way, the cupcakes are delicious! My kids are in heaven--my allergic daughter is now able to eat bakery cupcakes for the first time in 6 years. Frankly, we all got a little emotional about it.

After I posted a short note about this on Twitter last week, I got a response from a follower who said that Walmart also offers baked items from a nut-free facility. Anyone else know of nut-free supermarket items baked off-site?

One word of caution--please always verify that an item is safe before buying it. For example, in the case of the Jewel cupcakes, the 12-count were safe but the 30-count were not. Also, a label that says "nut-free" is not necessarily safe and baked in a nut-free facility. Jewel sells brownies that are labeled "nut-free," but that only means that the brownies don't contain nuts. The Jewel rep said there is still cross-contact risk for their baked goods--unless the label says "baked in a nut-free facility."

Check before you buy, but hey--things are looking up! I never thought I'd see safe, nut-free cupcakes at the supermarket.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Backstage with Nut Allergies

My daughters' dance recital was this weekend and it got me thinking that many of you may be facing dance recitals, variety shows and school plays as we enter the spring season.

Despite the fact that many of these shows prohibit food backstage, it does tend to be everywhere, mainly because kids get hungry during long rehearsals. Also, I've found that parent volunteers tend to bring snacks to appease the kiddos. At a previous dance recital, I remember being told that no food was allowed backstage, only to find out from my daughter that she was being offered food right and left. In shows, as with life in general with a nut allergy, it pays to assume that there will always be food to deal with.

Even though you'll be super busy getting kids in costume, at the rehearsals on time and with all of their lines and/or dance steps memorized, you can't leave food allergies to chance. Here are a few things I've found to be helpful during "show time."

1. Make sure that key people (teachers, parents, whoever is helping out with your child's group) knows about your child's allergies. Take the time to introduce yourself at rehearsals and ask them not to give your child any food backstage unless it's been approved by you. You should also provide your cell-phone number in case of emergency.

2. Provide a safe snack and drink for you child, clearly labeled and marked with their full name. Oliver's Labels are a great choice because they also will say "No Nuts" in addition to your child's name. This will prevent water bottle mix ups and such that often occur during the chaos of practices and performances.

3. Depending on your child's age and ability to communicate about their allergy, consider a "safety tattoo." Available from One Step Ahead these will not interfere with your child's costume (like a medical I.D. tag) and will alert bystanders and helpers to your child's food allergy.

4. Pack Epi Pen, Benadryl and clear, easy-to-read usage instructions with your child. You will also want to list symptoms of an allergy in case an emergency occurs.

5. Volunteer to help if you can (especially for younger children.) I've done this in the past and never regretted it, even if I've had to miss some parts of the show. Dance performances and plays are notoriously chaotic backstage.

6. Ask to see the labels of any makeup and hair products that will be used on your child before the performance or during rehearsals. Some cosmetics and hair products contain nut oils that can be absorbed through the skin.

And remember, once you've taken your precautions, enjoy the show! It's rewarding to see your child get up there in front of an audience and there is no reason why they can't. Just be cautious, do your homework and then get ready for applause!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Nut-Free Mom Blog Presents...Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival

Welcome to the latest edition of the Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival! I think you'll find a great variety of articles today. Thanks to everyone who posted!

Fred Lee presents Effective Treatment For Peanut Allergies In Children posted at Parenting Squad.

Alice Enevoldsen presents Blondies posted at Safe and Yummy. Alice says: "I needed a brownie fix - so here's a no-egg, no-milk, no-nuts, no-chocolate option. Still has wheat though!!"

Alison offers resources for college students living with food allergies at Food allergies in college posted at Sure Foods Living.

Colette Martin also contemplates college and food allergies with Making the College Choice When You Have Food Allergies posted at Learning to Eat Allergy Free - Multiple Food Allergies.

Lara DeHaven presents Valentine's Day Cookies posted at Texas Homesteader. Lara says: "Even though Valentine's Day has come and gone, the gluten-free cookie recipe given in this article can be easily adapted for any occasion."

Nicole Smith presents How to Get Food Allergy Legislation Introduced in Your State posted at Nicole Smith.

Ruth Lovett Smith provides great tips for summer camp with her post Summer Camp and Food Allergies posted at Food Allergy & Gluten Free Guide: Best Allergy Sites. Ruth says: "It will be summer before you know it. Start planning for summer camp now--especially if you have a child with food allergies." Great advice!

Food Allergy Assistant provides some new insights into the rise of peanut allergy with The History of Peanut Allergies posted at Food Allergy Assistant saying "This new book takes a unique look at the question we've all been asking, "Where did all these peanut allergies come from?". Read the first chapter for free. It's truly eye-opening."

Tricia Hodges offers a trio of posts for us today beginning with Sunbutter posted at Hodgepodge. She also offers meal planning advice for food allergy parents with Meal Planning, Mixes. Tricia explains: "Meal planning helps me keep my two children with peanut/tree nut allergies safe. It is minimal effort with mega results!"

Tricia also offers us a Dad's eye view with Allergy Challenge. This post was written by her husband.

Finally, we have Lisa of Let's Talk Babies with Nut Allergies: Teaching Your Child to Steer Clear.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food Allergy Bloggers, Submit an Article Now!

Just a quick note to remind all of you fellow food allergy bloggers about the Living With Food Allergies Blog Carnival that I'm hosting this Thursday.

The deadline is Wednesday night, so click here to submit an article.

Thanks! I'm looking forward to reading your entries.