When it comes to food allergies, I have a pretty MAJOR pet peeve. And it's pretty serious...and it kind of makes me angry...
It's a phrase...two little words...
There are plenty of things that make my heart pound and my head spin when it comes to food allergies, but this one in particular just rubs me the wrong way. It bothers me when I hear friends and other acquaintances say it. But I am really upset by the people in the food allergy world, those who advocate for those with food allergies, that continually use this phrase.
Y'all...NO SUBSTANCE IN THIS WORLD IS ALLERGY FREE!!
There is a case of a girl that is literally allergic to water. WATER. I'll say it again. Nothing in this world is allergy free. You can react to ANYTHING!
Yes, 90% of the food allergy reactions in this world are caused by the top 8 foods. My son is allergic to 5 foods off of that list! Yet, it's three foods NOT on this list that have caused three separate anaphylaxis reactions - peas, lentils, and sesame. These three foods are arguably more dangerous to my child than any of the other 5 that appear on the top 8 list! Yet, time and time again I see recipes in recipes or by other food allergy bloggers that include one or more of those three. And, more often than not, these recipes come with the label "allergy free."
Now, I know that just because something is touted as "allergy free" doesn't make it so. I am firmly entrenched in this food allergy world, and I know the difference. But this phrase does nothing but increase the risk of anaphylaxis and exposure to allergens. It is irresponsible for anyone or any company to label a product as "allergy free."
We have to move away from using this phrase. We simply must. It is irresponsible for those of us in the food allergy community to aid in the assumption that a label of "allergy free" makes something safe! You will never see me label a recipe as such. I am comfortable with "allergy friendly" IF the recipe is free of the top 8 allergens. But that's it.
What is safe or allergy free for one is likely not for another. My son has a few obscure allergies, and they are life-threatening. He could very easily be exposed to a food he is allergic to by being told (or by a caregiver being told) it is "allergy free."
For the safety of my child...for the safety of your child...for your own personal safety: PLEASE help me spread the word that nothing in this world is "allergy free!!!"
Like all food preparation while accommodating food allergies, grilling requires careful attention to ingredients. However, the biggest challenge in grilling often comes from the potential for cross-contamination. Ideally, I would just maintain an allergen free section of grating in our grill. However, we live in an apartment complex with two large communal gas grills. There is no telling what allergens may have been in the marinades, sauces, or seasonings of the previous user of the grill. We have encountered similar issues grilling out at friends’ homes and at parks and other public spaces.
Grilling foil is the most simple and versatile tool for preventing exposure to allergens. It has a heavier thickness than standard aluminum foil and typically has a non-stick surface. For single servings for an individual with allergies, simply cut out an appropriately sized square and cook the protein directly on the foil (note that grill manufacturers strongly discourage covering entire grilling surfaces with foil, as this blocks air flow and can be dangerous). For fattier meats, like burgers, I find it best to poke a small hole in the center of the foil to allow liquids to drain. Obviously, it’s also easy to pack a square for a cookout and completely disposable (recyclable!). The foil can also be used as a physical buffer and visual identifier when food is served, saving the need to have a second serving dish and preventing someone inadvertently taking the safe serving for themselves.
While foil is great for single servings, dedicated grilling surfaces for safe foods are best when preparing larger batches. I use a large, low-walled grill basket with a detachable handle for these purposes. When shopping for one, make sure to measure the internal dimensions of your grill so that you can close the lid with the basket in place, making sure to account for the height of the basket and the curvature of the lid. Baskets are available in non-stick varieties, though those tend to not be dishwasher safe. Ours came from Williams-Sonoma (click here for information) and is dishwasher safe, and I brush it with canola oil each time I use it to prevent sticking.
It is also a wise precaution to have tools and utensils that are reserved for contact with foods free of your targeted allergens. I have also used grilling foil in a pinch when I didn’t have access to a second set of grilling tools, wrapping the end of tongs or a spatula with foil to avoid cross-contamination when cooking safe and unsafe foods at the same time. I use silicone brushes for all brush applications; I find the large bristles to be easier to clean than paintbrush style brushes which gives me greater confidence I am not leaving behind any potential allergens.
Dealing with Soy
Soy is one of the most pernicious allergens; it is everywhere. This is particularly true in grilling applications. Nearly all cooking sprays, even if they don’t use soybean oil as the primary ingredient, use soy lecithin (soy protein) as the propellant. There are, however, several brands of canola and olive oil sprays that do not use additional propellants, including Winona Pure and Bertolli. For grilling purposes, canola oil is better, as its smoke point (400 degrees Fahrenheit) is higher than olive oil (350 degrees). Alternatively, you can brush canola oil directly on the grilling surface.
