Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peanut Allergy Plea: Please Don't Bake for My Allergic Child

I ran the following post a couple of years ago when I first began my blog and I'm running it again because of the many e-mails I've received from parents wanting to provide Halloween and other treats to nut-allergic kids in the classroom.

There's just no easy way to say it: please don't bake for my peanut-allergic child--or any child with a food allergy, for that matter. Please, please don't do it.

You may be the mom who "loves to bake the treats" and I don't doubt that your intentions are good. But the risks are just way too high. Please ask the parents of the allergic kids, either directly, or through the teacher, to contribute a safe item. So many allergic reactions occur because someone ate a cookie or a cupcake they "thought" was safe. I cite the story by Dr. Robert Wood in his book "Food Allergies for Dummies." A fellow allergist baked him cookies, assured him they were "safe" and because of cross-contact of which the baker was unaware, Dr. Wood (himself allergic to peanuts) needed 5 doses of Epinephrine to recover--his reaction was that severe.

Parents of non-allergic kids: Don't feel like you're excluding anyone. We don't want an allergic reaction in our child: Period. We are happy to provide a safe treat. It's easier, safer, just plain better for everyone.

Here's my original post: "The Nuances of Nut-Free Baking":

I just read that the PTO is looking for people to contribute home-baked goods.

This year, for the first time, they asked parents to label the baked goods "Nuts" or "Nut Free." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read that piece of info.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful to the PTO moms who even thought about food allergies in the first place. And I know that they mean well. But if your child has a nut allergy, you know it's not that easy. It made me wonder who advised them on this issue. Had I known, I would have put my two cents in.

The good intentions of the PTO mothers, unfortunately, will be wasted on any food-allergic family that I know. We won't touch home-baked items from people we don't know (and of course no bakery items) because of the cross-contamination risk.

Here's the problem: just because an item was not baked with nuts doesn't make it nut free. For example: You use a knife to spread peanut butter on your kid's bread. You then slice into a stick of butter and spread that on your other child's bread. You put the butter back in the refrigerator.

Then, you decide to make a recipe for the bake sale that uses a half a stick of butter. You add the butter that touched the peanut butter knife into the recipe. You bake your brownies, cookies or whatever and you don't add nuts. Then you label the item "Nut Free." Voila! It's now contaminated by peanut matter not reflected on the label.

That's one scenario. I can think of many others, such as using a non-safe cake mix or frosting, or candy cake decorations that may have been processed on lines that process nuts. Besides utensils, shared bowls or the baker's own hands can transfer peanut or nut matter into recipes.

See, I know it sounds nit picky. But I can't risk my child having an allergic reaction. So of course we won't eat your home-baked treat. I'm sure it's delicious. It's nothing personal, really!

I considered baking a treat for the carnival and labeling it "Nut-Free. Prepared in a completely peanut-free, tree-nut free kitchen. My kid is allergic so I know what cross-contamination is. Eat it. It's safe. REALLY." (Or something like that.) I can still contribute, but I'm not counting on a food-allergic family to bring my treat home unless they know it's baked by me!

If I read that label, I'd still steer clear. You just never know. Better to skip the cake walk and bake something for my daughter at home. Better still if we could have "non-food" alternate prizes for various games and activities. Maybe next year!


Lori said...

Great post! whenever I don't eat somebodys home made treats they think i'm being rude but i'm not...I have to do what is best for me so please don't take it the wrong way.

dannyscotland said...

Every year my church youth group hosts a Halloween party. This year they asked for peanut-free candy. But because they didn't explain how to find peanut-free candy, they still ended up with a lot they couldn't give to some of the kids.

People who don't have contact with allergic kids or adults simply don't understand that it's not just about not having nuts in the food. Even my husband doesn't seem to get it all the time.

I also wanted to add that some schools (mine being one) do not allow parents to bring any baked goods at all. Any classroom treats must be store-bought.

grace hester designs said...

I am volunteering this Friday at my daughter's school harvest bash party and received an email to all the parent volunteers about the treats with a "peanut free of course!" peppy statement at the tail-end of the treats information.

So I responded back with a short paragraph including the following "all foods made in the US will have the top food allergens listed, including if it was made in a facility that processes nuts and peanuts, but if food has already been purchased, no worries, we will just skip that section of the festivities. This same time last year, we rushed [my daughter] to the hospital when she had an anaphylatic reaction even though she did not ingest any visible nuts and peanuts so you can understand if we'd really like to keep that a once-in-a-lifetime-never-again event if we can."

I try to be as courteous or not one of "THOSE" mothers as I can, but at the end of the day, you just have to develop that thick-skin to ask for what you want without expecting others to respect or understand, or want to in some cases, in the way you would, why you are doing so.

Melinda said...

This is something I'm going to be dealing with for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Family members have promised me that nothing they fix will have nuts in it. And while I appreciate that they think of him, and are willing to try, I just can't trust it. I feel that most people that don't deal with food allergies on a daily basis fully grasp the risk of cross contamination. I know I didn't before learning of my son's allergies.

Anonymous said...