Soybean oil is also a common emulsifier in many commercial seasoning mixes. In our first months of cooking with food allergies, we ruined more than one planned meal by seasoning meat with a mix that included soy. Equally common are seasoning blends that list “natural flavors” among the ingredients. Under current labeling guidelines, this term could be a catch-all for any number of potential allergens and represents a form of food allergy Russian roulette that we choose not to play. Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and homemade spice mixes do the job just fine. Also, having had limited luck finding barbecue sauces that are free of soy or “natural flavors,” our go-to now is Pickapeppa Sauce, a versatile vinegar-based Jamaican sauce that is terrific brushed on almost any protein.
Hopefully, these tips will prove useful for others looking to accommodate food allergies in their grilling.
If you having any questions or your own solutions, please leave them in the comments below.
Christopher Dye is a university professor by day, but is also well-known and loved in our world for being an incredible food allergy dad He is a very important part of our Food Allergy Arsenal.
We often joke about the fact that our three year old has business cards and we don't...but his allergies are pretty serious business, so perhaps it isn't all that silly!
I can't take credit for this idea...it was another gem I heard about from my support group in Bloomington, IN. But it's been such a wonderful convenience and useful tool for us since we started making them - and let's face it, how often do the concepts of food allergies and convenience get discussed at the same time?!
I first created Matthew's business cards on Vistaprint about two years ago. I had come across a coupon code and thought it was just a great idea. It took some time to get the layout and theme exactly how I wanted it (much like setting up a blog, come to think of it), but I was so happy with the result. A year after we made the first one, we decided to make new ones. His food allergies had changed (we had more to add to the list), and kids change so quickly when they are little that we wanted to update the picture, too.
I was semi-dreading having to start over again, but FORTUNATELY, I had created a Vistaprint account, so all I had to do was figure out how to login (i.e. try one of 760 different passwords I use) and...ta-da, there sat the beautiful card I had created a year ago. I added a couple of rows to the allergy table, updated his picture, and updated our address (because we'd moved for the 760th time). It literally took five minutes from login to order.
We use them all the time - we give them to babysitters (rather than having to write out instructions over and over again), we pass them out like allergy-friendly candy at his school and at church. He actually wears a laminated one as his nametag at church. There is one hanging off of his backpack. One with his epinephrine. One on his car seat in case we were in an accident (so medical personnel would know about his allergies). They can literally be used anywhere! AND...they're pretty darn cute, too!
I have enjoyed using Vistaprint for these. Vistaprint frequently has coupon codes, so you can get them cheap/free and just pay shipping. It costs a little more to have a backside to your card, but I feel like it was necessary to share all of the information.
A few recommendations:
**I strongly recommend creating an account if you use Vistaprint. Creating the card from scratch one time was enough. Updating is super simple now!
**Update the card anytime you move, your information changes, or you/your child's allergens change. We need to update ours to include tree nuts - this post has been a good reminder of that.
**Put your child's full, legal name on the front. This helps with identification in case of emergency.
**Give them to all your friends and relatives that may ever be alone with your child.
**These cards are NOT a substitute for a thorough verbal explanation of your child's allergies. They are meant to be a quick and easy guide for your child's caregivers and, in case of emergency, a source of information for emergency personnel.
I hope this is a useful tool! I'd love to hear if you can think of other applications for this business card, either in the food allergy world, or even for another medical condition!
For information about other food allergy resources, check out Food Allergy Arsenal's Resources Page
*takes deep breath…
This is difficult to share.
EVERY time I look at this picture of my baby, my heart drops. My stomach turns in knots. I could literally cry. I see this picture and it takes me back to the absolute scariest moment of my life.
Because every time I see this picture, even now (three years later) I’m hit once again with this thought: my baby…he could’ve died.
Matthew had his first anaphylactic reaction just a couple of weeks after his first birthday. He’d been a pretty picky infant with baby food, so I guess we had just never put green peas in front of him at any point prior to that life-changing day in June 2013.
We prepared peas for the whole family for dinner that night, and placed a few on Matthew’s tray. He ate 4 or 5, and we immediately could tell something wasn’t right. His face began to swell and turn red, and he was struggling to breathe. My husband and I were panicked.
We very quickly got him out of his high chair, and my husband strapped him in the car and rushed him straight to the urgent care facility up the street (I stayed home with our three year old). The next few hours were hell. My husband is amazing, but to not be with my baby at that time was the worst feeling ever.
In hindsight, we probably should’ve gone to the ER, or called for an ambulance…but that was what we did in the moment. Fortunately, the urgent care staff took it very seriously and rushed him straight back and administered appropriate medication. The photo above was taken after the medicine was administered. He actually looked worse before then (we just weren't thinking about taking pictures at that point). My husband sent this picture to me to help me feel better about his improvement.