Holiday's with food can be scary for us with a PA 6 year old. In the beginning I was tempted to just stay home because it would be easier. After explaining many times to family members that even a small amount can have a severe reaction, they have gone peanut free at parties. However, we don't feed her any of the food except for those items brought by us and my parents or in-laws because they are peanut free.

Paisley said...

This is a great post, thank you. My son isn't yet in school, but I'm having this problem come up a lot with family members who just don't (or won't) get the cross-contamination issue. With the holidays coming up, I know it will be a problem again.

Nicole Smith said...

I've been nodding my head with concurrence reading your post! Our rule is to never allow our son to eat baked goods from someone else's kitchen. Some schools in our school district have now gone to the "No Baked Goods" rule requiring that anything brought into school be labeled with a food manufacturer's list of ingredients. This helps, but we always had the rule that our son only ate food provided by Mom or Dad. Safety first!

Hayley Flott owner of Flott Fitness said...

Your best blog ever! Fantastic title, explained directly to the point. Thank you Jenny.

Jenny said...

Apparently, there is a growing trend that really disturbs me--mothers of kids with peanut allergies who want others to provide their child with safe treats.

This is a totally foreign concept to me! Why would you entrust your child's life to someone not familiar with allergies?

The trouble with food allergies and baking is that at this point it becomes less about food and more about making your kitchen into a "medical lab" in the sense that nothing can be introduced into the environment that may be harmful. This is a very hard concept to get across. In fact, nearly impossible unless you're dealing with it yourself.

Anyone else have stories to share about this?

Jenny said...

Thanks for all of your comments. This issue is clearly striking a chord!

One of you mentioned you didn't want to be one of "those" mothers--I assume one who is considered overprotective or overly cautious.

Don't worry how you are perceived. At the end of the day it's all about safety and health. Stand firm and join the club--I'm proud to be one of "those" mothers. We're not saying we don't want our kids to enjoy life--we're saying that the number one way to avoid an allergic reaction is strict avoidance of certain foods. So that's what we do. "Those" mothers--unite!! :)

caramama said...

So true, so true. Two stories:

1. For my nephew's b-day party, my BIL was baking the cake from scratch and wanted to make sure my peanut-allergic daughter could have a piece. I instructed him on how to wipe down everything first and be sure not to even take out anything with peanuts in it during the baking process. I trust them enough to know that once they knew what to do, it would be safe. So yeah for people who want to know HOW to make it truly safe!

2. It was our turn to send in a Friday afternoon snack to my daughter's pre-school. I sent in cookies and told the teacher that it was baked in a nut-free kitchen. I think that's how I'll label my baked goods from now on. But I still didn't expect any other food-allergic child to eat it if they weren't comfortable. I did let my daughter have the b-day cupcakes that another mother brought in for her peanut and tree nut allergic boy's birthday.

Ali said...

Awesome Post! Now if only the would-be-bakers didn't get their feelings hurt. I wish there was a nice way to say no.
A few months ago I offered to bake cookies for a friend's daughter who has PN allergies. She never got back to me. Between the time I offered and the time the event took place my daughter was diagnosed with soy & a peanut allergy too. I called her laughing (and crying a little) at the idea that I could have baked safe food for her child. I'm still trying to figure out how to cook safely for my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Yes. This is a great post!!. I am fortunate that my daughter's school is nut free, so awareness is there. She has had very nice teachers, who know that she only eats the treats I send in. When other parents are making something, they have asked me, is there something else you want me to bring for your daughter? I always thank them for their consideration, but then decline.

I do find that cross contamination is the hardest thing to explain.


Macchiatto said...

I have one son who had allergies to wheat, corn, peanuts, strawberries and sesame when he was a toddler. He outgrew all of those and then developed a random allergy to cinnamon. His twin is allergic to tree nuts and eggs.
I agree with a lot of this, but I completely disagree with your statement, "There's just no easy way to say it: please don't bake for my peanut-allergic child--or any child with a food allergy, for that matter. Please, please don't do it."
Moms of kids with many food allergies are lucky enough not to have to worry too much about cross-contamination. I.e. now that my one twin is only allergic to cinnamon, as long as there's no cinnamon in the recipe, he's fine. Even if there were a little cinnamon, he'd just get a few eczema patches. So we avoid cinnamon but I wouldn't want other moms to assume I would always bring a separate safe treat for him to any occasion. I just think it's overstated. This advice holds true for something like baking for a school class but if you're having friends over for a play date, dinner, a birthday party, etc., I would just ask the mom what they prefer.

Jenny said...

If you are dealing with an potentially life-threatening food allergy, I don't think it is overstated. The cinnamon situation you describe sounds like a food intolerance, not something life-threatening. Eczema patches are NOT a symptom of a food allergy reaction. That would be more an example of having a food intolerance, not a life-threatening allergy. Having multiple food allergies does not make you "lucky enough" not to have to worry about cross-contamination. With a severe allergy, you must always be aware of that or risk a potentially lethal reaction -- no matter how many you have. I think what you're saying is you don't want to be inconvenienced personally if another parent assumes you would provide some safe food items. That's a separate issue.