I’m so thankful for so many things about that day. First, of course, that this was not a fatal reaction. It very well could’ve been, and that thought crosses my mind still way too frequently, even years later. I am thankful for the urgent care facility that took good care of my baby. We know now we should’ve gone the ER (and we’ve been there since for two additional anaphylactic reactions, one of which resulted in an ambulance ride), but he received excellent care at urgent care.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening, serious matter. I pray daily that we will never have to go through another episode of anaphylaxis. I know that I am not the only parent saying the same prayer over their child, either. My heart breaks for those who have lost a loved one as a result of an anaphylactic reaction.
One final thought (and I’ll keep it short for now, but trust me when I say I have a lot to say about this): jokes about anaphylaxis are not funny. They will never be funny. In the last few weeks, my husband and I have seen two jokes about anaphylaxis in two different sitcoms. Both times, we were sitting on the couch and could only look at each other, cringe, and say, “Nope…not funny.” Making light of anaphylaxis diminishes the seriousness of anaphylaxis, and can result in it not being taken seriously when it actually occurs. Also, in all honesty, these jokes make me feel like I’m listening to someone make fun of my own child. It is hurtful. It is wrong.
FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education – get used to seeing that acronym on this blog) is sponsoring a Food Allergy Awareness Week beginning on Sunday, May 8. Their theme for the week is “React with Respect” – and I hope that by sharing our story, you will rethink your response to food allergies and anaphylaxis. Our daily lives revolve around making sure that every bite of food that goes into Matthew’s mouth is a safe bite. Those with food allergies don’t really need sympathy, and certainly don’t need jokes…but your respect is crucial.
During this month of food allergy awareness, I encourage you to take anaphylaxis seriously, and to take the pledge to “React with Respect.” For more information about FARE’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for food allergy research, please visit my Food Allergy Awareness Week page, or go to http://www.foodallergy.org/food-allergy-awareness-week
This year, Matthew began a five day a week preschool program because I went back to work. They have been incredible! His teacher, Ms. Rhonda, has worked with me all along and I feel great about how they have worked with us this year. We are grateful!
One of the neatest and equally scary things they have done this year is little baking/cooking projects with the three year olds. The idea of cooking with a large group of three year olds is scary enough, am I right? But oh boy, did some food allergy anxiety set in initially!
His teacher emailed me a few weeks into the school year and said she wanted to make blueberry muffins with the class.
First (panicked) thought: NOPE! Not happening...
Second (calm, cool and collected) thought: I have worked my tail off adapting recipes to fit his needs. I have been adamant about including Matthew in everything that he is reasonably able to participate in. Can we make this work?
Let me say this...placing your trust in someone else to manage your child's allergies is not an easy decision, and I would not do this with just anyone - but I trusted and do trust his teacher, so we went for it. If you aren't comfortable with something when it comes to your child and his/her allergies...DON'T DO IT!
Ms. Rhonda and I have collaborated several times over the course of this year to come up with safe alternatives for Matthew, and it has been an amazing success (we will miss Ms. Rhonda next year)!
These blueberry muffins are really great, and are a result of this unexpected collaboration with Matthew's preschool teacher! Moist (ugh, that word!), sweet, and delicious warm treats that are great and quick for breakfast, and so easy, even a preschooler can do it!
CLICK PICTURE FOR RECIPE!!
Welcome to my new home in the blogosphere! I am so excited to kick things off here and start sharing and exchanging information and ideas about living in our food allergy world. May is going to be an exciting month here, particularly as we celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week beginning on May 8. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is leading the charge and has ideas and suggestions for making the month of May a big time to raise awareness.
I can’t think of a better time to launch Food Allergy Arsenal. I’ve spent innumerable hours the last three years educating myself, creating recipes, exploring resources, and working my tail off to make my little boy’s life better (learn about my little hero here!). I’ve never wanted the restrictions of his food allergies to get in the way of him enjoying a birthday party. I’ve never wanted my fear of what could happen to get in the way of his happiness and ability to enjoy his childhood. I feel like I’ve created quite the “arsenal” of recipes, ideas, and resources to achieve these goals, all while keeping him healthy, happy, and full!
My dream for Food Allergy Arsenal is that it can be a place where we can all share ideas and tricks for living a food allergy life. I by NO means claim to know it all. I did NOT figure all of this out on my own (I was scared to death for the first six months). I want this to be a place for constructive discussion, recipe exchanges, and cool ideas that could improve quality of life for my child – and yours - even more.
I also know that what works for me may not work for you – that’s the absolute crazy thing about this food allergy life we live…it’s rare for any two situations to be exactly the same. But let’s collaborate and empathize and work together to strengthen and grow our arsenals.
Food Allergy Arsenal is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest– we are out there! Find me, introduce yourself, and let’s be friends!